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Image Credit: Claude TRUONG-NGOC/Wikimedia Commons
In recent times, the print and the electronic media has had its hands full covering and reporting on the dastardly activities of the several infamous terrorist groups that hold sway in various parts of the world. Each group has different struggles but all are unified by the same Islamic fundamentalist ideology. The Charlie Hebdo attack in France was no different.
On 7 January 2015, the world got another ghastly jolt of terrorism. This time around, France was at the receiving end. It was proving a very tough pill to swallow – literally. Two masked terrorists barged into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, fired numerous shots while chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’. These terrorists had no idea that they were sparking a new debate on hypocrisy and double standards of free-speech.
France reacted to the act of terror like any civilization would. The terrorists were confronted with the full might of the French security forces and were eventually killed. Security alertness was tuned up, all other traditional methods were employed and intelligence was well circulated and utilized.
France did not react alone; the whole world reacted to the onslaught. Just four days after the attack, over 2 million people — including 40 world leaders from around the world — gathered in Paris in a commendable show of strength, solidarity and commitment. It was a call for whole world to unite against terrorism. It was an encouraging sight for everyone and, I imagine, a frightening sight for the terrorists. The world spoke loudly and the message was lucid. In this case, the “war against terrorism” was delicately euphemized by the slogan “Je Suis Charlie”.
In these event, one thing violently caught my attention: this particular attack was unlike most others. This attack was full of ideology. There was a mission. The terrorists were out to protect and defend a cause, an idea, a heritage, a religion. Whether this mission of defence was carried out in the best possible approach will be addressed later on.
It was not the first time that Charlie Hebdo was attacked for controversial satire. The publication lampooned everyone including Islam, the Prophet, Catholicism, the Pope and even political leaders. However, no single person who is familiar with the Islamic world would deny that Islamists (much like other fundamentalist groups) do not take kindly or lightly to jibes at the Holy Prophet, whether intentional or otherwise. To them, it is the height of disrespect. Such are their fundamentalist beliefs, the essence of their religion. As former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrel suggested, “The motive of the attackers was absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organisation that lampooned the prophet Mohammed.”
I believe this incidence provides a golden opportunity for the rest of the world to appreciate the Muslim point of view. It is simple: do not joke about, satirize, trivialize, belittle or disrespect our Holy Prophet or any other thing that is the very foundation of our religious orientation. In other words, show some respect!
The reactions of liberal Muslim should be an indicator to the rest of the world that, perhaps, part of the journey of human relationships and mutual tolerance is understanding people’s roots and the things that have mould the very essence of their existence.
Liberal Muslims condemned, in no uncertain terms, the attack on Charlie Hebdo. They rejected the claim that terrorists were defending the faith. “You cannot fight for God,” they said. However, they also made it very clear that they were no less offended by the magazine.
The world should have picked up that: the entirety of the Islamic world does not condone employing violence as a means in defending faith. However, irrespective of differences in means, the whole of the Islamic world does not accept any caricatures of Prophet. This is where the world missed the point.
It was beautiful to see the world stand up against terrorism. It was equally exhilarating to see the reach and spread of the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign, aided in no small measure by the social media. The world felt offended, violated and rightly so. What we still have to grapple with is the the response of Charlie Hebdo. Moreover, how did people generally feel about making caricatures of the Prophet? These are the issues we should have woke to.
Instead of grappling with these issues, the world showed overwhelming support for the “Survival Edition” of the magazine. The publication’s 60,000-copy run, written only in French, suddenly recorded sales of about 7 million copies all around the world and in six different languages. A commercial windfall, yes, but at what cost? The front cover of this widely circulated edition had to bear another drawing of the prophet Mohammed! The prophet was pictured holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign with this caption: “All is forgiven.”
