By now everyone is aware of the shooting attack that took place in Paris, specifically targeting the satirical magazine headquarters of ‘Charlie Hedbo’. All in all 12 people were left dead after the rampage, including the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Stephanne Charbonnier. It must be noted as well that amongst the victims included a Muslim police officer, Ahmed Mourabet.
Obviously first and foremost as Muslims we condemn such an attack, even though as Muslims we may have disagreed with the content being produced by the magazine, well known for mocking and insulting both Islam and Muslims, it does not justify what took place yesterday. Islam above all else is a religion of mercy, it is a religion that teaches Muslims to tolerate and overlook, and in fact this was also the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Throughout the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) he was ridiculed, insulted, and even attacked by his opponents. He didn’t lash out at them, instead he prayed for their guidance, and took the abuse, which at one point also included throwing camel intestines all over him as he prayed.
So while the cartoons and publications by Charlie Hedbo were indeed insulting and provocative, playing on stereotypes of Muslims and Islam that arguably perpetuate dangerous misconceptions about Islam, and incite hatred against Muslim and Islam – Muslims must (and the vast majority do) react in a proper and well balanced manner, instead of doing something that simply makes the situation worse, as this shooting has done. Already there are reports coming from France that several mosques have been attacked since the shooting, including one incident in which grenades was thrown and exploded at the premises of the mosque, and this no doubt too is a terrorist attack.
Another outcome of the shooting has been regarding the professed importance of freedom of speech and liberty, that the attack struck against ‘freedom’, that it is trying to silence one of the most important pillars of western democratic societies, that of freedom of expression. In this however we find a contradiction, as it seems that only when Muslims are involved, that freedom of speech is said to be so important and vital. French leaders including French President Hollande have been speaking about the fundamental importance and value of freedom of expression. Yet this is the same President Hollande who last year supported and called for the banning of French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.
Yes, France, which speaks of liberty and freedom of expression, banned the performances of this comic, his nationwide circuit tours were all banned and he was unable to perform. The reasoning behind the banning was that he was too controversial, and he was labeled as being an ‘anti-semite’. So what happened to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the right to say what you want even though it may cause offense and even though it may be inflammatory? It seems that this criteria only applies when it comes to Muslims.
This wasn’t the only incident of France stifling freedom of speech and freedom of expression. During the Israel-Gaza conflict in the summer, France also decided to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations. What happened to the freedom of expression, the freedom of speech, and the right to assembly for these pro-Palestinian supporters? It was taken away. Meanwhile on the other side, pro-Israel protests were more than free to happen, once again proving that when it comes to free speech, there is a double standard. In essence, what we can confidently say is that in France, or at least per the French establishment, freedom of speech is really only allowed when it doesn’t run contrary to their interests or what they deem acceptable. If it does, then all this talk of the importance of freedom of speech withers away, and we see the hand of censorship coming in.
And it’s precisely incidents like these, which is why Muslims feel victimized, and who can blame them? There’s a clear double standard at play here. On one hand when Muslims are offended or mocked, they’re told to get over it, that this is freedom of speech. Yet when it comes to the feelings of another community, in this case the Jewish community, France was more than quick to ban the controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala. And when it also came to the freedom of expression for pro-Palestinians, that was censored and banned. So who can really blame Muslims for feeling a double standard and contradiction? There obviously is one.
In essence Muslims are more than happy for free speech and expression, yet they want fairness and consistency, which is certainly not happening. If there was fairness and consistency, it would be all but guaranteed that virtually every Muslim wouldn’t complain about their faith or themselves being mocked and ridiculed. One of the prime reasons however behind why they complain is down to the contradiction and double standard, if the Jewish community can be protected from offense, then why not the Muslims? And that is the line of thinking, Muslims aren’t against free speech, they’re just asking for the same-fair treatment that other communities get.
Addendum – A Response to the Islamophobic Reaction
Some Islamophobes may argue that this situation has never happened before with a minority living in the West possessed criminals who kill people for expressing their opinions critical of them. They will use this incident to show that only Muslims or Islam have done, and could do, these things. This is simply not true, in 1936 prior to World War Two, before any extermination camps, Wilhelm Gustloff the founder and leader of the Swiss branch of the Nazi Party – was shot and killed by the Jewish Student David Frankfurter. Mr Gustloff had been instrumental in distributing leaflets critical about Jews and Jewish practices, and had distributed copies of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ throughout Switzerland.
Mr Gustloff didn’t call for the killing of Jews, but his material was deemed by the Jewish community (rightly) to be inflammatory and misrepresenting and maligning the Jewish faith and the Jewish people – who felt under siege through Europe. After his death, the Nazi Party members of Germany considered him a martyr for ‘expressing the truth’ and gave him and his family full honours. The incident was used by the Nazis to further ‘demonstrate’ that Jews were violent and hateful (which wasn’t true of course). The simple truth was that the Jews, were back then a marginalised and oppressed minority THROUGHOUT Europe – including France and UK, and widely hated due to Europe’s Xenophobia which persists until today.
Mr Gustloff shouldn’t have been killed, and Judaism doesn’t justify his killing – likewise, the writers of Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t have been killed either – for the same reason. The point of raising the incident of the shooting of Mr Gustloff, is to show that such incidents of criminals amongst oppressed minorities is a human problem and not specific to any religion, race or creed. Indeed recently Ismaaiyl Brinsley, an African-American, killed two U.S. police officers in ‘retaliation’ for the deaths of two members of the African-American community he blamed were at the hands of the police. Would anyone dare say that African-Americans are somehow possessed of a violent streak? (White Supremacist would, of course, just like Islamophobes are blaming the attack on Charlie Hebdo on some ‘form’ of Islam).
Martin O’Hagan and John McAnulty were Northern Irish Journalists both killed by N.Irish paramilitaries for their critical reporting and publicly expressed opinions against some of the groups and ideologies – would anyone dare blame ‘Irish people’ or would they condemn Irish Nationalism for the murders of these people? No.
The truth is, Criminal elements amongst aggrieved minorities are a human problem, not the result of a problem of religion, especially not because of Islam.
Unfortunately, the Western media will not portray it as such – and will blame some strand of Islam (or Islam itself) and will be used to ramp up the anger and measures against the Muslim community – despite the fact that the perpetrators were not acting according to Islamic rules – but rather they acted according to more base rules of revenge while (as humans typically do) self-justifying it according to whatever personal beliefs they possess.
But as Judaism, Christianity and Islam all adamantly teach – Revenge is something which should belong to God alone. The Solution is more such religious teachings, not the removal of them.