JAZZMAN CHRONICLES. DISSEMINATE FREELY.
In the Spirit of Charlie Hebdo
By Jack Random
The son of a spirit guide (what the white eyes call a medicine man), a young Crazy Horse went alone into the sacred mountains (perhaps the very spot where the Great White Fathers were later carved in stone) to cry for a vision. He was blessed with seven visions, among them: He would accept no rewards, no acknowledgement and no tribute for his deeds and accomplishments. On the one occasion he violated the dictum of that vision he was shot in the head by a jealous warrior.
In keeping with his vision of modesty, Crazy Horse did not consent to be photographed and did not wish to be depicted in any form. While he lived his wish was honored.
There is no one more revered in Lakota and perhaps all of Native American history than Crazy Horse. It is ironic that more than a century after his death in 1877, the elders of the Lakota chose to immortalize the same man who explicitly decried any such honor by having his likeness carved into the granite of the sacred Black Hills of North Dakota.
Like Crazy Horse the Prophet Muhammad of the Islamic religion did not wish his likeness to be rendered in any form. Like Crazy Horse he did not wish to become the object of adulation. He did not wish his image to become a symbol of religious or spiritual reverence. He wanted all glory to be directed at his God.
If I were a member of the Lakota tribe I would wonder at the selection of Crazy Horse for the monument that is now being carved into the Black Hills only miles from the more famous Mount Rushmore. But even the most fervent followers of Crazy Horse would not wish to kill the elders who selected him or the artists who carve the mountain even as I write these words. I am certain beyond certain that Crazy Horse would not wish such a murder to be committed in his name.
As a member of civilization and one who respects Native American heritage, I object to the image of the Great White Fathers carved into the Black Hills, a site the Lakota hold sacred. But I would not wish to kill those who disagree with me.
I am not a scholar of Islam. I have not studied the life of its prophet. I have no desire to insult or demean anyone for his or her sincere religious beliefs. But I refused to believe that any messenger of God would want his followers centuries later to kill in his name those who violate his expression of modesty.
When Jyllands-Posten, a newspaper in Denmark, published a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, protests broke out around the world. Some of them erupted into violence. Despite my firm belief in freedom of speech and freedom of the press I took the stance then that it was an unnecessary provocation, not unlike crying fire in a theater. I was wrong.
Now we are compelled to revisit the issue under the most horrifying circumstance. When crazed gunmen in the name of the Prophet Muhammad attacked the offices of the Parisian publication Charlie Hebdo, they attacked members of my tribe. Not the tribe of Christians. I have no idea if any of the victims were or were not Christians or Jews, Buddhists or Hindus, Muslims or Zarathustrans, Gnostics or agnostics, deists or atheists. I have no wish to know. They were members of the tribe of artists. I choose to create in words. They choose to create in words and drawings.
I lament the loss of treasure in war for it could have been used to save lives and alleviate suffering. I despise the loss of lives, the loss of limbs and the suffering that spreads like a vicious cancer from acts of mass violence. It poisons the spirit and leads inevitably to more violence and suffering. But more than any other loss or sacrifice I mourn the loss of art and the loss of artists for it deprives all humanity for all time the creations that were and might have been the legacy of our tenure on earth.
We are now in a war against an enemy for whom I can have little sympathy. I understand we are all products of our upbringing, our culture and environment. I know my country and much of the western world has engaged in crimes against humanity, including the most horrendous crime of all: unnecessary war. I know that every action has a reaction. I understand that acts of mindless violence and terror do not occur in a vacuum.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created blowback that will outlast every man, woman and child now walking the earth. The drones we send to attack our enemies wherever they may be exact an unconscionable cost in innocent lives and propel the cycle of perpetual violence forward.
Now is not the time to recount our crimes except to say this: Satiric cartoons were not among them. This cannot stand.
We have heard a great deal of discussion concerning the balance of a free press against the responsibility of religious sensitivity but there can be no free press if it must assuage the sensitivities of any religion, political interest or culture. In a free society we criticize the content, not the right to express it.
We have heard our leaders refer to the terrorists as cowards when in fact what they have done is despicable, horrific, bloodthirsty, vicious, vengeful and even evil, but fails miserably to meet any reasonable definition of cowardice. It would do well for us to remember that in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack, professors and comedians alike lost their jobs for speaking uncomfortable truths.
Back then our entire nation suffered under a cloud of self-censorship. We would not allow dissenting voices to be heard. We silenced or attempted to silence those who protested our government’s misguided response until our numbers became too large to ignore. We condemned France for standing up at the United Nations Security Council to say: No, this is not a compelling case for war! No, there is no proof of weapons of mass destruction! And no, we cannot agree to a war for vengeance against a nation that did not attack you or anyone else!
Our leaders and most of our people decried the French as cowards then. Now we cry for them. Now we cry with them.
But it is not enough to cry and mourn. We must stand with them. We must defend our convictions, our values and our sacred principles. Those in positions to act should do more than express condolences. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News and every major newspaper in America should join with Le Monde, the London Times and every major newspaper across Europe in saying: No, we will not yield freedom of the press to the sensitivities of religion! No, we will not legitimate censorship in the name of the Prophet! We stand with the French! We stand with Paris! We stand with Charlie!
Every publication across Europe and America should designate one day for a declaration of unity and freedom of the press. On that day a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad should appear on the front page above the fold.
Some say it will provoke the radicals. Of course it will. A free press is always provocative. Some say they will declare war on all western media. I say: They already have. But there is a curious sense of safety in numbers. If all media are targets then none will feel the debilitating effect of intimidation.
I know: The moment will pass. We will forget. We will move on with our lives until another artist is targeted. Then we will mourn and debate again. But if we all stand together now in a display of unity, freedom and defiance, it would create a monument that will last the ages.
We are Charlie! Charlie is one of us. And though we may be afraid we will not yield.
JACK RANDOM IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES. HIS POLITICAL COMMENTARIES WERE WIDELY POSTED DURING THE DARK YEARS OF THE GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION, MOST NOTABLY ON DISSIDENT VOICE AND GLOBAL FREE PRESS.