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Not In My Name
by Nikos Laios
2015-01-09 09:06:21
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''Je suis Charlie", that is the phrase that I am currently repeating to myself in silent determination at the moment here in Sydney, Australia.

je03_400"I am Charlie”, I repeat, as a gentle, late night breeze cools the heated embers of a dying summer day; floating through the window with the blinds flapping, swaying chaotically like the sails of a sailing ship changing course. The curled aroma of frangipani incense sticks floating through my studio apartment and out through the screen door mingling with the overhanging melancholy eucalyptus trees outside my balcony.

How many people around the world right now are muttering this phrase?

I reflect silently, numbed, as the television in the background blurs, playing music from the seventies disco movie -  'Saturday Night Fever' - with John Travolta twirling, dancing on the screen to the famous disco hit; 'Disco Inferno' by the Trammps.

The lyrics wailing; "burn baby burn, disco inferno."

How many families in Paris right now are mourning for the loss of the twelve people gunned down by Islamic terrorists at the office of the French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo'?

It is a typical hot summer January here in Sydney, and things seem to be the same like they do every time of this year; the ferries plough the slapping blue-crested waves splashing white foam against the metallic hulls, as the ferries transports groups of scattered people heading south from North Sydney across Sydney harbour towards Circular Quay - the southern foreshore of the harbour.

The lights of the ferries, bars, cafes and clubs fall on the water like threads of neon tapered colours; greens, reds, blues and yellows sculpting blob-like shapes on the water; but somehow tonight, this seems all so empty and meaningless.

This New Year’s wasn't the same at all; the air of Sydney was subdued and sad - if wasn't spoken of off course - but the shadows of the dead victims of our own terrorist shooting at the Lindt cafe played on everyone's mind here.

Now with this terrible tragedy in Paris, Sydney-siders today are showing a grim, silent determination and solidarity with our French brothers and sisters, with people raising their arms in the air holding a pen. Not everyone, but one can see this occurring in groups of people, at bus stops, ferries, and in cafes; now Sydney is mournful again, remembering and feeling the loss our Parisian comrades.

As a writer, artist, and free thinker - this is a shock to me, more than anyone else - for ideas and knowledge are my life blood, and I revel in the tradition of the European enlightenment.

They are the very modus operandi in my life, my defining culture; to explore ideas, thoughts and knowledge; to examine and challenge ideas and philosophies with vigour, which is my birthright as a child of the enlightenment. Which is all of our birthright, whether we are conscious if it or not.

I fly between two continents - Australia and Europe - but I never forget the victory of the mind achieved by European culture; that we as citizens in whichever western country we live in, enjoy this right to Liberty, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness.

This is a luxury indeed compared to the billions of people around the world who currently live under the rule political totalitarianism, violence, poverty, drudgery, oppression, slavery and genocide; be they in North Korea, the killing fields of Tutsis and Hutus, Burma, Pakistan, or the Middle East.

The benefits of the enlightenment that we currently enjoy in the west are not birthrights, but privileges to be cherished; by both the native western populations and the new immigrant groups, whereby one of the major reasons for the immigrants migrating to their new homes in the west is to enjoy a better life and to have a better future. Europe is indeed like a warm welcoming inclusive mother who loves all of her children.

The question now comes to mind, is Islamic culture compatible with the culture of the west?

A cursory and perfunctory examination does indeed raise some serious questions, but here I am an eternal optimist and humanist and believe in the beauty, grandeur and nobility of the human soul to find its way inexorably to a better, higher state of the self.

The Islamic gunmen who perpetrated these crimes did indeed commit them in the name of Islam - whether one cares to accept this or not - but the conundrum here is that when one looks at statistics of crime and murder annually across Europe; crime committed in the name of Islam either figure not at all, or hardly. With, most of the crimes committed by domestic causes, including home grown European terrorists: anarchists, leftists, and fascists.

