Islam, Freedom of Expression and Charlie Hebdo

INDIA

This is another episode that is dividing the world on religious and ideological lines. So apparently,

this is an episode that looks like its Freedom of Expression & peace VS intolerance and terrorism. Or is it

sobriety and coexistence VS mockery and resentment ?

Last week saw a terrible event. 17 people killed in Paris and several hostages taken who were later

rescued. 11 staff members of the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed by Saeed

Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, brothers. It was supposed to be a revenge for publishing cartoons mocking

Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) that offended Muslims worldwide. Another masked gunman, took several

hostages at a Jewish kosher supermarket, later identified as Amedi Coulibaly. He killed 6 others including a

Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet.

Although the rest of the world showed mixed reactions, Europe while condemning terrorist attacks,

asserted its right to Freedom of Expression. The cartoons were published in many other European magazines

and newspapers. Protesting in Paris alone, over 1.6 million people marched to demonstrate against terrorism.

The rally was led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and of

course, the French President François Hollande. Very surprisingly, two other unlikely leaders who led this

“unity rally” were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of Palestinian Liberation

Organisation, Mahmoud Abbas. However, an expected world leader Barack Obama was absent. Only the US

ambassador to France, Jane Hartley was seen.

The crowds included Jews wearing skullcaps and Muslims carrying signs that read, “I am Charlie

and Muslim” and “Not in the Name of Allah”. Mustafa Qadeer, 32, a Pakistani working in London as an

environmental consultant, had also participated. “We cannot go on like this”, he said, “living in a state of

fear. There must be liberty of expression; expression cannot be met with violence.” “What happened was

terrible and it does not represent Muslims.” Also marching was Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Great

Mosque of Paris and president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. Another Muslim protester said,

“Our religion is the religion of love. Our religion loves Jews… loves Christians. We are not terrorists.” “We

are all Muslim.”

Islam urges its adherents to respond wisely against abuse and blasphemy. The Qur’an says, in Surah

Qalam, “By the pen and that which they write ! You (O Muhammad) are not, by the favour of your Lord, a

madman. And verily, your reward will indeed be unfailing. And behold! You (o Muhammad) are of lofty

nature. And you will see, and they will see, who among you is the demented. Your Lord is best aware of him

who strays away from His way, and He is best aware of those on guidance. Therefore, pay no heed to these

liars, who want you to square (your mission) with them. And pay no heed to those despicable perpetual

swearers, detractors, going around with malicious gossip, who hinder the good, sinful transgressors cruel

and illicitly conceived. ( 68 : 1 to 13 )

Prophet Muhammad and his Companions faced many slanders during their lifetimes. But they didn’t

even react verbally, forget about being violent. The didactic ethos of Islamic advice about the pen and its

power, knowledge and reasoning seem to have been lost today in the heap of ignorance that is consuming

many a Muslim land and the Muslim youth.

Most of the West claims that publishing those cartoons are a Freedom of Thought & Expression.

India also has freedom of expression as a constitutional fundamental right but it is limited to sober lines.

Secularism and Freedom mean different in different places of the world. In India you see people of all

 

cultures and religions proudly donning their peculiar attires. Come Ganesh Puja or Eid, the whole roads are

closed and traffic diverted. But France calls itself secular while Muslims are prohibited from praying in

public places and Muslim women banned from wearing burqa.

Artistic depiction and freedom of expression are also a pickle in India. In the 1990s, many Hindus

led by saffron groups expressed outrage by the paintings depicting nude goddesses made by the famous

painter M F Hussain. Although he was defended by supporters of freedom of expression, M F Hussain

received death threats besides legal warrants. He had to live in exile, as did Taslima Nasreen and Salman

Rushdie. Interestingly, many Indians boast of the Ellora Caves near Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These caves

have nude sculptures of Gautam Buddha, Hindu goddesses and several other characters of Hindu mythology.

Ellora Caves are a UNESCO recognised World Heritage Site built between 5 th and 10 th centuries CE.

More recently, a youngster by name Aseem Trivedi was also arrested on charges of sedition in 2012

for making sharp cartoons of the Parliament.

Quite understandably, the freedom of expression is good only as long as it isn’t going over the line.

