This past week, the satirical French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, had its Paris office firebombed. Its website and Facebook page were also hacked and remain inaccessible. Liberation, a secular, left-leaning French paper, is currently hosting Charlie Hebdo. Charlie Hebdos crime? It brought a Muslim deity down to earth by satirizing it, and thus challenged its adherents beliefs.
Worship is a very natural form of expression, which I understand and respect. It makes us vulnerable and opens us in the process to the unexpected. I will paraphrase Marcel Proust to help you imagine what I live through when mechanically, and often dispirited, I raise to my lips a cup of this dark, fluid sensuality. No sooner has the warm liquid touched my palate than a shudder runs through me and I stop, intent upon the extraordinary thing that is happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invades my senses and at once the vicissitudes of life become indifferent to me, its disasters become innocuous, and its brevity illusory.
Did you guess? It is coffee. Turkish coffee, Italian coffee, French coffee or Café Viennois. It does not matter. And, to add another spoonful of Prousts words, every dreary moment I sip it, coffee brings to me a new sensation the way love does, filling me with a precious essence: I cease to feel mediocre, contingent, and mortal. I am filled with an infinite, omnipotent joy.
I grew up surrounded by coffee worshipers. Coffee brought unqualified joy to otherwise ordinary, hard-working women. Transfixed, from early childhood on, I watched Mom and her friends become suddenly fascinating once the boiling pots of hot coffee were sipped. In the séances of tasseography that followed, dreams of everlasting happiness were nascent through readings of unspoken hope made manifest in coffee grounds.
I am secular by religion. But coffee will always remain a revered minor god of mine. Lets say she is my Rosa Luxembourg and I equate exquisite baristas with Rosas loyal devotees.
Would the above description offend any Christian, or Muslim, or Orthodox Jew? Should I even worry that there is not much fun in fundamentalism – that fundamentalists tend to shy away from lighthearted, satirical conversation?
Certainly, Muslims are not the only ones who get upset with irreverence. In September, 1999, Rudolph Giuliani, then Mayor of New York City, threatened to take away all public funding from the Brooklyn Museum of Art if it did not cancel an exhibition by young British artists, which included a Chris Ofili painting entitled The Holy Virgin Mary. This work was a collage of original painting, photographic images of women’s private parts, and elephant dung – a material which may replace marble one day.
Could it be that fundamentalist worshipers get angry more readily than others because they forget what worship is supposed to be about? Could it be that instead of worshiping they are masking their own desires for an all-powerful, transcendental joy which, like love, would allow them to forget that they are just like us: mediocre, contingent, and most of the time quite boring?
Photography by George Murphy