The point of view of some French right-wing activists about the incident seems clearer. They say France was out to make a point, even if it meant another onslaught. They believe it was worth it. France has tried very hard to detach itself from the culture of liberalism and mutual tolerance that is widely accepted in most parts of the West. Rather, France has propagated a secularist ideology with no special or exceptional regard for any group or belief. Thus, within this ideology, the actions of Charlie Hebdo are not considered overly disrespectful.
I sympathize with the French. Their long standing socio-political culture was endangered by acts of the terrorism. I would not, however, say the same about the rest of the world, which does not possess any ‘french-ness’. There is absolutely no justification for the blind and insensitive show of one-sided solidarity. Charlie Hebdo committed itself to lampooning and caricaturing every idea that means anything to anyone. No one is spared Hebdo‘s insensitive attempt at satire. Someone should have stood up to say, “Hey Charlie, there are lines. Do not cross them!”
I agree with freedom of speech. But a line must definitely be drawn somewhere. Are we to say that anyone can say whatever she or he likes at anytime with no limits whatsoever?
Given the already xenophobic, islamophobic attitudes prevalent in France, a country where Muslims are a poor and maligned minority, to hide under the cloak of free speech in order to attack a people already groaning under unfair profiling is a gross injustice. As Scott Alexander very pointedly put it, “can say” does not entail “ought to say.”
We are at a period when sensitivities are at a peak. I maintain that one would be operating under a disastrous mistake to believe that he can say anything to anyone simply because there is freedom of speech. An African dictator was once quoted saying:
“You have freedom of speech. Freedom after speech, I cannot guarantee you.”
The question lingers: Is the world saying that Charlie Hebdo can publish just about anything that it pleases because of freedom of speech? Or was the action simply acceptable because it was directed at the Muslims, who shoulder blame for most of the world’s terrorism? In Daniel Pryor’s opinion, “This kind of support for free speech is damaging the perceptions of free speech itself. It also fuels the fire of extremely prevalent islamophobic attitudes in France. It is not the state’s job to forcibly censor Charlie Hebdo, but we as individuals ought to condemn it nonetheless.”
Advocates of free speech seem, conveniently, to forget that what is good for the gander is also good for the goose (whichever comes first). After the attacks, many were arrested including popular comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, apparently for praising the attackers or showing solidarity with terrorists. Now, this is the question: Is it the case that free speech in France applies only to those who mock Islam, while Muslims and others who feel equally offended are penalized for expressing provocative views?
What I see is a statement that, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others!” When Dieudonne later said he was being silenced by “free speech hypocrisy,” I could not agree more with him. In an open letter to the French Interior Minister, Dieudonne said “You consider me like Amedy Coulibay when I am no different from Charlie.”
John Keane, an Australian political scientist who has studied the history of Islam in Europe, said that the arrests add to a widespread perception among Muslims that the satirizing and insults to Jewish people is not permitted under French laws, yet that same principle does not apply to Muslims.
I am compelled to think that the world needs to come to the realization that free speech has consequences. Absolute free speech is an effective catalyst for a global catastrophe. There must be limits – set either by law or by public opinion as to what a person can to another. The moment any person or a group of people can take absolute liberty to attack the sensitivities of another individual or group, the affected group cannot be judged by their expected reactions. Promoting free speech while ignoring the sensitivities of others paints our conscience in large characters: DOUBLE STANDARDS!
I sincerely sympathize with the French society. I grieve with the families, friends, associates and co-workers of the deceased. In the same vein, I thoroughly condemn and do not condone, in any way whatsoever, the actions and reactions of terrorists. I am in absolute solidarity with the resolution to unite and fight terrorism.
However, and very importantly, I sympathize with the Muslim community in France and all over the world. I sympathize with liberal Muslims who suffer from acts of terrorism as much as the rest of us; who abhor these demonic exploits as much as we do, but get to still suffer the profiling, labeling and paranoia. If Charlie Hebdo is determined to continue to harass sensitivities, and not prepared to draw a line somewhere, the rest of the world has to see the fault. If the world refuses to see the point, I am left with little choice but to declare: JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE!
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