The Making of an Image without a Soul


It’s one month since we watched perplexed the terrorist attacks at the Charlie Hebdo. What have we learned since then? Are we still Charlie?

As you probably know, the cover of the first post-attack edition of the Charlie Hebdo featured a caricature of Mohamed, the prophet, dropping a tear, holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign, and standing under the phrase “Tout est pardonné” (Everything is forgiven).

Over that cover, thousands protested in Islamic counties, Cristian churches were burned, a dozen died somewhere in Africa.

This made me think of how amazing the power of assigning a meaning is. That bad drawn caricature could be anyone. It could represent any less holy Mohamed. For what it matters, it could even represent myself wearing a turban after growing a beard.

No one has any idea on how the prophet looked like. Then the only source of meaning was in the context. We believe that the figure represents the forbidden image. And people die for and due to this meaning. It’s sad and ridiculous at same time.

I’ve drawn a human figure; 650 muscles, 206 bones of pure anatomy to make Michelangelo green envy:


In my mind this human figure represents a person. I won’t say who. It could be Mohamed, or Pope Francis, or the guy standing at the corner whom I can see from my window. Given that the name of my soulless Golem is hidden in my mind, should I be punished for a potential heresy?


Speaking of Pope Francis, he played quite a shameful role in this episode.

Working for his own agenda, he claimed that religions should be the limit of the free speech. According to him, to speak badly of his religion is like to speak badly of his mother; and if someone speaks badly of his mother, he could punch that person.

The Pope couldn’t be more unfortunate with this metaphor pumping out of his Latin-macho veins.

Violence is a major problem in Latin America where the Pope was born. It homes 9% of the world population, but accounts for 30% of homicides. Most of this violence is motivated by a culture of honor, which legitimates things like a husband to kill an unfaithful wife, or a person to punch someone who cursed his mother.

Dear Francis, are you saying that violence is acceptable to protect the honor?


Then it comes the beef: is religion the limit for freedom of speech?

Of course not!

Religion is an instrument of power, many times, of oppression. It branches into politics, uses public funds. It spreads its tentacles over the civil society, imposing itself even over non-believers. How could it rest comfortable within a criticism-free bubble?

There’s a lot of confusion in this discussion. I know people who would agree with a general statement like “Religion should not be criticized,” but they are thinking of a personal level, like “it’s not a good idea to tell a date over dinner how stupid she is for attending mass every Sunday instead of sleeping till late.”

I don’t like most of the Charlie Hebdo’s jokes. It’s a kind of humor that I appreciated when I was 14. I also don’t see any reason for dawking around against religion all the time.

But the discussion about free speech should not be mistaken for a discussion on bad taste or bad manners on a personal level. It isn’t about individuals, it’s about society. If free speech exists and you live in a society of millions, you must expect that a fraction of people will be always speaking things that you think distasteful, impolite, or uncomfortable.

There’s no half free speech, in the same way that there’s no half pregnancy.


In the days that followed the attack, many analysts came out trying to rationalize what would lead a person to murder over few caricatures. It was a lot of political, sociological and psychological mambo-jambo, which I didn’t really pay much attention to. (My respect for those sciences whose success rate of their predictions is near random guess isn’t very high.)

But what impressed me, more than those feeble attempts of explaining the attacks, was the response of some other people to these explanations. They believed that any attempt of understanding the terrorists was a kind of supporting terror. For them, the attackers were monsters, full stop.

I didn’t take the sociological or psychological  analyses very seriously, but I respect the attempt of finding a rational for the attacks.  Of course there are reasons for such a barbarous behavior. To understand them is essential for preventing new attacks in a more intelligent way than keeping an eternal Bush-like war to terror.


And speaking of psychology… Every time I see young men engaged in radical behavior, it sends chills down my spine.

Given the right context, I could have been one of them. I was an uneasy teen. Intelligent but antagonist. Looking for meaning everywhere. Maybe immature enough to be convinced that killing innocents in Europe would be justifiable, within a hypocrite system that kills innocents in Syria and Palestine. Luckily, I grew old without being captured by this or other kind of radical bullshit.

That would have been sad, ridiculous even.


The whole civilized world was schocked by the barbarian attack at Charlie Hebdo. Nevertheless, nobody felt really responsible for that. It was the work of few isolated radicals, wasn’t it?

I wouldn’t be so indulgent. Let’s attribute some responsibilities.

In a 0-10 scale, how much do you agree with each of the statements below?

  • Education of boys is more important than of girls.
  • Religion should be in the base of kid’s education.
  • Religious education must be mandatory in schools.
  • Freedom of speech should be limited.
  • Religions must not be criticized or satirized.
  • You wouldn’t hire a person depending on his or her religion.
  • It’s acceptable to take justice in your hands if your honor is attacked.
  • Some aspects of civil law could be based on religious moral.
  • A state may bring attached a religious or ethnic denomination.

The higher your total score, the bigger is your responsibility for creating a world where religious terror has a place.



Categories: Culture

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