Learning from Paris’ Tragedy

Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragic violence in Paris. While it is understandable for both Muslims and Christians to feel outrage when they are ridiculed in the press, violence is never an acceptable response. This incident points again to the fact that while Christians have largely learned this lesson from Jesus’ example and teaching, Muslims still need our help to learn it. For the good of all we must become more effective at inviting Muslims everywhere to follow the Prince of Peace.

This tragedy also gives us a striking opportunity to better understand how Eastern value systems based on honor and shame differ from our Western value system based on right and wrong.

Thoughts About The Attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris
7 Jan 2015, by Roland Muller

Once again the Western world has reacted with shock to Muslim violence. Those in the West believe they are protecting freedom of speech, those in the Muslim world believe they and their religion are victims of ridicule and shame.

Many of you know I have written a great deal on these topics, including the book Honor & Shame, Unlocking the Door, in 2001. In this book I point out that much of the West views life through the paradigm of right versus wrong. We have our rights, and must protect them. If what we do is not wrong (against the law) then we have a right to our actions. In the East, however, many people view life through the paradigm of honor versus shame. We have our honor, and we must protect it, even with our lives. And we must avoid shame, and if shame is brought on us by others, it is perfectly OK to defend our honor. (See my chapter distilled for Mission Frontiers.)

It seems that many in the West still haven’t caught on. Eastern-thinking people will defend their honor. One of the worst things you can do to them is bring dishonor or ridicule on them. Muslims in particular uphold the belief that “with blood I can wash my shame away” (Abu Tammam). So when they are ridiculed in the Western press, especially through cartoons that stereotype and ridicule them, they feel justified in reacting violently. No amount of clamoring about freedom of speech will change this. This only makes Muslims more determined to bring Islam to Europe, so that the ridiculing and bullying will stop.

If I published a cartoon that criticizes a well known person without any truth behind it, perhaps making him out to be a pedophile, I should expect to be sued for liable. So if a Muslim feels robbed of his honor, the honor of his religion and the honor of his prophet by someone’s libelous actions, how does he get the shame removed and honor restored?

We do not think about this in our Western society. Winning a court case doesn’t restore a reputation, which may be forever damaged. Islam’s answer is: this is so important it is worthy of a death sentence carried out by the one shamed.

So when the French satirical weekly “Charlie Hebdo” published their cartoons, they committed an error considered in some parts of the world as worthy of the death penalty. Unfortunately for them, people with that perspective lived in their own country, and in their own city. Many Muslims just shrug and say: “They brought it on themselves.”

The problem in the West is that we often do not make the effort to honor the difference between critique and ridicule. It is much easier to draw a racist cartoon than it is to research and write a scholarly critique. And rather than taking time to challenge Muslims with well-reasoned arguments and articles, we resort to ridicule.

Lampooning Christians and Muslims with cartoons is currently within the accepted limits of freedom of speech in the West. But how would society have responded if the people at Charlie Hebdo were to ridicule homosexuals in this way? So why did they feel it was OK to ridicule Muslims?

Despite writing extensive articles and books about Islam and Muslims, I have not experienced any backlash because I strive to treat Muslims in a respectful way. I try to speak to them as I would my best friend. I desire that Muslims wrestle with issues without feeling threatened that I am judging them or ridiculing them.

Treating all men with respect is foundational to our Christian heritage. Now, when Christianity is crumbling in Europe and ridicule is on the rise toward both Muslims and bible-believing Christians, let us reflect and teach Muslims to embrace Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek—to bless and be blessed when people persecute us. Muslims have never been taught this. They understand an eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth, and the concept of revenge.

May we, as followers of Christians, demonstrate the love and kindness Jesus taught his followers to have.

Roland Muller, author of the above thoughts, contributed two articles in the current issue of Mission Frontiers, which deals with this very topic of how the gospel interacts with honor/shame cultures.

– In the print version of MF, Roland’s article Honor and Shame Beyond the Gospel points toward the far broader influence of honor/shame values than just how we understand and present the gospel.

– And in the on-line edition of MF, the additional book excerpt to which Roland alludes points more specifically to what we can learn from this tragedy in Paris.

Here are other resources for better understanding the honor/shame mindset:
– watch this new (2015) 5-minute video introduction to honor/shame,
– browse this summary of my research into honor/shame dynamics, or
– read any of these books:

About Robby Butler

— served 24 years at the U.S. Center for World Mission with Ralph Winter. — founded Mission Network & is a contributing editor for Mission Frontiers. — lives in Anacortes, WA with Jackie and their kids: Joelle, Dana, & Wesley.

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