One the one hand, I am shocked by the attack on the staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and my heart goes out to those who have been directly affected by it. At the same time I do find myself questioning the ‘Forgiveness’ which those who remain now claim to be offering. I don’t deny the bravery of the Charlie Hebdo team, I find myself uneasy.
While I don’t agree with the idea, aired in the I newspaper today, that true forgiveness is something only God can give, there is something about the spirit in which forgiveness is given that makes all the difference.
The Charlie Hebdo team know that cartooning the prophet Mohammed offends Islamic sensibilities – and I’m am not talking here about extremists, but about ordinary Muslims who are repelled by the actions of the extremists. They know it causes offence, but that is their USP – satirising anything and everything. So their offer of forgiveness seems to be to be a bit one-handed: the people who committed this appalling act are forgiven, but we’re still going to twist the tail of the wider Muslim community, just to prove we can, because that’s what we do. It’s business as usual.
And yes, Mohammed might well have wept, but it’s not something you depict unless you are actively trying to offend the innocent as well as the guilty. It isn’t Islam that is responsible for killing these people, it’s people who have chosen to interpret Islam in a particular way.
Real forgiveness doesn’t twist any one’s tail. It’s unconditional. It doesn’t mean ‘I condone what you do’ or ‘what you did is OK’; it means I have let go of any feelings of bitterness, revenge or conditions in respect of what you have done. This is genuinely difficult to do for most of us. Real, deep forgiveness is two-way. I forgive you for what you have done, and I acknowledge (and ask forgiveness for) any part I played in what happened.
It’s that second part – the ‘I acknowledge my part in what happened’ – that seems to be missing from the Charlie Hebdo version of forgiveness.
This one will run and run, because it’s a complex topic, involving issues of free speech, the right to deliberately offend others, equality and diversity, tolerance of the beliefs of others, and much more. However, I would have been much more inclined to believe in the forgiveness of the Charlie Hebdo team if they had acknowledged that their actions had consequences, unacceptable though those consequences were. If they had chosen another motif for expressing their forgiveness. If they had acknowledged that today is not business as usual.