Monday, January 12, 2015

Je suis Charlie, struggling with my identity

 In the world of competing identities some are evidently more equal than others. The really substandard ones are being white (Caucasian without being Hispanic) , male, Christian, heterosexual. In our day and age if one is found to belong to one or more of these, he or she better live in a state of permanent repentance for the ills these groupings of bad people wrought upon the world.  One needs to be aware that one belongs among people who are generically racists, imperialists, patriarchal oppressors, bigots and homophobes.  One needs to be aware of the righteous struggle against people like oneself by the anti-racists, anti-imperialists, Muslims, feminists, and the people who are gay-lesbians-transgender-and-whatever-new-gender-identity-this-day-brings. 

      One solution to the problem of owning one or more bad identities is to pose as a Liberal.  In our time the good old Liberal gentleman, i.e. someone who would give you shirt off his back, has been all but replaced by the ubiquitous poseur, enthusiastically advocating the shirt should be ripped off the back of the people with bad identity profiles, in the hope that in the rush his own unseemly identities will be forgiven or redeemed by his Liberalism, or perhaps - more realistically - that the crocodile will devour him last.

    In this light, I read the "Je suis Charlie" mania gripping France as by and large a toothless form of jacquerie designed by people who for most part are latter day Liberals. They are folks who are like Anglicans, as a tough nun in Somerset C. Maugham novel "Painted Veil" sized them up, people who don't "believe in anything much".  Over three million copies of the post-massacre issue of Charlie Hendo were printed, as a memento of a mass protest where all France showed up to condemn the two massacres in Paris in the first week of the New Year. Alas, the placards it seemed celebrated multiple identities. It was more or less a given among the attendees that "Je suis musulman" meant "je ne suis pas ce genre de musulman", that is to admit  the confession of the Algerian brothers who were buried in unmarked graves somewhere around Reims to prevent pilgrimages to honour the martyrs for the cause of a 7th century Islam dominating the modern world.  This is a naive mindset clinging to a fairy tale of a multicultural panacea, built on the desperate hope that rats will be comrades and worshipping the "four legs good - two legs bad" motto of identity politics. 

    This is not to say that a truly multicultural society is impossible or undesirable; it is simply to say that it cannot be built without a deep respect for the founding principles of a civil society, which distasteful as it may seem to the revolutionary, radical types, was initially built precisely by the collection of "bad" identities named above in the first paragraph. What these identities have in common is that they are on the whole way more tolerant than the antithetical ones which deplore and badmouth them vociferously. They were not always that way in history, but they appear to be the ones most capable of reform because they - on the whole again - understand societies are evolving and accepting that even their advanced degree of civil edifice is not without fault.  That kind of insight does not exist among those who naturally assume that admitting one's fallibility means vacating the high moral ground. Also, people worshipping identity politics - and this is again my private observation without statistics to confirm - are generally much less likely seeing the bigger picture and cultivate a healthy sense of humour.  I have convinced myself that G.K. Chesterton was right in saying that the maturity of a religion is measured by its sense of humour.  I am sure this is true also of secular ideologies.  Chesterton was a Catholic who said that his confession was superior to all the other forms of Christianity because it admitted all types of faith, even the respectable one. 

       Humour assumes the ability to defeat anger by insight.  In that regard, I have to say I was never much of a fan of Charlie Hebdo. I have always found much of the political satire too close to drooling glee. But I loved the cover of the memorial issue. It was masterful irony: Muhammad 'forgiving' the insult of being lampooned. A strike of genius in the cry for humanity lost on the fanatics.  Jelaluddin Rumi would see the hand of God in it, just as he saw it in the confession of an atheist. 

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