Friday, January 09, 2015

Should I publish an image of Mohammed?

Christ the Pantocrator, from the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople
As everyone knows, a few days ago Islamist terrorists in France burst into the offices of a satirical publication, called Charlie Hebdo, and gunned down the editorial staff there; they also murdered two police officers.

The presumed reason was that they were offended by the publication's many cartoons that mocked Islam, and specifically, its founder, Mohammed.

All this brings up an aspect of Islam that many of us are unfamiliar with: the objection -- of at least some Muslims -- to any depiction of Mohammed whatsoever. (I.e., I think we can all figure out why they don't like mocking depictions; we Catholics don't like that when it happens to us. No one likes that.) This item at CNN seems to explain it fairly well.

In the wake of this terrorist act, there have been some who wring their hands and say the murders are "understandable." Others, repulsed not only by these fascist acts, are further inflamed by this pusillanimous response, who insist the right response is to republish the offending images.

You may recall, for example, something similar a few years ago, called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."

Part of me reacts just like so many others who refuse to be intimidated -- and is tempted to say, sure, I'll publish an image of Mohammed. Why not? As a Catholic, I have no objection to images of Mohammed, or anything else. After all, we have images of God, saints and angels in our homes and churches. No problem.

But then there is the question of neighborliness and courtesy. And there, I follow a rule that I suspect most people do: I am fine with observing customs of others, when around them, provided doing so involves no compromise of anything I hold dear.

So, for example: while my religion does not prohibit me from any food, nor from consuming alcohol, when I am with someone whose religion does have such strictures, I am fine with avoiding those things -- simply as a matter of courtesy. When I visited the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, I was advised not to bring a Bible or a prayer book; since I had no need to bring them, I did not. I did, however, wear my roman collar, and no one gave me a second look. When I visited a mosque in Turkey, I took off my shoes. That did not compromise my beliefs in the slightest. I was quiet and paid close attention to what our tour guide explained, but I was careful not to engage in any visible acts of prayer, so as to avoid any confusion -- or to give offense.

So here's how I see it. My religion says we honor God and his saints by veneration of images of him and them; so I have happily posted such images here -- such as the image above. I am sorry if other people disapprove, but this is my blog; and I am not doing it to offend you. I am a Christian, and am not shy about announcing it.

And if the day ever comes when it seems necessary not only to write about Mohammed (which I rarely do, as it happens), but to show a picture, then I guess that's what I'll do.

But I don't see why I need to do that. And I certainly see no reason to publish anything that is insulting. I didn't do it before; why should I start now?

Think of this way. The magazine that was attacked also published cartoons that mocked Jesus Christ and the pope. If it had been some fascistic "Catholics" who did this, would I then be obliged to republish those images? I don't think so.

What do you think?


Bob said...

Dear Father,

I just love the Christ Pantocrator image. So many of the icons in the Eastern Churches are so lovely. Thank you for sharing it!

Your article comes at a really good time, because last evening my mom and I were discussing very similar things. I think your points are well taken.

I'm in sympathy with you, in that, while I would never presume to belabor someone about the head and neck with my beliefs, I am in no way ashamed to be a Catholic Christian. I don't think someone who disagrees with me should feel obliged to hide under a bridge, but, in fairness, I shouldn't feel obliged to hide under a bridge if someone disagrees with me.

When I was at university, each January we hosted a prayer breakfast to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I was in student government at the time. The last year I was in student government, it was decided that the prayer breakfast should be called a "remembrance and reflection" breakfast, to bow the knee to the concept of "separation of church and state."

I wanted to scream. So, we're attending a breakfast with black Christian people, who are saying, "Praise the Lord!" and "Hallelujah" but we can't call the breakfast what it is.

It's hard enough being RC. Being PC gets to be an exercise in futility. The only kind of PC I wish to be is "practicing Catholic."

Shouting Thomas said...

I've published Charlie Hebdo cartoons on my blog. Not everybody needs to do this. I'm not a crusader of any kind, but there are times when my patience runs out.

The atrocity in Paris is an attack on our most basic and non-negotiable freedoms. And, I'm just plain tired of being bullied by Muslim thugs.

