In Praise of Blasphemy

04/30/2015 07:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015
Raffaele Mignone/500px

American friends, especially PEN Club writers, please read, right now, Caroline Fourest's new book, Eloge du blasphème (In Praise of Blasphemy, Grasset 2015), if you wish to understand:

1. why Charlie Hebdo was and is more respectful to Muslims than the idiots who think they are honoring Islam by killing;

2. that the real provocateurs were not the cartoonists themselves but those who waved the cartoons under the noses of Muslims who otherwise would not have seen them, thereby stirring up demonstrations that served, here, to draw attention from their own infamy; there, to appropriate the mantle of true defender of the prophet; or, on other occasions, to apply pressure in one or another international negotiation (for example, on nuclear power);

3. that the cover Charlie Hebdo ran after the killing, the cover depicting the prophet with a tear in his eye and the caption "All is forgiven," was the most peaceful, elegant, and conciliatory message conceivable and that those who asserted otherwise were inflammatory cynics;

4. that those who dared to say that Charlie "had it coming" are like the louts who say, after a woman is raped, "Her skirt was too short";

5. that the anti-Charlie coalition in France is a motley crew in which one finds the neofascist Le Pen (who detects in the affair the hand of the "secret services"), the Islamic brother Tariq Ramadan (who declared that Charb and Wolinski were "cowards"), the former cartoonist Siné (who has never been "afraid to admit," as he did once on the radio, that he is an anti-Semite who wants "every Jew to live in fear"), the Indivisibles (the supposedly left-wing sect that, after having agreed with Bin Laden's assertion in 2010 that he "had the right" to respond to the banning of the burqa in France with decapitations in Pakistan, declared that the problem was not terrorist attacks but the "climate of Islamophobia" that inspired them), and the always-present appeasers (who, in this case, are the proponents of a holy alliance of religions);

6. that, in adhering to this position of putative wisdom and forbearance and in solemnly swearing never, ever to criticize thy neighbor's taboo, one must ignore the inconvenient detail that what is taboo for group A is almost always blasphemy for group B, and that sacramentalizing taboos helps propel the merry-go-round of murderous, mimetic violence;

7. that incitement to murder is a felony, whereas laughing at religion, even ridiculing it, is a right;

8. that racism against French citizens of Muslim heritage is criminal, whereas criticism of the Koran, like criticism of Jewish and Christian holy scriptures, is an expression of secularism;

9. that some caricatures stigmatize whereas others, such as those of Charlie Hebdo, emancipate;

10. that there are those who try, through laughter, to strengthen the solidarity of the shaken; others who seek to set one group against another;

11. that the concept of Islamophobia is an empty one that serves only to disarm the anti-racist vigilance mounted against the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-atheist, and even anti-Muslim hate preached by some Muslims;

12. that it is possible, alas, to be both a Muslim and a racist;

13. that minorities are not always right and that when they are wrong -- when the oppressed and excluded themselves become racist -- we must not hesitate to point this out;

14. that many who say "I don't want to stigmatize the oppressed" or "I'm afraid that in passing judgment I will add to their insecurity and unhappiness" really mean that they do not want to offend the Saudis (proponents of the burqa), irritate the Pakistanis (for whom declaring oneself to be a Catholic, as Asia Bibi did, is a crime punishable by death), or even, while we're on the subject, wound the North Koreans (who would love to see us censor films that make fun of them);

15. that if we follow reasoning like this it will not be long before our civil and criminal codes are cluttered with all the laws of all the world's dictatorships;

16. that, curiously, the same American television executives who elected not to show the Charlie Hebdo caricatures did not hesitate to show the battered body of the police officer who was protecting Charb: Are they hypocrites? Did they decide, after thinking it over, that it was less costly to offend the grieving family of a defender of democracy than the royal family of Qatar or Kuwait?

17. that, when one takes a good look at the great scenes of jihadism, when one considers that the assassins of Theo Van Gogh and of the attack on the cultural center in Copenhagen grew up in the European cities that are the most open to foreigners, when one realizes that Jihadi John, one of the Islamic State's most virulent decapitators, is a graduate of the University of Westminster, when one thinks of the billionaire Bin Laden or of Omar Saeed Sheikh, the moneyed young man who kidnapped Daniel Pearl, when one remembers, inversely, that it was undocumented, unmoneyed Lassana Bathily who saved six Jews, one of them a baby, at the kosher market in Vincennes, it is no longer possible to decently assert a correlation between terrorism and the "rifts in our society";

18. that poverty is not an excuse;

19. that one falls into jihadism out of ideology or personal proclivity, not out of social desperation.

Caroline Fourest's Eloge du blasphème is indeed a must-read. Few books are as bracing, stimulating, and immediately useful in the struggles that have been thrust upon us. I would like to see it distributed to every guest at the PEN American Center's annual gala on May 5.