Sun | Sep 27, 2020

Charlie had it coming

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Daniel Thwaites, Contributor

I won't be shedding any tears for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. For one thing, my emotional bandwidth is limited, and even though the murders are dismaying, I can't claim to feel any special outrage, and I'm very far away from grief.

I say this because my comparative indifference seemed at odds with the overwrought outpouring I saw on news, in some of our commentary, and in social media. Most of that seemed to me riddled with fake sentiment.

But there's a deeper reason. I had not heard about Charlie Hebdo before they got the Muslim pepper spray and, therefore, held neither a positive nor negative impression of them. However, it would be fair to say that I'm generally on the side of free expression and comical absurdity, finding fundamentalism in its many varieties distasteful.

But upon investigation, I learned that Charlie Hebdo had once printed a cartoon of three figures representing The Holy Trinity sodomising each other. I feel the need for confession just for describing that. So these fellows are the kind that might provoke me into declaring jihad, or whatever is the Christian version thereof. Furthermore, their work jumped the border from satirising race and racism to being just plain racist. More fyah!


Additional investigation led me to determine that these morons weren't satirists so much as nihilists, contemptuous of anything that smacked of moral seriousness. George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, explains:

"In the world of Charlie Hebdo, sadly, all religious convictions (indeed all serious convictions about moral truth) are, by definition, fanaticism - and thus susceptible to the mockery of the 'enlightened'. But that crude caricature of religious belief and moral conviction is false; it's adolescent, if not downright childish; it inevitably lends itself to the kind of vulgarity that intends to wound, not amuse; and over the long haul, it's as corrosive of the foundation of a decent society as the demented rage of the jihadists who murdered members of Charlie Hebdo's staff."

They proudly called their publication a 'Journal Irresponsable'. Well, guess what? If there is no moral truth, there's no moral prohibition against killing off a dozen or so staff members at an annoying magazine.


Still, just because, according to their own implicit principles, there's no absolute reason to avoid shooting them doesn't mean I'm prepared to do the shooting. I wouldn't even agree with the man that does it. But I'm not going to say that they didn't have it coming.

It's like what Chris Rock said about O.J. Simpson's discovery that another man was driving around his Ferrari, chilling in his house, cavorting with his ex-wife, and living large on his massive alimony payments: "I'm not saying he shoulda killed her ... BUT ... I understand!"

Speaking of which, I won't soon forget hearing a grown man explain that he "had was to stab up a bwoy" because "him told mi bout mi madda". Apart from everything else, the colourful "had was to" formulation expressed that my now-friendly knife wielder felt a moral imperative to defend his mother's honour. He wasn't convinced at all by my argument that he could have ignored the insult, and that a careless diss, even to one's mother, shouldn't result in a stab-up.

All the same, I understood the man: Someone can say certain things, or say a thing in such a way, as to invite revulsion and violent reaction. In fact, when I was going to high school, if you were spoiling for a fight, the absolute surest way to provoke it was to tell the intended adversary "bout him madda". At that point, it became his duty to wage uncompromising war against you.

Fortune's cold breast

Of course, there were instances where a snivelling sand-guppy would have the gauntlet laid down before him and decline the challenge. But that's only to say that there are outliers and weaklings in any system. Your average youth understood perfectly well that he had to throw himself upon fortune's cold breast and fight like a beast to uphold the honour of the breast that suckled him.

Surely, what is expected from teenagers isn't what is to be expected from adults. For with age fights become more serious events, and therefore are undertaken with more caution. But the causes of war don't disappear; they become more sophisticated.

And there are some constants. It's generally understood that you're in dangerous territory when you decide to form the fool with a man's religion, mother, and/or his wife/girlfriend/ babymadda. Nor is this last a sexist observation, for as Buju reminds us, women are equally protective. Remember, is over "de diy-diy Jackie get stab, and get bun up wid acid bad, bad, bad. Dem look sweet, dark, nice, but dem ah guineagog, weh nah run nuh risk when it come to dem rod". Buju is saying the penis mightier than the sword. Don't it?

Actions have consequences

So if you play too hard with certain things that other people take very seriously, and if you do it in a way that invites scorn, realise that you are begging for a man to prove that his sword is bigger than your pen. In particular, you cannot annoy and distress and harass and provoke people on and on and not expect that one day a sick-head man is going to give yuh a buss ass. As Popcaan quite memorably reported, "Hot skull nuh tek bait up."

Plus, remember, not every don runs his garrison according to the same principles. When Jesus, our don, says to turn the other cheek and commands that we forgive, that isn't the way they see it where Muhammad runs things. So all that happened is that the cartoonists violated de man dem from the de wrong garrison.

Freedom to speak is a precious value, but it isn't the only one. Nor is it even the most important one or one without limits. But to say that is to border on modern heresy, isn't it? And where there's heresy, there lurks sacred things.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to