Two days ago I wrote this in an e-mail to a friend: “My head is filled today with the next installment of the European Charlie Hebdo story… over 3 million copies [5m now I hear] sold (and more on the way) of the first publication of the rag after the shootings!!! …. It is a blasphemous paper, but I can’t help being amused at how it looks as though the Islamic jihadists, and Al Qaeda who are the perpetrators of the crime, seem to have ‘bitten off their noses to spite their faces’ so to say in this whole shocking affair.”
In other words, the Islamic assassins’ attempt to destroy those who had depicted their (ahem) ‘prophet’ in offensive drawings, has now unwittingly initiated a massive and far more widespread support for ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and the freedom to use one’s ‘pen’, to either say or draw anything or anyone, in a far from favourable light. They have not put a stop to anything; they have, in fact, opened ‘a can of worms’ for themselves.
It is well known that ‘Charlie Hebdo’ has also drawn some truly blasphemous cartoons of the Pope and all that Catholics hold holy [je ne suis pas Charlie] and every other religion too I am told, but I have tried to keep away from looking at all these mocking and sacrilegious pictures, knowing how they prey on the mind afterwards. (Another friend told me the other day how she desperately wishes she could “un-see” some of the drawings she looked at on a Catholic blog, that wanted to demonstrate how irreverent and anti-Catholic ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was too.) However, whereas members of other religions often complained and criticised the paper’s mockery of their Faith, (and some had even threatened legal action I hear) the Islamic militants, in obedience to Mohammedan teaching, responded in their typical violent and barbaric way.
Chalcedon, in a brilliant article on the Jessica Hof blog, points to where an understanding of the root cause of the mindset of these killers lies – a deep-seated hatred of any image made of God (Allah); in other words, iconoclasm. Of course although Mohammad, as we all know, only proclaimed he was ‘God’s prophet’, nothing more, Muslims most certainly appear to have deified this bellicose and polemical figure.
Chalcedon writes: “[W]ith the exception of the Guardian, who asked a clergyman to comment, I have not seen a single media outlet mention the word which forms the title of this post – ‘iconoclasm’. This is a shame, as it provides a context which help explain the Charlie Hebdo incident. We are told it is terrorism, and that the terrorists are not acting in the name of Islam; if that were really so, it would leave us scratching our heads as to what had so infuriated the Muslims concerned that they did what they did. One understands why the media wants to do nothing to encourage Islamophobia, but ignoring the truth is seldom a good idea, and never ends well. Yes, it is true that until about the eighteenth century, there is in Islamic art, a tradition of portraying Mohammed, just as there is, in Christianity, of portraying Jesus and the Virgin Mary. But, as the image above shows, there s in Christianity also a tradition of destroying images – of iconoclasm. There was, in eastern Christianity, a century long dispute which, in the eight and ninth centuries resulted in a victory for the iconodules.
The iconoclasts based themselves on a literalist reading of Exodus 20:3-5. They ignored Exodus 20:18-20, and Exodus 37:7-9. In part, they were responding to the rise of Islam, which had taken on board a literalist reading of Exodus 20:2-5. Mohammed and his followers ignored the context, and the other verses from Exodus, and they destroyed images. We see the same thing in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, when equally ignorant men destroyed some of glories of medieval art – because they didn’t know how to read texts, and actually had as little sense of what God wanted as the fundamentalist Muslims have and had…”
It is indeed true that we have had our own iconoclasts in Christianity in the past, as this old article of our one-time collaborator, Teresa, relates.
At a time when many people were unable to read or write, Pope Gregory the Great once said that images are “the books of the laity” – a charming way of describing how beautiful art and architecture can open our knowledge and imagination to the great Truths of our Faith. That these depictions of the Holy and Sacred can then be abused by bad art or the unscrupulous, is an unavoidable risk we must take, for their benefits so greatly outweigh their possible drawbacks.