Anyone who follows the news, even in the most cursory manner, has heard about last week’s horrific slaughter of a group of individuals who worked for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The magazine had published articles and cartoons that criticize those who believe that the proper response to people making fun of a group’s religious beliefs is to kill them. Although the magazine writers had poked fun at all of the major religions, it was individuals who viewed themselves as followers of the Muslim faith that actually carried out these murders.
Before I go any further, I hasten to point out that Muslim statesmen, clerics and intellectuals have condemned these awful acts. Moreover, the vast majority of those who view themselves as Muslims are not going around murdering anyone, let alone people who voice criticism of their faith. That said, we still have laid before us on the front pages of every media outlet this particular event. I therefore am personally moved to spend some time today throwing around some relevant ideas. Anything that I do say today in no way is meant to imply that I think Muslims, in general, are more violent-prone or immature than other people.
Violence in Response to Criticism
Regular followers of this blog well know that I have put together a tentative model of different levels of maturity for responding to criticism. There are 5 levels. Level one is viewed as the most immature set of responses. Each higher level is viewed as more mature.
If you will, take a look below at the five levels of maturity and see what level of maturity best describes the actions of those who murdered the Charlie Hebdo magazine workers?
- This level requires displaying one or more of the following:
- Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts unless also displaying responses consistent with either level 4 or 5.
- Physically attacks the criticizer (regardless of whatever else is said or done)
- Damages property (regardless of what else is said or done)
- This level requires displaying one or more of the following:
- Insults the criticizer (either with words, hand gestures, the sticking out of a tongue, the rolling of the eyes, or smirks)
- Glares at the criticizer
- Threatens the criticizer
- Punches, kicks, or throws an object without physically hurting someone or damaging anything
- Criticizes the criticizer without first fully addressing the original criticism.
- This level requires displaying one or both of the following:
- Displays defensiveness without directly insulting the criticizer (raising voice’s volume or pitch)
- Displays a lack of interest either by verbally indicating this, or with nonverbal cues, or complete silence.
- Individuals at this level listen to the criticizer in a supportive, warm, friendly style, and then make it clear that they fully understand what was said. Moreover, they put the criticizer at ease by making statements that indicate that the wise learn from criticism. Some time is spent on showing that they are thinking about the criticism. If, after thinking about the criticism the criticism is deemed to be correct, they make a statement frankly indicating, “I can see your ideas have merit, and I intend to use them in the future.” If they are not sure if they agree, they make a statement indicating that they are very interested in what was said, plan to think a little more about this over the next few days and then they will be ready to discuss this further. If, after thinking about the criticism, the criticism is deemed to be incorrect, a statement is made designed to disagree without being disagreeable. More specifically, a sense of humor, some listening in a caring way and a few smiles help to traverse rough terrain. As the episode winds down, the criticizer is encouraged to feel comfortable communicating suggestions in the future.
- In addition to actions consistent with level 4, people acting in a manner consistent with level 5 seek ways to use, whenever they disagree with the criticism, a technique known as steering in the direction the criticizer would prefer to go. That is, rather than just disagreeing without being disagreeable, the criticized person seeks to find a new choice of action that creatively utilizes something suggested from the criticism. Steering cannot be incorporated into all situations, but it is an additional goal of the most mature individuals.
Okay, so now that you looked over the five levels of maturity for responding to criticism, which level do you think best matches those who slaughtered the group of individuals who worked for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo?
As I looked over the levels, the task was easy. As far as I’m concerned, level 1 is clearly the best match.
Now some might say, why bother to put the actions of those who did the killing in a developmental framework? For many, just calling them vile names more than suffices.
Well, one reason is that calling someone vile names doesn’t automatically point one to a description of what would be a more mature response, as a developmental model does. Additionally, if you want to talk the language of many experts in human behavior, getting away from the vile name calling fits in with their zeitgeist.
Consider Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty and the writer of yesterday’s New York Times Op-Ed titled “Islam’s Problem With Blasphemy.” First, Mr. Akyol points out that,
The only source in Islamic law that all Muslims accept indisputably is the Quran. And, conspicuously, the Quran decrees no earthly punishment for blasphemy — or for apostasy (abandonment or renunciation of the faith), a related concept. Nor, for that matter, does the Quran command stoning, female circumcision or a ban on fine arts.
Mr. Akyol explains that religious nationalism is guided by religious law — Shariah — which was developed over 100 of years after the Quran, and it is there that we find clauses about punishing blasphemy as a deadly sin. While Shariah is believed by many Muslims to be rooted in the divine, according to Mr. Akyol, the overwhelming majority of its injunctions are man-made, partly reflecting the values and needs of the seventh to 12th centuries — when no part of the world was liberal, and other religions, such as Christianity, also considered blasphemy a capital crime.
In contrast to Shariah law about blasphemy, the Quran tells its followers: “God has told you in the Book that when you hear God’s revelations disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse; surely then you would be like them.”
Mr. Akyol concludes his Op-Ed piece with the following:
Just “do not sit with them” — that is the response the Quran suggests for mockery. Not violence. Not even censorship.
Wise Muslim religious leaders from the entire world would do Islam a great favor if they preached and reiterated such a nonviolent and nonoppressive stance in the face of insults against Islam. That sort of instruction could also help their more intolerant coreligionists understand that rage is a sign of nothing but immaturity. The power of any faith comes not from its coercion of critics and dissenters. It comes from the moral integrity and the intellectual strength of its believers.
Notice Mr. Akyol’s last paragraph refers to immaturity, and he lays out what he views as a more mature, wiser path. That is the type of model that I, myself, am striving to emulate.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.