anti-authoritarianism, Charlie Hebdo, Descartes, French Revolution, Salman Rushdie, satire, scientific thinking, skepticism, the largest political rally in French Hisory, the Reformation, The Satanic Verses
The terrorist attacks on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher super market that killed 17 people galvanized French people to show up in a massive protest rally on January 11th. Many media reported at least 3.7 million people showed up for this anti-terrorism rally in Paris that included foreign dignitaries, such as the British Prime Minister, the German Chancellor and the Israel Prime Minister. Many of the attendants were wearing slogans, such as “I am Charlie,” and “I am Jewish,” expressing solidarities to those who were the targets of terrorist attacks. The attack on the journalists of Charlie Hebdo is the latest of the physical attacks (threatened and actual) on the people who expressed criticism or skepticism on the hyper-pious attitude of some Muslims, which started with the death edict placed on British writer Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini for writing a satirical postmodern fiction The Satanic Verses. I found it interesting that this rally was the largest of political rallies in French history. Since the past terrorist attacks on Jewish establishment did not incite such an outrage among the contemporary French I think this level of outrage was caused by the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. Then, I wondered why the murderous attack on the satirical weekly roused the French so much as to make this anti-terrorism political rally the largest one in French history.
It is generally considered that philosophical modernity began with Descartes’ skepticism that questioned even his own existence. (Needless to say, Descartes was French.) This sort of thorough skepticism led to the development of scientific thinking, which refused to accept the existing ideas as true without testing the veracity or functionality of these ideas. Meanwhile this level of skepticism as well as the scientific thinking severely devalued the religious ideologies. It seems the case that the ruling classes, whether theological or political, did not have to worry about their subjects’ minor skepticism, when majority of people were kept illiterate and ignorant. (For instance, people might have distrusted a neighborhood merchant’s calculation of costs but they generally believed the theological or political foundations of their societies.) But, once people’s literacy and learning started to develop beyond the necessities of their daily needs, they started to question the very foundations of their societies. This phenomenon first happened in the west in the form of theological or political revolutions, such as the Reformation and French Revolution. So, one would say that the people who grew up and were educated in France, the land of Charlie Hebdo, should be well versed in the attitude of skepticism, if not scientific at least in theological and political skepticism. The satirical literary genre is deeply rooted in French culture. Thus, the French reacted to the latest attack on their cultural tradition of skepticism and anti-authoritarianism with force.