But apparently in Europe, freedom of expression is quite a holy thing, sacred. Some 3.7 million people

marched in France to denounce those terrorist attacks of January 7. But while expressing freely, context is

also important. Consider a “thought experiment” offered by an Oxford philosopher Brian Klug. Imagine a

man wearing a satirical badge – I am Cherif – the first name of a gunman of those attacks. How would the

crowd react ? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing for the liberty of freedom of

expression ? Or would they have been profoundly offended ? Brian Klug says, and we would agree, that the

man would had been lucky to get away with his life.

It’s a statistical reality that if you offend a 1.6 billion huge community, a dozen fanatical hotheads

would be willing to go on killing spree. Similar are the reasons behind the assassinations of Benazir Bhutto

and Indira Gandhi. Some great men were assassinated for standing for a good cause; like Mahatma Gandhi,

John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words,

your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values and your

values become your destiny.”

Nevertheless, this Freedom of Expression is not well-balanced in the West after all. The national

motto of France is “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”. While such mockery of Muslim faith is tolerated,

peaceful pro-Palestine demonstrations are banned. Dr. Zakir Naik is also banned from entering Canada and

the UK for “unacceptable behaviour”. France was the first country to ban Muslim women from wearing

Hijab(burqa) in public while nudity is appreciated there.

In 2009, a veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet was dismissed from the same Charlie Hebdo

magazine for writing a satirical column. He wrote that the former French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s son

would want to convert to Judaism to get a better social status. Upon this, the Charlie Hebdo editor asked

Sinet to apologise for “inciting hatred against Jews”. Sinet exclaimingly refused and got sacked. This

decision to fire him was supported by a group of eminent intellectuals in 2009. The column was called as an

anti-Semitic remark. Oliver Cyran, a former journalist at Charlie Hebdo had argued in 2013 that “an

Islamophobic neurosis gradually took over” the magazine after the 9/11.

Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper that published Prophet Muhammad’s(pbuh) cartoons in 2005

had rejected to publish cartoons mocking Jesus Christ because they would “provoke an outcry” and proudly

declared it would “in no circumstances publish Holocaust cartoons”. Also in 2005, France’s Catholic Church

won a court injunction to ban a clothing advertisement that showed an all-females version of The Last

 

Supper, which included a female Christ. The Last Supper was originally a famous painting by Leonardo da

Vinci showing Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples. So the garment advertisement was banned in France and

Italy. The French court ruled that the display was “a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s

innermost beliefs”.

But hold it, the Western double standards don’t end there. The “unity rally” was led by European

leaders on January 11 to denounce terrorism and murder of 17 civilians. Ironically, Israel whose Prime

Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also walked with them, has a custom of bombing Palestinian land and killing

thousands of civilians, many of them children. How come those leaders who came out to denounce

terrorism, never denounced the state-terrorism by Israel ? Their Zionist friend walking by them and his

fabricated State are officially guilty of hundreds of war crimes and genocides. Why is there such an

astounding contrast ? Is terrorism legitimate if it is done by a sophisticated state agency ? Or would it be

appropriate to call these “demon’straitors” of peace as hypocrites ? More surprising was the fact that

Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestinian Liberation Organisation, also walked beside Netanyahu. Will the

Western leaders and their friends unite only against Islamist terrorism and not against secular democratic

Zionist terrorism ? Is it because Israel is directly and indirectly funded by them ?

To say it in the words of Mehdi Hasan, a prominent British journalist, “let’s be clear: I agree there is

no justification whatsoever for gunning down journalists or cartoonists. I disagree with your seeming view

that the right to offend comes with no corresponding responsibility; and I do not believe that a right to

offend automatically translates into a duty to offend.

Are Muslims expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren ? You ask us to

laugh at a cartoon of the Prophet while ignoring the vilification of Islam across the continent and the

widespread discrimination against Muslims in education, employment and public life – especially in France.

You ask Muslims to denounce a handful of extremists as an existential threat to free speech while turning a

blind eye to the much bigger threat to it posed by your elected leaders.

Weren't you sickened to see Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of a country that was

responsible for the killing of seven journalists in Gaza in 2014, attend the "unity rally" in Paris? They were

joined by Angela Merkel, chancellor of a country where Holocaust denial is punishable by up to five years

in prison, and David Cameron, who wants to ban non-violent "extremists" committed to the "overthrow of

democracy" from appearing on television.

Apparently, it isn't just Muslims who get offended.”

 

 Salman M Khan

 Aurangabad, Maharashtra

 9096922288

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