Charlie Hebdo: All Is Forgiven?

January 15, 2015

5 min read


Forgiving those who actively continue to seek your death is just another form of suicide.

The brutal terrorists in Paris who murdered 12 of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo didn’t succeed in shutting it down.

On the contrary. Millions marched in response to the horrific violence and in support of the principle of freedom of speech. The paper that offended Muslims because of its depiction of their prophet Mohammed quickly came out with a new edition. And to the dismay of those who sought to still its voice, this one reached a far greater number of readers than any in its past history – or for that matter any print run ever recorded for the French press.

Charlie Hebdo usually had an average number of 60,000 copies. The survivor's issue was to have a one-million-copy print run; it was increased to 3 million, then 5 million, and finally 7 million copies. The previous record for any publication was 2.2 million for an issue of France-Soir on the death of Charles de Gaulle. Subsequently it has since been translated into five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, Arabic and Turkish, and there are now plans for it to be sold in 25 countries and translated into 16 languages.

Obviously, the world was profoundly interested in seeing how Charlie Hebdo would respond in the aftermath of its near-death experience. The first cover was anxiously awaited. And it did not disappoint – at least on one level.

Once again the magazine featured a cartoonist’s caricature of Mohammed. It was a clear statement that in spite of Islamic threats they would not be cowed; notwithstanding lives lost, they would not be intimidated.

But the caption that accompanied the cover cartoon left many readers perplexed. Its meaning allowed for two interpretations. Sad to say, when the magazine itself was asked to clarify its intended message it emphatically explained its purpose – and I was left with the feeling that this was perhaps the greatest offensiveness of the cover.

What we see on the front page is an image of the tearful Prophet Mohammed holding a sign reading "Je Suis Charlie" beneath the headline "Tout Est Pardonne," or "All is Forgiven."

The cover was “a call to forgive terrorists Cherif and Said Kouachi, who gunned down 12 of her colleagues.”

My initial reaction was that the author wanted to convey a prophet weeping because of the evil done in his name. How horrible, I thought it implied, that people might justify murder because of a drawing; that people could feel vindicated for violence when supposedly done to honor a holy man. I assumed that Mohammed was saying “all is forgiven” to the cartoonists who drew a reflection of his image even as he wept for those who couldn’t understand the grave sin of murder.

Imagine my shock to discover that that’s not what the people at Charlie Hebdo meant at all.

Speaking to BBC, cartoonist Zineb El Rhazoui said the cover was “a call to forgive terrorists Cherif and Said Kouachi, who gunned down 12 of her colleagues and injured a dozen more in a deadly rampage through the magazine's Paris offices”.

Rhazoui told The Guardian that "We feel that we have to forgive what happened. I think those who have been killed, if they would have been able to have a coffee today with the terrorists and just talk to ask them why have they done this ... We feel at the Charlie Hebdo team that we need to forgive."

And with the rise in international sentiment in the wake of the attacks, she added, "The mobilization that happened in France after this horrible crime must open the door to forgiveness. Everyone must think about this forgiveness."

So what we really have here after another attack of barbaric proportions is the incredible distortion of the ideal of forgiveness – an ideal meant for the truly repentant - to supposedly serve as appropriate response to murderers dedicated to continuing acts of terrorism!

It is far more than unbelievable naïveté to imagine that sharing a cup coffee with those committed to killing you is a realistic option. And it is far more than idiocy to believe that extending your hand to someone dedicated to destroying you will result in anything less than amputation.

Forgiving those who actively continue to seek your death is but another form of suicide.

Forgiving people who don't personally atone for the sins makes a statement: Repentance isn't really necessary. Can anything be more immoral than encouraging evil by refraining from continuing condemnation of those who committed it?

Evil unchallenged is evil condoned.

Evil unchallenged is evil condoned. To forgive and forget, as Arthur Schopenhauer so well put it, "means to throw valuable experience out the window." And without the benefit of experience's lessons we are almost certain to be doomed to repeat them.

The terrorists who piloted the planes into the twin towers never asked us to be forgiven. They expressed not the slightest remorse as they went to their deaths together with their victims. Those who sent them, those who financed them, and those who applauded their mission never for a moment regretted what happened. To my knowledge, no one has called for them to be granted automatic amnesty. So too the terrorists who methodically butchered the journalists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo took pride in their well-planned attack and continued on to the kosher bakery where they killed another four innocents whose only crime was that they were Jews preparing to observe their Shabbat. Shall we now dare to speak in the name of the deceased and declare that “all is forgiven”?

Forgiving terrorists is no less than giving them license to murder more innocent people. To forgive those who remain unrepentant is to become an accomplice to all of their future crimes.

Forgiveness is a virtue only when granted as a gift for those filled with remorse who vow never again to repeat their transgressions. That is why I find the words on the new Charlie Hebdo cover, "Tout Est Pardonne," obscene.

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