The article title in Businessweek is “Why People Kill People Over Satire.” But the URL reads “Why the terrorists killed the satirists of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.” Curious, isn’t it? The article title generalizes too much, watering down the particular. Sure, Islamic terrorists are terrorists, and certainly terrorists are people. So one can substitute use the general “people” instead of the particular “Islamic terrorists.” The title of the article is overly general, the URL is somewhere along the middle, and the particularized question that needs answering is “Why do only Islamic terrorists kill people over satire these days?”
But that specific particularized question is hard even to ask, leave alone answer these days. Ask and be instantly branded “Islamophobic.” Only those who have immense cojones — such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali — are brave and honest enough to address the specific. Anyway, so Eric Roston asks why people kill people over satire. He quotes Steven Pinker as part of the explanation:
We’re told we respond to threats in one of two ways: fight or flight. There is a third response: the laughter reflex. That’s our way of standing down without running away, or of standing up without really fighting. Greece had Aristophanes. Kings had their fools. France has Charlie Hebdo.
Charlie Hebdo does satire, and satire is weaponized humor. It’s an evolutionary tool that people who are neither in power nor armed can use to reduce the stature of the mighty — or, like radical Islam, the grandiose. It identifies something undignified, corrupt or otherwise low-status about the powerful or sacred, says Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of several popular science books.
As soon as that happens, laughter automatically ripples through those in the crowd who agree. Simply by hearing and reflexively understanding the joke, a listener acknowledges that the satirist’s target is asking for it.
And that laughter doesn’t mean just that the listeners understand the satire, Pinker says. It means they understand that everyone else understands it.
So it’s an epiphany, instantly transforming the common knowledge that holds communities together, the foundation of social order. In a blink, the emperor has no clothes.
“That’s why satire is not always such funny business,” Pinker says.
Evolutionary explanations make sense to me and I like them.
Now back to the matter of Islamic terrorism. Watch this brief Australian Broadcasting Corporation Jan 9th interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Here’s a bit of from the transcript:
JANE HUTCHEON: Ever since 9/11, the Western world, as you call it, has spent a lot of money on security, we’ve gone to war, there have been wars and yet the problem still persists. What practical measures do you advocate that Western governments, including France and Australia, can undertake?
AYAAN HIRSI ALI: If we acknowledge that there is an infrastructure of indoctrination into the young hearts and minds, hearts and minds that are vulnerable, that are impressionable, of young men – mostly young men, but also of women, and that we have allowed this infrastructure to seed in the West and to thrive; if we come to terms with the fact that this is and has been going on for a long time, that we need to dismantle – you asked for practical solutions. We need to dismantle this infrastructure of indoctrination and replace it, replace it with an infrastructure where we inculcate into the minds and hearts of young people an ideology or ideas of life, love, peace, tolerance.
JANE HUTCHEON: As you know, in the wake of the Paris attacks, the media has been showing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. In your view, do you feel the media in the past years has been self-censoring and will it continue to self-censor?
AYAAN HIRSI ALI: You are still continuing to self-censor because you have not published or republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. You have not honoured Charlie Hebdo the way they need to be honoured, which is they took a risk, they took a risk to stand up for the core values of Western civilisation. And you, the media, are letting them down. You have drawn and published caricatures of the terrorists, but you have not published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
JANE HUTCHEON: Can I ask you how much of these events – what happened in Sydney, the Paris attacks – how much of this is due to the power vacuum in Syria?
AYAAN HIRSI ALI: Look, this – the idea of the Islamists, the idea that they can bring the world down through terrorism, among other means, to believe that sharia is the way and the only way that human beings can live, that idea is so much older than what is going on in Syria and what is going on in Iraq.
I have added emphasis in the quoted bit above. Islamic terrorism began in the 7th century CE, under the warlord Mohammed. It’s not new. The Americans think that it began on “9/11.” More likely it began on 9/11 of 675 CE, or some such year.
Anyway, here’s Bill Maher in conversation with Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy starts off with “people were killed by people” and Bill sets him straight. “Muslim terrorists.” :