Paris and the rest of the world was rocked by the violence at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper that printed a cartoon caricature of the Prophet Mohammed this past week. Islamic terrorists shot and killed twelve members of the newspaper staff all in the name of defending the Prophet’s honor. The printing of such a cartoon is considered to be offensive because Islam prohibits a picture of Mohammed. Millions of Parisians held a march in the days after this attack. This was an attack on free speech. Or was it? Now that we have gotten a little bit of more time to reflect on what had happened, there is now a debate concerning “tolerance” and free speech. This debate had even dragged the Pope.
Speaking on the way to Sri Lanka, the Pope was quoted as saying:
I believe that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. One cannot — but let’s think — you are French? Let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly. One cannot hide a truth: everyone has the right to practice one’s religion, one’s own religion without giving offense…As for freedom of expression: each one not only has the freedom, the right but also the obligation to say what one thinks to help the common good. The obligation! Let’s think, if a member of parliament or a senator doesn’t say what he thinks is the right path then he does not collaborate for the common good. Not only these, but many others too. We have the obligation to say openly, to have this liberty, but without giving offense, because it is true, one cannot react violently. But if Dr. Gasbarri a great friend, says a bad word against my mother, then a punch awaits him. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”
Critics of those comments accused the Pope of being politically correct and kowtowing to the “Islam means peace” crowd. See here. What the critics are missing is that the Pope was not speaking from a political point of view, but rather from a theological point of view. Unfortunately, this Pope did not make that point clearly.
Christians throughout the ages have been given two instructions-speak the truth and use discernment. Speaking the truth ranges from telling the truth to speaking about the Truth (i.e. Christ). The discernment part comes in many aspects. This includes from whether or not it is prudent to say what needs to be said, and how do we speak the truth. The Pope’s comments above only focused on discernment.
This coming Monday, we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day. In light of this debate, we ought to look at how he handled this situation-the balancing truth with discernment. In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King explained to the white clergy that he was taking the mantle of the Old Testament prophets who confronted the injustices of their day. Why? Because it was time to speak out. Time to speak the truth. He cited as an example, the Church’s responsibility to fight against laws that violated God’s laws.
A couple of weeks ago prior to the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo, Egyptian President el-Sisi spoke at Cairo’s Al Azhar’s University. Al Azhar is the equivalent of Harvard in the Sunni Muslim world. Part of his speech included the following:
“All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective…I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move . . . because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”
We cannot allow political correctness to continue to shade a discussion that needs to be had, “How do we resolve the matter of radical Islam?” Speaking the truth means tension. We must not forget that freedom of speech was designed to allow us to speak the truth in whatever forms the truth needed to be communicated-whether it was preached in a church or in satire or even in a blog post. When speaking the truth, it will be uncomfortable. The challenge is to either to test the veracity or hide our heads in the proverbial sands and pretend that nothing happens.