When events like the Charlie Hebdo massacre occur, questions like this arise: “Is it OK to make fun of religion?”
These days, the word “religion,” more often than not, is code for one dominant religion in particular. After all, we’ve never asked that question before; we’ve always made fun of religion, the humorist’s oldest target.
Indeed, today the generic term “religion” implies Islam, but hopes to include others. (Recall how a few years ago the UN was being asked to pass laws prohibiting “the insulting of religion,” a measure put forward by Muslim countries and clerics.) Something to look out for will be attempts to fulfill the promise of a more inclusive meaning to the word, to demonstrate that one could very well be referring to any and all religions.
A harbinger of that reared its head recently in an item about some young women disrespecting Jewish grave sites in Poland. Rather than using words and phrases that we’re used to, such as “insult to Judaism” or “insensitive to Jewish people,” or even “anti-Semitic,” the objections used the phrase “an insult to religion,” giving false credence to the notion that the term applies as much to any other religion as Islam. The caveat in this case was that the offense happened in Poland, where “religion” or “religious” is often code for Jewish — given that country’s sad Jewish history — but the use of the expression nonetheless seems to foreshadow counter-manipulations of the original semantics manipulation that is “religion.” An abridged version of the article:
Cemetery Photo Shoot Sparks Outrage and is being called an Insult to Religion (The Blaze, May 31, 2015)
…Volunteers for From the Depths, an organization dedicated to preserving Jewish cemeteries and ritual items in Poland, were shocked last week to stumble upon the images while they were engaged in online research on Jewish cemeteries in Kalisz, a city in central Poland.
“It absolutely shocked us to find the pictures that these girls had decided to model in such provocative poses at the site of the Jewish cemetery, clearly knowing what they were doing,” Jonny Daniels, founder and executive director of From the Depths, told The Blaze Sunday.
“This isn’t an act necessarily of anti-Semitism, it’s an act of stupidity and religious intolerance that we’re standing up against,” Daniels said.
Given one of the women was wearing a belt with “Jesus” emblazoned across the center, Christian Poles also found it offensive.
From the Depths complained about the photos to the state prosecutor in Poland where offending religious feelings can carry a punishment of up to two years in prison.
…After the Holocaust, many Jewish gravestones, some hundreds of years old, were used in construction projects, re-purposed as machine tools, in bathrooms and even for a wall in the Warsaw Zoo. From the Depths has recruited nearly 1,000 Polish Christian volunteers to help locate missing and in many cases damaged gravestones and return them to the historical Jewish cemeteries.
The city of Kalisz was one of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland, dating as far back as the 12th century….the last census before the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland showed that 20,000 Jews lived in Kalisz. Today, there are no Jews left there.
Succumbing to a related temptation, Canada’s National Post last month headlined a letters section with a Jewish reader’s characterization of a problematic Orthodox element (though its members don’t kill you for not being Jewish) as “Jewish Taliban”:
When ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, New York and London are taught that Christianity is idolatry and all Gentiles are idolaters, it should not surprise us that extremist Jews allegedly tried to burn down an iconic church in northern Israel. For the past several years in Israel many churches have been torched and gangs of young ultra-Orthodox Jews bravely target lone elderly priests and spit at them. Sadly, there are countless laws against non-Jews in Halacha (Judaic law) and the ultra-Orthodox are indoctrinated with a fierce hostility toward them…If Israel wants to be recognized as a Western outpost in the Middle Eastern jungle and maintain the strong friendship of conservative Christians…it must crack down hard on the Jewish Taliban in black hats. –Jacob Mendlovic, Toronto.
Anyway, such semantics antics are just something to have a radar for.