Voltaire, an eminent 18th Century writer, philosopher, historian and staunch advocate of freedom of speech and expression once mused; “The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is he wants to believe”. As humans we observe this unfortunate phenomena manifest itself from the mundane to the extraordinary on a daily basis. The commentary and analysis in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, on 7th January 2015 has provided a plethora of live examples of the same, falling into two broad categories; the ignorant and the devious.
Allow me to begin by stating the obvious, even if it will count for nothing amongst the carefully manicured narratives being spouted by the mainstream media. The shootings were a criminal act. No individual is allowed to administer vigilante justice where they feel their boundaries and red lines have been breached. The deaths should not have happened in the event and the acts of the shooters are not in line with normative Islamic positions.
I am far more inclined to tackle the contextual drivers and motives of the event for a glaring example of the ignorance and misguidance displayed by the world’s media outlets in the immediate aftermath.
There was a sudden outpouring of sympathy, condemnation and solidarity for those killed. It was as though there was a sudden onset of dementia within prince and pauper of the Western media.
Why dementia you ask? Dementia – “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.
All the underlined hallmarks were displayed with aplomb, within both the right wing fascists like Nigel Farage and Douglas Murray and leftie advocates of free speech like Bill Maher.
Had they forgotten who these Charlie Hebdo journalists were? It would certainly seem to be case. To state that the shootings were criminal and should not happen is a reasonable enough position. To show solidarity with bigots and racists, renowned for taking deliberately offensive and sentimentally injurious positions, is fair game now?
#jesuischarlie went viral in the social media circles. We are all Charlie. We stand with them. We must show solidarity. We must reprint the cartoons and show defiance.
Really? Satire has been lauded as a tool for breaching red lines and sticking it to power constructs, humanising the link between the rulers and the ruled. Islam and Muslims in France fall into that category? The drawing of cartoons of Mohammed (PBUH) is a valid social critique? The cartoons of Jesus (PBUH), in sodomising positions, are valid social commentary? It is the abyss of moral degradation and societal decline that the basest values of human beings are being shown solidarity.
The cartoonists drew to offend. Deliberately and maliciously. They did not tackle ‘radical Islam’ as some have suggested. They did not critique the teachings of Islam. They sought to insult the beliefs of the most undermined, downtrodden, disadvantaged and vilified community in France and Europe. They targeted the beliefs of 1.7 Billion Muslims across the globe, with no clear point to their antics.
Some have argued that the ‘right to offend’ must be preserved. That we ought to uphold the value that people are allowed to express themselves in ways which may breach others’ sensibilities. That is the hallmark of a civil society, allegedly.
Does civility not require the exact opposite? That we don’t set out to offend, hurt or insult? That we use diplomacy and tact even when addressing the issues we find most disagreeable to our dispositions? That we show respect and due deference to the differences which define us? We don’t bring up our children to insult others. We do not teach our graduates to learn the art of ‘gratuitous offence’. We learn to discuss, debate and argue vociferously, but with a decorum befitting human morality and decency. Why the sudden solidarity to those who sought to offend?
Was there not a time when the left stood for the protection and rights of the disadvantaged classes? When it stood against the racist expression against black people, rather than protecting the bigots’ ‘right to offend’?
Even by the standards of the western paradigm, the legality and correctness of an action are not synonymous.
Excuse me for the crudeness of the analogy. Adultery is not illegal in the West. Does that mean it is right for individuals to sleep with someone else’s wife?
The law does not allow for an individual to kill someone if he finds him in bed with his wife. If such an occurrence happens, we may comment on that and state the murder was wrong.
However, would we collectively show solidarity towards the adulterer? Would we encourage everyone to repeat the act of adultery, with the same woman, to uphold the cherished ‘freedom’?
It seems an absurd course of action to any and all. Yet #jesuischarlie is fair game? Reprinting the disgusting cartoons is upholding the freedom?
Even more absurdly, some are deluded into believing that this is about the West’s cherished freedoms, which these desert idiots are attempting to erode. Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, suggested this most idiotic of arguments (his article is here).
It is alleged that this is an episode in resentment harboured against the West’s freedoms.
No mention of the actual causes.
That the West is collectively engaged in a war on Islam and Muslims, across the globe.
That millions of Muslims have been killed, tortured, imprisoned and raped in the advancement of Western imperial and economic hegemony.
That the Muslims are the most notoriously targeted individuals throughout Europe.
That the adherents of Islam are the most underprivileged class, with no control over the levers of power.
That active discrimination against Muslims in employment and education are a regular feature of these bastions of freedom.
Who isn’t familiar with the readily used charge of anti-Semitism levelled at those who seek to criticise Isreal’s brutal repression of Palestinians? Careers and lives are regularly ruined in response to such critique. Why does our collective solidarity evaporate in the face of such prejudice?
Remember when a small group of Muslims wanted to protest the war crimes of the British army by marching on Wooton Bassett and burning poppies? What happened to their freedom of expression and right to offend?