The antipathy you note in regard to displaying images of Mohammed is not limited to Islam. Complaints about the images of saints and of Christ in the Church were part of the Reformation. Many protestants continue to see the Church as engaging in idol worship by maintaining statues and works of art depicting saints and Christ in our Churches.

My parish priests keep insisting that there is something to Islam besides the brutality, stupidity and murder. I doubt it. Islam is hopelessly backward and cruel. The good news of forgiveness has never penetrated that creed.

Sevesteen said...

In general we shouldn't give violent terrorists what they want. It is good that the cartoons the terrorists wanted stopped have instead received far more publicity than they ever would--the terrorists themselves assisted in spreading the very message that they were trying to stop.

If I were actively blogging, these cartoons don't appear to be something I'd normally put on my blog--but I would put them there today. Freedom of speech isn't just freedom to agree with me, I support the freedom even when I oppose the ideas.

Anonymous said...

I think that anyone from one religion can always do something mistakenly that is offensive to another religion. Creating an image of a religeous figure is far from the only example. Both ignorant and arrogant insults to a religion happen all of the time:most relgious people get used to them as part of life. Some might educate the ignorant, and many ignore the arrogant in a pratice known as civility. Violent attacks because someone insulted your religion intentionaly is not civility in any religion, it is just lawless criminal behavior. Since the attacks are planned out so much in advance, it cant even be given the doubt as being an emotional over reaction. It is just premeditated murder. Knowing that an image of a religious figure is offensive to members of a religion is reason enough for me not to create such an image. If I do something out of ignorance that another finds offensive, I usually stop that offense. Do I think the Muslim reaction is justified? No, I don't. I often wonder if it is a Muslim reaction at all, or if it isnt just some ignorant marginal members of that faith capitalizing on religious tensions or being manipulated for profit. I don't feel obligated to retalite with publishing insulting pictures as I would rather remain true to my Catholic faith. One sin does not justify another . On the other hand though I do begin to question if anyone should feel obligated not to display those images. Decency keeps me from printing pitcures that are insulting, not obligation. I can see reason why someone might feel obligated to publish insulting pitcures.Education, satire, and highlighting an absurdity are all valid reasons. Anger, revenge, maliciousness, and hatred are not.Would I publish them? No, I don't think so. I dont see the need or have the desire to excilate the hatred and violence. I do see the need for artists to pratice their crafts for what ever reason motivates them, it dosent matter if it is those cartoonist,Salman Rushdie, or any of the current contemporary artists that have taken cheap shots at Christianity.

Trooper York said...

I read your wise words on Lem's blog and want to thank you for imparting your wisdom on the dummies who hang out there.

ndspinelli said...

I was raised w/ these wise words spoken often by my mother, "To each their own." The problem w/ your reasonableness is, you are dealing w/ crazed zealots. No images of Mohammed today, no images of Jesus, tomorrow. I also remember the word that caught her grandchildren in their tracks. My calm, temperate, grandma would babysit her 4 grandkids. She would give us leeway. But, when we got out of hand, "BASTA..BASTA" would be heard. That's "Enough" for you gentiles. I hear grandma saying, "BASTA!"

Fr Martin Fox said...

For those who disagree with me, and say, yes -- because of the provocation, we should deliberately give offense...

Let me pose this scenario.

What if the thugs had killed someone who desecrated a crucifix? Would you then recommend that I desecrate a crucifix to defy them?

ndspinelli said...

I think you should desecrate the crucifix if you felt that was a way to show your feeling. I'm a different animal here, I know that.

Trooper York said...

A strange thing happened at Midnight Mass at St Marys. There were many people that we had never seen before. Lots of hipsters who were first time visitors. Now Father Chris always wants to welcome people as I am sure you do and is only right.

The strange thing is so many came up to Communion. Now I am sure many if not most were not eligible. But they got Communion anyway. Now the Eucharistic minister who was handing out the host with Father was an older woman who is not often out these days. She is in her eighties. This young hipster chick took communion in her hand and walked away. She made no effort to take the host but walked away as if she was saving it to use some other way. The Minister notice this and shouted at her and started to hobble towards her with Father Chris right behind her. She must of been frightened because she said "All right ...All Right....Whatever" and took the host.

Was she an "artist" who wanted the consecrated host for some nefarious purpose? Was she a Satanist? Or was she just an Idiot?

What would you have done?

Sevesteen said...