So the fear and insecurity felt towards the new Muslim immigrants in Europe by the native populations is indeed unfounded; and where I would imagine that many Muslim people across Europe (and the world) are exclaiming right now in response to this crime: "not in my name."

The many peaceful and law abiding Muslim citizens who are enjoying their western

Peace and prosperity, in happiness and freedom; and who are indeed horrified at the Paris massacre.

Are there societal pressures in Europe between native Europeans, and Muslim immigrants (and the children of immigrants)? Sure there is, but we live in the continent of the enlightenment, and within the cultural traditions of the free exchange of ideas, rational inquiry and reason; a long-term, fruitful dialogue in love and light is the road to follow now.

Europe is mostly a secular society; where reason and religion, church and state have been long separated; where spirituality is a personal subjective choice for most Europeans, and where the alien and barbaric concepts of the blasphemy laws that exist within the tenets of Islam are foreign and out of synchronicity with European culture.

There are many progressive European Muslim, Islamic scholars who agree here and are crying out for some kind of reform within Islam. But the question needs to be asked, how about Europe, are we so free of this anachronism called blasphemy?

In Greece for example, its constitution clearly guarantees freedom of expression under Article 14 of its constitution, but Greece's penal code also includes blasphemy and religious insult provisions under Section 7, Articles 198 and 19.

These blasphemy laws are found in Section 7 of the Penal Code, called “Offences Against Religious Peace,"which contains four provisions: two of which Articles 198 and 199   which address blasphemy and religious insults. This has been used many times against artists, musicians and writers.

During the twentieth century, the famous Greek poet, writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote a novel titled: "The Last Temptation of Christ."

A novel about the human story of Jesus, as he struggles to find and accept his divine calling, and who in midst of this struggle, finds a sort of freedom. Where the full gamut of his humanity is portrayed; his doubts, struggles, worries, feelings, emotion and lust; in a vision whilst on the cross of an alternate, human version of his life, before accepting his divine calling at the end.

When this novel was first published in Greece and then Europe, religious zealots protested vigorously, with the blasphemy laws coming into play; but this book ultimately become accepted as part of the corpus of the European literary and philosophical legacy and dialogue, as a valid examination of the tradition of religious spirituality within the search for some kind of new meaning.

Similar protests also occurred against the controversial photographer and artist Andrés Serrano, and his work: 'Piss Christ', which is a depiction of a red-tinged photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass container of the artist's own urine; or Chris Ofili's artwork of the Holy Virgin Mary complete with elephant dung.

Protests were held against all of these works - as is our democratic right - but where we also enjoy the democratic right to examine, question and ridicule ideas (including philosophies and religion),through that particular European tradition of satire.

The enlightenment has furnished modern Europeans with the instruments and tools to allow one to undertake a personal examination of life to find some meaning, for as Socrates once stated;

"The unexamined life is not worth living."

In our modern, relativist, ugly, postmodernist world; the search for reason and truth is sometimes feared, in that it could lead us to the unknown, but here I agree with that famous Greek thinker and author Nikos Kazantzakis, in his novel -  'The Last Temptation of Christ' - where he stated:

What is truth? What is falsehood? Whatever gives wings to men, whatever produces great works and great souls and lifts up a man's height above the earth - that's true. Whatever clips off man's wings - that's false.

Thus, the French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo', also follows in this irreverent questioning of life through a rigorous examination of the world, to offer us some freedom; in the freedom sought through a daily struggle,

Nikos Kazantzakis is buried on the island of Crete in Greece on the wall around the city of Heraklion near the Chania Gate, because the church would not allow him to be buried in a Christian cemetery.

His epitaph reads:

 "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."

 "Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος."

Let us hope that the sacrifice by the French martyrs for the enlightenment, and for the European tradition of an equal and egalitarian society did not die in vain, and that anytime a Muslim citizen of Europe exclaims: "Not in my name”, that the possibility of a better Europe is being built.


