Embracing Creativity

Is it better to be right, or true?

This morning on the news, a cartoon that many people will find disturbing flashed onto my television screen at least two times. Wednesday’s front page of the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, attacked by terrorists last week, will show the very kind of cartoon that purportedly spurred the attacks.

Many will say the newspaper is irresponsible, adding fuel to the fire and could lead to more attacks. Others will say (as London’s mayor Boris Johnson did) that the only way to demonstrate that open societies will not bow down to terrorism is to print the cartoon. This debate got me thinking about the power of an image.

The controversial cartoon undoubtedly has power. The thought of adding a link to it on this blog fills me with dread, I’m ashamed to admit. But where did that power come from? And can that power be transferred into something that could heal instead of create more hate?

From what I can gather (these are my own views, obviously), the attacks highlight two conflicting beliefs:

  • Religion is the “truth” and must be held sacred above all else. To deny this is to deny existence.
  • Religions are not “truth” but are the creation of different cultures and societies; therefore, they are not sacred but are open to criticism and debate, just like everything else.

The aforementioned cartoon has become the mouthpiece for the second message — there is no one “true” religion. Printing it on the front page of a newspaper and then republishing that image over hundreds of news outlets across the world is basically blasting out that message loud and clear. Should Charlie Hebdo do this? As a newspaper, especially a political and satirical one, it’s obligated to shout out its editorial viewpoint. It has every right to do this.

On a moral level? Personally, I would have preferred to see photographs of the people who lost their lives in the attacks last week. I think making the victims “human,” rather than political mouthpieces would do more to stem violence than continuing the argument about fundamental beliefs. We’re not going to change terrorists’ minds my shouting back, “You’re wrong! And we’re right!” But connecting their actions to real people who have sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, showing how all people are fundamentally the same, THAT might make a few extremists pause for thought.

The power of one cartoon comes from all we attribute to it — freedom of speech, blasphemy, East versus West, right versus wrong, religious society versus sectarian society … Right now, that cartoon is being used to send a message, a message I personally agree with, but not the most important one at the moment. How can the media (and governments!) convey a broader, more crucial ideology — that all lives are valuable? I think that’s what the media should be working on.

George Bush and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama
George Bush and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Taken on 23 May 2001. Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/05/images/20010523-3.html
Embracing Creativity

Create space for something else…

Editor’s note: The police officers who were shot trying to protect the public should not be forgotten. I didn’t mean to exclude them by focusing on the journalists who were also murdered.

The attack on the Paris newspaper office Charlie Hebdo this week left me with conflicted feelings. The first, of course, was outrage at the murder of editors and journalists, who’s primary job is to communicate. As a former reporter and current writer, I felt the horrific sting of bullying — “Don’t write what we don’t want you to, or else you’ll die!” Can there be any more extreme form of bullying than threatening someone’s life if he/she doesn’t act the way you want them to?

And murdering journalists, for crying out loud! Yes, they often write what you don’t want to hear, but they don’t use bombs or Kalashnikovs to get their points across. And, yes, words are powerful. Words can hurt deeply, in ways that weapons can’t. But we have a choice in how we respond to those words. We can ignore them, refute them, or even agree with them. Bombs and guns leave no room for argument. That’s why they are the weapon of choice for terrorists, who have no true words to back themselves up.

My second thought was that if people respond to these attacks with more hatred, the attackers will have succeeded. I’ve noticed that when you are up against someone filled with hate and disgust, sometimes the only way to “deflate” them is to do the complete opposite of what they’d expect.

I’m not saying we don’t condemn these horrible attacks or not defend ourselves. I’m saying rather than let terrorists infect us with their abominable ideas, we respond with the antidote. What’s the antidote to hate? Loving each other. What’s the antidote to malicious violence? Defending ourselves wisely and with purpose, rather than responding in fear and vengeance. Opposite of disgust? Pride — at how far we’ve come in spreading rights like freedom of speech and equal rights for all people, regardless of their beliefs and backgrounds.

Maybe we can all do something to counter-attack terrorism. If you’re in a country where you are able to speak freely, spread the word about what you’re grateful for in an open society. If you’re not able to speak freely, perhaps you can share what brings people you know closer together — love? Telling stories? Good food? Nature? Beautiful art?

Instead of newspapers and news websites republishing the controversial cartoons — an understandable reaction to being threatened – I believe they should fill their pages with the opposite of terror. The ideals that the terrorists are fighting against — community, love, and freedom from oppression.

It’s easy to strike back against something hard and sharp. It’s a lot harder to fight something that’s moving and fluid and filled with an energy that can’t be harnessed.