Satires should have their lim­its

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

The at­tack on the of­fices of the Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan 7 that claimed 12 lives, in­clud­ing those of the mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tor and three of the finest car­toon­ists in France, was the dead­li­est in four decades and should be con­demned by one and all.

For many peo­ple, France is the birth­place of lib­erty, equal­ity and fra­ter­nity. And the French cher­ish their free­dom like no other race. So the das­tardly at­tack on Charlie Hebdo has not only caused out­rage, it has also raised the hack­les of the French. Is lib­eral so­ci­ety un­der threat?

With ideals such as “all hu­mans are equal” and “ev­ery­one is born free” as its foun­da­tions, Euro­pean so­ci­ety has been open to all re­li­gions and cul­tures, and even at­tracted a large num­ber ofMus­lims. The eco­nomic boom and so­cial pros­per­ity Europe ex­pe­ri­enced af­terWorldWar II pushed the cul­tural and re­li­gious con­flicts — es­pe­cially those re­lated toMus­lims — into the back­ground. But in­stead of dy­ing out, the em­bers of the con­flicts con­tin­ued to smol­der be­low the sur­face. The at­tack in Paris sug­gests the em­bers have flared into flames.

After a so­ci­ety’s po­lit­i­cal struc­ture is in place, dis­putes should be re­ferred to the ju­di­ciary. Charlie Hebdo, a non-con­form­ist weekly pub­li­ca­tion that ex­cels in cartoons, polemics and re­ports, is es­pe­cially known for its no-holds­barred cartoons, sar­cas­tic ar­ti­cles and satir­i­cal jokes. And the very na­ture of the mag­a­zine prompted the GrandMosque of Paris, the Union of Is­lamic Or­ga­ni­za­tions of France and other re­li­gious groups to file law­suits against it in the past.

French courts, how­ever, turned down th­ese law­suits against the mag­a­zine. A court can only pass a ver­dict based on the law of the land. And if a case in­volves free­dom of ex­pres­sion, a court will see it only from the le­gal point of view, not from an over­all so­cial per­spec­tive, be­cause it is not ex­pected to tread beyond the realm of the law.

In this sense, Charlie Hebdo had not vi­o­lated the laws of France. But by sat­i­riz­ing Is­lam and lam­poon­ing ProphetMuham­mad it has in­vited the wrath of not only Is­lamic ex­trem­ists but also many moder­ateMus­lims. In fact, the Mus­lim world’s vi­o­lent re­ac­tion to the cartoons pub­lished by Charlie Hebdo in 2012 forced the French gov­ern­ment to tem­po­rar­ily shut down its em­bassies and schools in more than 20 coun­tries.

The de­bate over racial prej­u­dice and Charlie Hebdo’s right to ex­er­cise the free­dom of ex­pres­sion will con­tinue, so will the dis­cus­sions on cul­tural con­flicts among dif­fer­ent eth­nic and re­li­gious groups in Europe and the world beyond. But since laws alone can­not re­solve the dif­fer­ences, ev­ery mem­ber of so­ci­ety has to de­ter­mine the ex­tent to which he/she can go in crit­i­ciz­ing, sat­i­riz­ing or lam­poon­ing a coun­try, a group or an in­di­vid­ual. The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor with the South­west Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sciences and Law.


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