Home Morocco World News The Charlie Hebdo Tragedy: Freedom of Expression or Freedom to Offend?

The Charlie Hebdo Tragedy: Freedom of Expression or Freedom to Offend?

New York– The Charlie Hebdo murders are exceedingly injurious to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We grieve the twelve human lives that were lost, among which two Muslim victims are included. The overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide are saddened by the events, outraged by the crime, and exhausted of defending our religion and stating over and over that, really, Islam does not condone violence, murder or terrorism in any way. The most prominent Muslim organizations internationally such as CAIR, Al Azhar in Egypt, and the Arab League, which is formed by 22 Muslim-majority states, immediately condemned the crimes and expressed their condolences for the victims.

The biggest issues we face in the aftermath of this tragedy are: how to react to it and how to analyze the situation. As we have repeatedly witnessed, extremism, hatred and intolerance only breed more extremism, hatred and intolerance. Condemnation of all Muslims and of Islam, polarization and intolerance are the worst approaches to take as a response. The treatment of this brutal incident as a heinous and unjustifiable crime committed by two deranged individuals who obviously are unrelated to and do not represent the majority of Muslims is the most sane and productive approach.

Juan Cole, from Informed Comment, brilliantly explains that “Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest” since the majority of French Muslims are not interested in political Islam.“But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.”

That is, Al-Qaeda and all such similar terrorist organizations are able to claim more “victories” the more the public’s response is hatred, backlash and discrimination against all Muslims and the demonization of Islam. Should this happen in this case, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts will come true and more Muslim youth will find their identities as French citizens and as Muslims in direct opposition and conflict. If they are mistreated, ostracized and oppressed because of their religious background, they become vulnerable targets for terrorist organizations that will seem to the youth to be a source of solace, empowerment and vindication.

Juan Cole’s theory makes very much sense: “This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram).”

Thus, the demonization of Islam as a response to these crimes would be quite counterproductive. Instead, the shooters must be treated as common criminals. Juan Cole gives a model to respond to terrorist provocation: “It is Norway after Anders Behring Breivik committed mass murder on Norwegian leftists for being soft on Islam. The Norwegian government launched no war on terror. They tried Breivik in court as a common criminal. They remained committed to their admirable Norwegian values.”

And that is an extraordinary teaching to follow: The commitment to one’s own values in the face of the most trying situations. We solely harm ourselves and lose ourselves if we copy moral weaknesses in others, explains Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed. Therefore, only tolerance can ever defeat extremism.

Freedom of expression or freedom to offend?

There is a significant issue that needs to be raised: the responsibility that comes with the right to freedom of expression. All freedom of expression is not equal and using “freedom of expression” as a guise to spread hatred, offend, ostracize, oppress, keep Islamophobia alive, and in general, promote the denigration of religious or racial minorities is not a responsible way to use this right as it serves no positive purpose.

Ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and repeatedly depicting Muslims in the most offensive of ways, even if as “satire” is, in my opinion, negative and irresponsible. This particular use of “freedom of expression” is more akin to the American concept of hate speech, which is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. Hate speech only serves to denigrate, discriminate, breed hatred and, consequently,to instill a desire for revenge.

No good can possibly come from attempting to disgrace the figure that Muslims, who are often marginalized in France, hold the most sacred. This is not freedom of expression, or satire or valuable in any way. It is hateful, discriminatory and deprecatory.What is the value of having freedom to offend minorities who already face a host of discriminatory circumstances in France? Perhaps I am biased or incapable of understanding, but I simply do not see any worth in it.

As far as vilifying the Prophet (PBUH) is concerned:it is simply impossible. Dishonoring Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) can never be accomplished by any human being by any means, and this includes ridiculous and deeply offensive drawings, cartoons, satires or whatever they may be called. The Prophet is beyond dishonor and no action can ever humiliate him. This is clear and undeniable. What these repeated actions are intent on accomplishing is the humiliation of Muslims, since we all hold the Prophet (PBUH) sacred and share a deep love and respect for him. Again, what is the good in this?

Please note that I am not in any way justifying crimes that are unquestionably and categorically monstrous and wrong. I am merely contemplating the “freedom of expression” issue.

The Muslim community in France has been historically abused and ostracized and this is not a secret. Even laws have been implemented to prevent the free practice of Islam by forbidding women from wearing hijab, which begs the question: is this type of freedom of expression less valuable than the freedom to offend? Why is the right to freely offend so treasured while the right to wear a head covering one deems a religious duty a less important freedom?

Obviously, not all types of freedom of expression are equal in France and the decision as to what deserves protection and what doesn’t seems arbitrary. As I stated above, the freedom to offend appears to be valued and respected while the freedom to worship as one’s beliefs dictate does not.

In France, there are other principles that trump the freedom of expressing offensive and hateful views. For instance, under French law, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. The rationale is that this legal curtailing of freedom of expression is a necessary means to counter possible anti-Semitism. In this case, preventing potential anti-Semitism trumps the right of people to freely express denial of the Holocaust. I agree with the reasoning. Hardly anything can be gained by giving people the right to deny the Holocaust, offend the Jewish people and potentially cause anti-Semitism. It seems to be a good measure.

However, isn’t preventing the exacerbation of Islamophobia and racism against those who come from Muslim countries just as valuable? In this particular case, it seems useful to analyze the significance and fairness of this application of “freedom of expression”in the midst of the present hostile climate that prevails against Muslims.

Why is the right to continue to abuse the Muslim community something to be defended? I see no good answer to this question. It is time instead to protect the dignity of all human beings equally because, as Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed eloquently teaches us in the Quran and the Life of Excellence: “the most important need of a human being is to feel valued, to be respected, and to be honored.” Thus, “the greatest service we can do for a person is to help him or her feel valued, respected and honored.”

I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the Charlie Hebdo victims; may Allah grant them peace and a dwelling of light. Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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