Charlie Hebdo and the Terror of Free Expression

Originally written for The Autarkist.


I woke up this morning to news of Islamic militants in France killing 12 people in order to avenge their prophet Muhammad for the imaginary crime of depicting the prophet. Immediately, thousands of secular activists took to social media to decry the demented incident and to express their solidarity with free expression.

The tradition of mocking false prophets goes back to 2nd Century Roman satirist Lucian, who authored “Alexander the Oracle-Monger“. In the concluding paragraph, Lucian stated:

My object, dear friend, in making this small selection from a great mass of material has been … to strike a blow for Epicurus, that great man whose holiness and divinity of nature were not shams, who alone had and imparted true insight into the good, and who brought deliverance to all that consorted with him. Yet I think causal readers too may find my essay not unserviceable, since it is not only destructive, but for men of sense, constructive also.

Alexander was a false prophet from what is now Turkey who claimed to have been sent by Apollo to give oracles and to confer healing upon the people. To impress people, he carried around a large snake-god known as Glaucon, some effigies of which still exist. Concerned about the Epicureans’ persistent attempts to expose him as a fraud, and about the potential loss of clients as a result of Lucian’s accusations, the prophet pretended to befriend and assist Lucian on a journey, and paid someone to have him murdered at sea, so that his body would never be found. The mercenary repented as a result of how affable and friendly Lucian had been to him, and Alexander’s strategy failed.

Lucian lived, but because (then as now) religion enjoys so much favor among the powerful, Lucian was unable to have Alexander prosecuted for attempting to kill him. So his act of vengence, in the end, was to write shit about him, to expose him once and for all, via one of the most enjoyable satires of religion ever written. Alexander the Oracle Monger is one of the earliest works of secularist comedy ever written, if not the earliest.

We are in the 21st Century. So much has happened since Lucian, yet so many things remain the same. Religious privilege remains, to a large extent, unchallenged. False prophets abound in every culture. We still hear reports of quackery and faith healing.

And mercenaries are still sent by false prophets, even dead ones, to kill comedians.

These mercenaries equate laughter, comedy, satire, with terror and avenge them in kind. They are terrified of this mystery of free expression, terrified of how the ink of a pen acts like blood, giving life to our ideas and making their ideas obsolete. The pen (or its modern version, the keyboard), today as in the days of Lucian, is a weapon of mass destruction and the words of comedians are bombs from which no shelter can protect them. Like radio waves, they expand in all directions, aren’t bound by gravity, and the entire world can be exposed to the dangerous radiation within seconds. This is the power that content creators today have, and the religious fascists are terrified of the irrevocable advance of this new power, unable to accept and understand that this is a new paradigm, that we’ve entered the age of information.

Please join me in striking a blow for Epicurus today by reading, enjoying and sharing Alexander the Oracle Monger in solidarity with #CharlieHebdo.

#JeSuisCharlie #Laicité #Solidarité #Secularism #Solidarity #Laicismo #Solidaridad

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Comment by Alan Perlman on January 10, 2015 at 1:05pm

Thanks, Bertold.  I share Freethinker's fears.  Our forebears were way too optimistic about the triumph of reason.  A messianic, zero-sum religion that prizes martyrdom is most disturbing, as the trend towards small-scale attacks on civilians.  And how could these psychotic execute a Muslim cop?  Expect more of the same.  Gun sales are already skyrocketing.

Confrontation is not only inevitable - it started long ago. This is just the latest chapter.  These people have a long memory, and it doesn't help that America keeps invading them and meddling in their affairs.  So to those who say religion is only a cover for the seeking of political this case they're the same.  But increasingly I see it as a dance of death: America wont stop inflaming the Middle East as retribution for their attacks on us, triggered by our invading the Middle East...and all of it poisoned by their insane, inhumane relig

Comment by Alan Perlman on January 9, 2015 at 1:51pm

For all its faults, Judaism can laugh at itself.  Beware the religion with a strong orthodoxy and no sense of humor.  Irreverence and skepticism are higher mental functions than Us Kill Them. and too many Muslims aren't there yet.  

No, let's not tar all Muslims with the same brush, but they all read from the same book of primitive garbage, and too many of them take it literally.  I would never have predicted that by the 21st century, religion could be a threat to all we've built in the last 500 years, but 9/11 convinced me otherwise.

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on January 7, 2015 at 5:52pm

On Akmal Saleh: Remember, many of his fans are Muslims?

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on January 7, 2015 at 4:48pm

BTW: My friends that are Muslim, believe that their Allah, does have a sense of humor and they even like one of our local comedians who consistently makes fun of Islam, in Akmal Saleh, as to them, these terrorists have nothing to do with Islam.  

So I hope the result of this is not attacks on ordinary garden variety Muslims like my friends.

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on January 7, 2015 at 4:41pm

Not speaking french, I had little knowledge of Charlie Hebdo and the satirical views of Islam it produced, but, all the same, I support public ridicule of fundamentalist ignorance.

Most of the time I've attacked Christian fundamentalism, especially Young Earth Creationism.

Though Islamic fundamentalism is a much greater threat to freedom of expression.

I agree that the Epicurean principles are worthy of upholding and having been one of the world's most notable non-believers of ancient history.

It's a sad day for freedom of expression, but, we cannot let this tragedy slow the exposure and ridicule of gross ignorance down.

If anything, it should increase it, thus letting Islam realize that attacking a resolve, only makes that resolve stronger.

Thus they are defeating themselves, and making it worse for their god.

Thanks and all the best!



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