Magic Turtle: Rights in Conflict?


The attack on Charlie Hebdo because of its editorial policy has elicited a lot of support and a lot of criticism of the magazine. Some have even questioned the right of the periodical to publish satire (or parody or burlesque) of religious beliefs. It is my position that “rights” exist to the extent that they do not unduly curtail other “rights.” The right to free speech, for example, does not extend to playing your car radio at full blast under my bedroom window at 3:00 am. Similarly my US “right” to carry firearms does not extend to shooting you if and when you do. The classic admonition is that “The right of free speech does not include the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Another way of stating this principle is “Your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.”

In 1968 demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago protested a political system that they felt was manipulated to disenfranchise many potential voters. Recall that this was in the age of student activism and of the human rights movement. The numbers of protestors were many times larger than the “organizers” of the demonstration had anticipated. Like most cities that hold a national major convention, Chicago considered the demonstration a blot on its image. The mayor gave orders to his police department to “shoot to maim” and, in extreme cases, “shoot to kill.” Many of the demonstrators were beaten without obvious justification.

For historical perspective, the Convention nominated Hubert H. Humphrey as its presidential candidate. He went on to lose to Richard M. Nixon in the general election. There has been some speculation regarding the degree to which the actions of the City of Chicago negatively affected the candidacy of Humphrey. In my opinion, it single-handedly did not cost HHH the election, but it did have an impact on many young voters who had actively entered politics as a result of the candidacy and election of John F. Kennedy some eight years previously.

After the Convention, “ringleaders” were arrested and tried as “conspirators.” This group was known as the “Chicago 8,” but was later reduced to the “Chicago 7” when Black Panther leader Bobby Seale was separated from the group for failing to cooperate with prosecutors. The defendants were acquitted on some counts and found guilty on others. Abbie Hoffman (who later led the effort to recover the Love Canal from excessive pollution) said of the trial: “Conspiracy? Hell, we couldn’t even agree on lunch.” The convictions and also the indictments were overthrown and the judge and prosecutors were chastised by the appeals court.

A Blue Ribbon panel was appointed (they were popular back then) to report on the situation for the record. After lengthy narrative explaining the background and actions, the Blue Ribbon panel concluded that the “disturbance” was a “police riot,” and that police and authorities “over-reacted” to peaceful demonstrations. To this day, some demonstrators chant “Chicago 7” when strong action is seen as being needed. The images of the Chicago police rank with images of police dogs being turned loose on human rights demonstrators.

I mention the 1968 Chicago demonstrations since I feel a strong connection of it with Charlie Hebdo. I feel the right of free expression is as valid as the right to religious (or political or scientific) belief. The magazine was exercising this right. (I am not saying it was wise to do so, only that it was a basic freedom.) The attackers felt they were avenging a religious figure while they were actually swinging their arms into someone else’s nose.

If the issue is seen from the perspective of whose rights were more violated, then the question becomes “Is it worse to belittle my beliefs or to take my life?” And any valid answer should come only from one who does not have an intimate association with either. That is why I have problems with what Pope Francis said about the attack. He stated that people should not take belief systems lightly. But free speech is a belief system and his very statement belittles it. I have some respect for the way he has brought light and change to Christian thought, but feel he has completely left the rails on this.

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About Appleseed 20 Articles
I was born in 1937 and have been the subject of controversy in other ways as well. I dreamed of becoming a hermit when I grew up, but social issues which needed attention kept getting in my way. So eventually I became an activist hermit. My interests include mathematics (including statistics and computer science) and also range from history to sports (particularly ice hockey) to philosophy to narrative fiction (particularly science fiction) to music.


  1. I was once told that when a Muslim tells you something you should believe what they say because they mean every word. They said they would jihad whenever the image of the prophet appeared anywhere. Personally, I think Islam as the most peaceful of religions harbors the angriest followers. If only they didn’t take everything so seriously.
    Welcome to the 7poundbag community.

  2. Thanks for the welcome, Jane, and thanks for the comment. I have heard it said that Islam has been going through the “crusade” phase for the past 1000 years and more. This is longer than the 200 or so years of the Christian phase.