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Emanuel Paparella2015-01-09 13:26:04
What you point out Nikos is a conundrum that needs to be debated more extensively in democratic countries. How far should democracies go in tolerating free speech against democracy? Is it a formula for suicide? When Voltaire, the quintessential man of the Enlightenment, pointed out that he might disagree with you but would defend to death your right to disagree with him, he was of course advocating “freedom of speech” in the agora or public square, which would logically mean that such a freedom could be exercised not only in the privacy of one’s home, or church, or synagogue, or mosque but in the public space, together with the expression of any other opinion. Does declaring oneself a secular society (what the French call laicitè) mean that one can legitimaly exclude the voice of religion, any religion, from the public square and relegate it to the private sphere in the name of a hermetic separation of Church and State, or even worse, sweep it under the carpet of “spirituality” which is a term that could mean everything and nothing at the same time?

Moroever, should we keep in mind that even freedom of speech has its limits; one cannot go into a theater and shout “fire” and cause a stampede in the name of free speech.

As it was to be expected, all the neo-fascist elements of the EU are now commiserating with the victims of the brutal reprehensible crimes committed by the “Islamo-fascists” in Paris and elsewhere and shedding abundant crocodile tears, but is a La Pen, who now sits pretty in the EU Parliament, ready to accept multiculturalism and freedom of speech should she become president of France? I for one doubt it. That is to say, how far should we go, in the name of the Enlightenment and free speech in tolerating the free speech of those who are out to subvert democracy from inside the Trojan horse in the EU Parliament? Is a new denazification program urgently needed as Anis advocates in those very pages today?

These are burning complex questions which are far from being settled in the mind of multiculturalists and “enlightenment” advocates in the West. They need to be discussed and debated and I trust we will in Ovi magazine, and other places concerned for a democracy to which much lip service is paid to, but in reality in danger of committing suicide. I suppose that such is the function of a comment section in any publication worth its salt.

Nikos Laios2015-01-09 23:57:44
Indeed it is a conundrum, and the question is rightly asked.There is no 'correct' or right measure of free speech - yet we should not fear it but embrace it - for it is within the context of free speech that we can investigate,and exchange ideas which may possibly lead us to higher and new directions in our lives and society in general.We either embrace free speech completely - with both its potentiality and negative downside - or not at all.I think that we should be brave and embrace it completely,for one never knows where that can take one; on exciting and revelatory journeys.

Nikos Laios2015-01-10 00:08:12
....and the othe point I think is,that we should always have faith that the good will always rise to the top in society,and overcome the 'evil' of hatred,racism,intolerance and misunderstanding.The question is,What is the ''good'?, what is the good life? how should one conduct oneself? These are age old questions that have been asked in Ancient Greece by philosophers,and are still relevant today,and questions I think that need to continually be asked both here and in othe forums and their answers examined.But of course,we can only undertake this task within the spirit of free inquiry in the tradition of the enlightenement.

Emanuel Paparella2015-01-10 18:09:03
Indeed Nikos, I fully agree, legally speaking free speech should be embraced and accepted by all countries which claim to be democratic, but that does not eliminate the prudential or moral aspect of free speech. There are limits after all. One ought not be allowed to slander with impunity in the name of free speech especially when the slander is directed toward persons that are religiously revered, or blaspheme just for the sake of blaspheming and provoking and shocking, and then simply call it satire. This of course is not to approve of the outrageous response of the Islamo-Fascists, or the response of Marina Le Pen sitting pretty in the Trojan horse within the EU Parliament and biding her time..., who wishes to reinstate the death penalty in France to better administer swift "fascist" justice. An eye for an eye as the saying goes and before you know it the whole world will be blind. Free speech, to my mind, is a penultimate goal of the good society, not an ultimate one.

In fact, the cartoons in question have so far not been shown by any mainstream newspaper or magazine or TV station, correctly so. There is a reason for refraining to do so despite the temptation to do just that, and it has to do not with legality under the law and the rules of democracy, but with ethics and respect for truth based on the crucial distinction made by Socrates 24 hundred years ago between sophistry and love of wisdom (or philo-sophia).

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