Redefining Ourselves to Death

…”I’m all for free speech, but…” proclaims the chorus of Western intellectuals following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, imagining that their role in this tragedy is to make simple things look complicated. They are gravely misguided: there are no “buts” in that script…

“But…” we hear from all directions, “but…”

“…But those cartoons were offensive to believers.”

“…But they overstepped all sorts of boundaries.”

“…But this is merely a mutual misunderstanding of each other’s cultural traditions.”

“…And anyway, let’s not confuse terrorism with Islam, which is a peaceful religion.”

“…And are you saying that Islam somehow promotes extremism? Are you really equating Islam with terrorism? That sounds like fascism! Shame on you!”

“…And aren’t you forgetting that different cultures have different values?”

“…And why all the fuss about those dead journalists when more people are getting killed in the Iraqi war?…

…As for the mutual misunderstanding of each other’s cultural traditions, let’s make one thing clear: some traditions are better than others.

At one time India had a tradition of self-immolation of widows in the husband’s funeral pyres. The British colonizers could say, as modern intellectuals do, that this was just a different cultural tradition they had to respect. But the British disrespected local traditions and put up gallows next to the funeral pyres. Anyone who tried to throw a widow into the fire was hanged right next to it. That was the end of the burning of widows…