Honoring Charlie Hebdo, and all who challenge society with a pen

IN 1879, the then-wildly popular Puck Magazine published a cartoon by Joseph Keppler called "The Religious Vanity Fair." In a two-page drawing, Keppler mockingly depicted "The Arcade of True Faith," featuring a Catholic priest selling indulgences, a hook-nosed Jew, a financial trickster Presbyterian, a polygamist Mormon, a mortify-your-body Methodist, a dotty Episcopalian priest, a rotund new-age preacher pushing the "Love Road to Heaven" and other ordained and self-appointed religious leaders.
When Muslims, then referred to as "Muhammadens," began arriving freely in noticeable numbers in the 1890s, Keppler undoubtedly would have given them the compliment of treating them as equals by including one of their revered clerics (possibly even Muhammad) in his arcade.
Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the murderous attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, who would publish an updated "Arcade of True Faith" that included anyone who might remotely be confused with Muhammad?
The French undoubtedly would. After gunmen left 12 dead and more wounded in Hebdo's Paris office building last Jan. 7, donations poured in and the magazine promptly reprinted, with a cover image including Muhammad that urged forgiveness. People around the world snatched up over 7 million copies of what has become a collector's item. To mark this week's anniversary, Charlie Hebdohas God on its cover.
It's unlikely Americans would touch an updated Keppler arcade. Here in the land of the free and home of the First Amendment, most major American publications respected the Charlie Hebdo gunmen's wishes and demurely refrained from using the magazine's controversial images. In addition, respected voices questioned whether the dead cartoonists had been "punching down" by deliberately insulting members of the world's second largest religion.
As the year wore on, we learned that a handful of cartoonists drawing Muhammad weren't the only ones punching down. Also guilty of insulting the sensibilities of well-armed and humor-impaired religious zealots on Nov. 13 were Parisians drinking wine in cafes, men strolling with unswathed women in public and music lovers rocking out. If we are going to give up controversial cartoons to placate zealots, we also should sacrifice cafes, rock concerts and Westerners going about their daily lives.
Perhaps Americans hoped that refraining from publishing the Hebdo drawings would protect us in this country. Shootings at the Marine recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the San Bernardino, Calif., government health workers' office proved that to be wishful thinking. Whether we like it or not, we are all Charlie Hebdo.
If aspiring jihadists actually read cartoons, they'd see that many (though certainly not all) American cartoonists have used their pens to advocate for peacefully welcoming Muslim newcomers and to question our use of force in the Middle East. Liberal cartoonists have been satirizing American politicians who demand we build bigger walls, carpet-bomb someone or another, and limit our hospitality to Christians. Conservative cartoonists (yes, they exist and thrive!) attack President Obama and other Democrats for being blind to terror and brutally mock the terrorists. But even cartoonists who have satirized ruling Muslim clerics and jihadists don't throw around images of Muhammad.
By steering clear of Muhammad's image, we have tacitly agreed to let jihadist Muslims dictate how - and even whether - to picture their prophet. It should be noted that we do not grant this privilege to other religions. Jesus appears in cartoons, as do Jewish prophets. The cross has been depicted, as has the Jewish Star of David. They are used sparingly, but when believers do wretched things in the name of their prophet, they shouldn't be surprised if their prophet appears in a cartoon. And, speaking of symbols, that goes for more secular icons such as our flags - both U.S. and Confederacy.
When prophets and sacred cows from all realms do appear in cartoons, cartoonists aren't surprised at angry replies. We often end up in "discussions" with our readers whose calmer responses end up on the letters and op-ed pages, while more vitriolic eruptions show up on Facebook and Twitter. Clever respondents return fire with their own cartoons. That's how it should be. But you can't have a discussion if one side is murdered or muzzled.
The best way to honor those who died a year ago in Paris is to run provocative cartoons and then, of course, to run the responses. Otherwise, cartoons become safe spaces where no one, anywhere, could possibly object. Or care.
This is America. We should welcome everyone of every religion equally to our challenging and invigorating Arcade of True Faith.

Signe Wilkinson is Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Daily News. Email: signe@signetoons.com
On Twitter: @SigneWilk

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Source http://mobile.philly.com/news/opinion?wss=/philly/opinion&id=364452301


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