This is a time of year when the garlic gets a little easier to peel. This is the beginning of a casserole that will feature some Great Northern beans that I soaked all last night, a head of garlic, some of Pete’s chorizo, probably some onions, some of our bottled tomatoes and some greens scavenged from under the tents in the garden. I get to make this up as I go along. It’s a lovely change from the ruminations of yesterday, full of angst and murder. Angst and murder are always there, but this is what will fill the kitchen with aromas this afternoon, allowing for a little lightening of the general mood.
Today’s attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, as well as on the spirit of criticism in which they worked, brings thoughts of all those works of the Enlightenment in which tolerance was such a dominant theme. The illustration is from the cover of a recent pocket edition of Lettres persanes, by Montesquieu, in which he portrayed the foibles of contemporary European society as he would have imagined it to be perceived by a couple of visitors from the Levant, in effect mocking his own people. Montesquieu went on at some length in other works, notably L’Esprit des lois, about the need for separation of powers and about keeping religion out of the business of worldly government, a notion that seems increasingly imperilled all over the world, though not every so brazenly as seems to be the case with certain fundamentalists unable to close their eyes to an irreverent attitude on the part of those who don’t share their views of either the spiritual or the temporal world. When Charlie Hebdo first published images of the Prophet, it was clear that they had knowingly hit on a very raw nerve, and to those most offended, being an equal-opportunity lampooner matters little, underlying the sense that certain sects of almost all religions cannot and will not distinguish between the affairs of this Earth and those of whatever version of celestial existence is part of their credo. In addition, and this is where the real rub arises, they cannot and will not accept that what constitutes their own system of beliefs has no relevance for those of other systems of belief: they have all the right answers, and they have the answers for everyone, to the point where simple argumentation will not suffice for redress of transgression and all other dogmas must be extirpated. These are people who are not willing to let the elected and the damned be sorted at death, heretics must be expedited on their way to eternal damnation. Charlie Hebdo chose to be the burr under the saddle in a time and place where there was considerable risk of inciting the kind of violence that was visited upon them today, they knew those risks and chose to proceed. It’s a heavy price to pay and will only be validated if there arises a true spirit of willingness to tolerate diverging opinion. It is also a little painful to hear the commentary from folks like John Kerry and Stephen Harper, as well as other leaders who have been the beneficiaries of tolerant societies who rise up to pontificate on the values represented by a free and open press and the unfettered flow of information and ideas, but who support emasculated and feckless organs of a press establishment that consistently curries favour with corrupt enterprise in both the public and private sphere, and whose organs of government engage in prosecutions of whistleblowers and other truth-tellers, the rendition and torture of prisoners and the extra-judicial executions of those who either refuse, or even neglect, to follow their own social and economic dogma. It’s sad that we pay so little beyond lip service to the thought embodied in the works of Montesquieu, his contemporaries in the Enlightenment, and those who both preceded and followed up in the quest for tolerant pluralism.