Je suis Charlie. In a free society, in the context of satire and commentary, we do have the right to demean or insult one another’s beliefs. We also have the responsibility not to do so, or to do so with some degree of care. Just the same, when it is expressed someone else’s affront should never define who we are.
I respect that believing Muslims revere their prophet. I am sensitive to their view that mocking him is disrespectful. I have trouble understanding, however, how a religious mandate in one religious community applies to those who live outside the boundaries of that faith. I can’t ever accept violence, terror, and barbarism as response to religious or political satire, even if it offends.
Throughout the Middle East, if not the world, newspapers regularly depict Jews and Israeli leaders in stereotypical, ugly, and anti-Semitic words and images. Our most effective protests are mounted by living the very values and ideas others mock. Muslim, Christian, or Jew, it seems to me that we all honor the legacies of our particular teachers by adhering to the enduring good in their teachings as best we can.
A month from now we’ll celebrate Purim. Even though I haven’t chosen my costume and don’t yet smell the aroma of Hamantaschen baking in the kitchen, because of recent events in Paris, France Purim is on my mind.
The Book of Esther recounts the life of a diaspora Jewish community comfortable in Persian culture, distinct in religious identity, and in peril due to an irrational prejudice and vicious ego. The story is an important marker of Jewish responsibility for our people’s welfare and identity. The story of Purim is also a parody, a spoof.
Biblical scholars understand Megillat Esther to be a farce, a comedy designed to provoke laughter through exaggerated characters and ludicrous situations. The pious Jew Mordecai, who everyone knows is a Jew, encourages his niece Esther to enter a pagan king’s beauty contest while hiding her Jewish identity. The Persian king is upset by his queen’s refusal to attend a party but gives no real thought to his decision to annihilate a portion of his population. While Mordecai is wise and Esther is brave, King Ahasuerus appears as a pampered and bumbling monarch. Haman plays the classic comic villain.
Why is Megillat Esther a parody? So that a Jewish audience can watch with glee and laugh with relief when a threat against them is overcome. In a mad and threatening world, we can’t maintain our stamina and our values if we can’t imagine a happy ending. The Book of Esther affirms our Jewish place in the larger world, no matter the circumstances. The Purim story encourages us to demonstrate our values and beliefs in all places at all times.
That’s why I’m looking forward to Purim. In a world where religious fanaticism threatens us all, it’ll be good to laugh, to celebrate, and to honor a religious tradition, our Jewish tradition, that reminds us there’s even a time and a place to mock and to make fun. Je suis Juif.