Fr Fox, No you shouldn't do something against your strong moral beliefs as a protest. To me, a picture of Mohammed is neutral. Freedom of speech is extremely important, and it isn't really freedom if someone can shut it down by being offended. In this case I'm more concerned with negating the heckler's veto than I am with avoiding offense to Muslims who don't kill innocent people.

One of the problems here is that there are two groups who might find these images offensive. I apologise to one of them

Eileen said...

I think this falls under the category, "defend to the death your right to say it." These are not people whose point of view I would endorse in any way; but the essence of free speech, as a fundamental right, is what is at stake here, not their actual perspective (which I most certainly abhor).

I guess I find terrorism and mass murder, particularly as a deliberate means of shutting off an opposing view, far, far more offensive and devastating than anything these cartoonists ever drew. (Of course, I say that innocently. I haven't tried to see much of what else they published, and have no desire to be offended, or to participate in the deliberate offense to others.)

The post-massacre magazine cover is actually quite moving, though I expect the depth of satire and insult underlying the image escapes me to a large degree. Under the circumstances, I think it is a cover worth seeing.

Are you obliged in any way to publish it, though, regardless of your reasons? Of course not. Are you not equally entitled to your own free speech? Enough said.

The decision to publish in solidarity could be mistaken as a vote in favor of the rightness of their point of view and style of expressing it. I think it's Rush Limbaugh (irony alert) who says something like, you have a right to free speech, but not the right to an audience. Of course, the decision not to publish can be interpreted as giving in to the very fear and oppression the terrorists intended to inspire.

You can't really win here.

Best to follow your own lights and let the chips fall where they may.

In the end, isn't that exactly what Charlie Hebdo is doing -- and, now, with devastating credibility?

Fr Martin Fox said...


Sorry not to reply sooner.

Occasionally I'll see someone take a host and not consume it right away. I will go after the person immediately, and explain the situation; and ask that the person either consume the host, or give it back.

If someone comes to communion and his or her body language suggests s/he isn't Catholic, I'll ask if the person is Catholic. If not, I will give a sort-of blessing: "May you receive Jesus in your heart."

ndspinelli said...

Like I said, I'm a different animal here. We have Christians being slaughtered, so someone not following protocol vis a vis a host seems surreal to me. But, to each their own. I will respect your STRONG feelings on this and just hold my tongue.

Trooper York said...

Thank you Father. That is exactly what Father Chris did so I am glad you concour.

Fr Martin Fox said...


No need to hold your tongue.

Here's what I don't get.

Why should we who oppose terrorism committed by some Muslims do something that offends pretty much all Muslims? How does that help?

I'm not saying we non-Muslims should curtail our own values; if I see a need to write about Mohammed and publish an image of him, I'll do it.

But I don't see why I should do something, today, that yesterday-and-today, I consider wrong (i.e., offending other people's religious sentiments), for no other reason than to assert my right to do it.

Eileen said...

But I don't see why I should do something, today, that yesterday-and-today, I consider wrong (i.e., offending other people's religious sentiments), for no other reason than to assert my right to do it.

I think that's a strawman.

The reason for doing it is to express solidarity with those to whom the offense given was so incomprehensibly greater. Is it defiant? Sure. That's the point: To respond in such a manner as to take away the terrorists' power to intimidate -- yet without responding in kind. There's a deeply moving morality underlying this response that deserves the thoughtful consideration a post like this can invite.

"Should" you participate? That's up to you. But to imply that others' choice in this matter (and perhaps their criticism of you for not following suit) is lacking in any meaningful seriousness is greatly unfair.

ndspinelli said...

Here's the problem, Padre. Asserting your right to publish something is the secular world. Respecting someone's religious beliefs is non secular. Mohammed not having his image portrayed is a fundamental belief in their world. Being able to express yourself via free speech a fundamental right in the non secular world. I think the Pope showed how secular folks can be as clueless about free speech as non secular can be about religion. And, I think his example of insulting his momma a classic Italian boys example.

We have a culture clash here. But, here is where I think the secular and non secular should unite. If someone says or does something that offends your sensibilities, be they religious or secular beliefs, you answer w/ words, not your fist, knife, bullets or bombs. In a perfect world, you are correct Padre. Why do something you know will offend someone's religious belief? We are in a far from perfect world.