    And you are quite right in recognizing that this is essentially a war based on religious beliefs, but not between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. It is a war among the reactionary extremists (the “fundamentalists”) of these religions. My wish is that these fundamentalists from all the Abrahamic religions would move their hatred and violence to Mars and leave us on Earth to agree to disagree about some things.

  3. Unfortunately, if, what you ask to happen did actually happen it would absolutely change nothing. We would all just find another excuse to wage war upon one anther For whatever contrived excuse we could imagine. The essence of all war is the need for power and control based upon greed and economics. It has nothing to do with religion, race or any other contrivance of the human mind. The simplistic truth is that someone in control wants something that someone else has so that they can control more or sustain their level of control. If they can’t get it through one form of manipulation then they take by whatever means they think will succeed. Including convincing the populations they have reign over that open warfare or terrorism is necessary.

    Until we make the next necessary step in our evolution and become more “humane” in our dealings with one another and drop all the pretense and understand as MLK Jr. once said…”We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now” and “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” nothing will ever change.

    I submit that on the eve of the day we in America set aside to celebrate his life… “Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” — Martin Luther King

    “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” — Martin Luther King

  4. Joe,

    I agree with what you said and, indeed, could supplement your quotes with ones from M L King with other quotes from the Mahatma, Ghandi, and from N Mandella—-among others. My wish to deport to Mars all those who use religion as an excuse for violence was not intended to be a cure for all our ills—but only for the current situation. I did hear on a news broadcast that one Imam (I don’t know where or what sect) stated (in translation), “Terrorism has no religion.”

    I apologize if in the blog or in my reply to Jane Gray I did not make it clear that I was referring to the “publishing a caracture of Mohammad/free speech” issue and not to world-wide violence in general.

  5. I have no objection to the deportation of those abhorrent criminal Abrahamic religious minds to the continent of Mars in a manner much like Australia once served for the Brits. I just was pointing out it wouldn’t solve a whole hell of a lot given the reality of present mankind’s greed quotient. For whatever reason, we refuse to take our next step in our development as a civilized society.

    Karl Marx is often held up to ridicule on many of his theories and thoughts, either rightfully or wrongfully, but, one statement he made that I believe is entirely an unequivocal truth is often quoted as “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes” or “Religion… is the opiate of the masses”
    In reality, what he actually wrote was something that went like this… “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

    Either way I believe what he is saying is essentially true… because as Charles Kingsley wrote “We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable’s hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order.”

    Or… we use religion and the bible (and other holy books) as ways to con… manipulate… people into sometimes thinking stupid things and sometimes to do even stupider things… like kill others in God’s name.

    Another “quote” … from Lennon… (I hope the irony of the name is not lost)…

    “God is a concept
    By which we measure our pain
    I’ll say it again
    God is a concept
    By which we measure our pain

    I don’t believe in magic
    I don’t believe in I-Ching
    I don’t believe in Bible, etc… etc… ”

  6. Joe, Once we define the context, we seem to be on the same page to a large extent.

    One of my major learning experiences as a graduate student was teaming up with a Hindu from India and a Muslim from Pakistan. We studied together and partied together. The Hindu was reasonably devout but the Muslim and I were more dedicated to our personal understandings than to organized religion of any kind. Our religious outlook kind of paralleled that political outlook of Will Rogers: I do not belong to any organized (party/religion). I am a (Democrat/Christian). But I do feel that organized religion can be criticized for committing violence even more than organized crime can be.

    I do not find Karl Marx scarey. One of the projects I did as an undergraduate was to put several quotations from Marx and several quotations from Tom Jefferson on 3×5 cards and ask others to identify which said what. It was surprising how many made the wrong attributions. My respect, however, is more toward Jefferson. I think the best tribute to him was made by JFK at a White House banquet for past and present Nobel prize winners. JFK looked around the table and said, “This may be the greatest collection of brains this building has ever seen–except when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

    The quote from Jefferson that resonates with me is “The tree of liberty should be watered with the blood of every generation of patriots.” I do not like violence, so I interpret the remark to mean “spiritual blood.” But we are long overdo for a re-commitment to the principles upon which this country was built.

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