Let us recall how Nicolas Anelka faced censure for the ‘Quenelle’ gesture, in solidarity with his French Comedian friend, banned for being anti-semitic and too controversial. Why did we not have an outpouring of solidarity and the repetition of the ‘quenelle’?
Have a look at the British government’s “Tackling Extremism Report’. It seeks to outlaw the expression of dissent to Western values, utilising the force of the state against those who disagree with democracy. Freedom of expression?
In 2009, a founding member of Charlie Hebdo, Sine, faced criminal charges and lost his job for alleged suggesting that Sarkozy’s son would ‘go a long way’ by marrying a Jewish business heiress. He was labeled an anti-Semite. Where were the calls for a mass reproduction of that cartoon, upholding freedoms?
Why has Jeremy Clarkson landed in hot water with his alleged racist comments, time and again? Where is his freedom of expression? Let us use those terms, the ‘n’ word, the term ‘slope’ and anti-mexican tirades collectively, upholding a right to offend.
If I recall correctly, France and Germany outlaw ‘Holocaust Denial’. Murderous crimes were levied upon the Jewish people in Europe but surely consistency requires us the right to offend, does it not? In fact, why don’t we show solidarity with the right wing fascists across Europe by holding ‘Holocaust Denial’ rallies en masse?
How many here would show solidarity with me if I ‘satirised’ the returning coffin of a British soldier, from an arena of war? How many would reproduce such a cartoon to uphold my freedoms?
What about satirising the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, really upholding the right to offend? Topical and defiant.
These examples could go on and on. We know that all decent, rational people would shudder at the thought of showing solidarity to such bigotry and prejudice.
Yet here we are, standing with Charlie Hebdo.
The truth is stark and points to an inherent hypocrisy. Unless we are consistent in our attitude to all offence and insult, we ought to have a deep introspection, as to why this particular right to offend seems worthy of upholding. Why Muslims are fair game and Islam deserving of the enlightened Western values, to be able to offend?
Freedom is an absolute term and one that has no place in the Western lexicon, or the human conscience for that matter.
As I write this article, hundreds of thousands face oppression, tyranny and incarceration across the world with the direct complicity and instruction of the Western powers. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and many more crush dissent through direct agency of the imperial Western forces. Where is our defiance in the face of such bigotry?
Shaker Amer, an innocent British resident Guantanamo detainee, has never been charged and was cleared for release by his repressive jailors. What have Cameron and co done to secure his release back to his home and his four British resident children? Where is the show of solidarity with this innocent individual?
Baber Ahmed was held without charge for years in a British prison, with the Attorney General accepting that there was ‘no prima facie case‘ against him due to the lack of evidence. Why did Britain extradite him to the USA, in breach of his rights and freedoms? Where was the public outpouring of grief, so attuned to upholding Charlie Hebdo’s right to offend?
Remember Abu Qatada – an individual who could not be charged and won repeated appeals against his incarceration and intended extradition to Jordan. The British governments spent millions of tax payers’ pounds to restrict this individual’s liberty, eventually extraditing him to the notorious Jordanian regime. He has been cleared of all charges since. When do the British public intend to show solidarity to him and ask for a restoration of his rights brutalised so publicly for so long?
In this, the 800th year since the signing of the Magna Carta, we must accept that our views of freedoms are contradictory, hypocritical and a façade maintained selectively by propaganda and misinformation.
As Muslims, the responses have been mixed.
There are the vast majority who elucidate the clear position that vigilante justice is not the modus operandi of Islamic jurisprudence.
However, the criterion of rights and freedoms is not the method of deducing Islamic positions. Muslims established accountability of the elite and powerful, right to fair trial, freedom of expression and valid critique long before the Magna Carta or the ECHR.
But, extending this to indifference or upholding of the rights of Charlie Hebdo is equally preposterous.
Gratuitous insults to the person of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) are an un-breachable sanctum. This is a capital offence in an Islamic state.
We shall continue to condemn such vile acts and showing ‘solidarity’ to those killed for breaching this sanctity is an incorrect and peer pressured response.
It is nigh on time that we realised that such insults are a symptom of our political disunity. In the words of Allama Iqbal “the punishment for the crime of weakness is the death of your interests” (Hai Jurm-e-dhaeefi ki saza marg-e-mafajat).
In conclusion, the vigilante killings are wrong but do not be fooled by the mirage of ‘freedom’. This isn’t about freedom. This is about how the host nation treats those disadvantaged migrant communities who feel their religion and way of life is under attack. This is about mutual respect, or the lack thereof. Do feel free to point to examples of Muslims gratuitously insulting or depicting Moses (PBUH) or Jesus (PBUH).
Do not be an embodiment of Voltaire’s diagnosis. I do not have any solidarity for the individual cartoonists killed in this act, even if the act itself is wrong and not Islamic. It is an ignoble end to a set of racists and bigots. May the Almighty treat them with His infinite justice.
Je ne suis pas Charlie. Je suis musulman et j’aime Mohammed (PBUH) plus que tout sur terre et dans l’au delà.