Can Charlie Hebdo cartoons be seen as satire or simply tasteless insults? This question has divided the journalist community. There has been an intense exchange of emails at the Al Jazeera office discussing this issue. The Arab journalists are of the opinion that Charlie Hebdo cartoons were in bad taste and were maliciously drawn to humiliate Muslims. They wanted the news to focus on the wider issues of Islamophobia in the European society and the role that western intervention in the Middle East has played in the radicalization of these youths.
The key is to look at the biographies of these guys – contrary to conventional wisdom, they were radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed
Executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr:
The western journalists wanted to limit the focus on journalistic freedoms.
We are Aljazeera. So, a polite reminder:#journalismisnotacrimeKind regardsJacky Rowland
In the broader context there are many forces at play that are motivating the radicals. People who say it is only about freedom of speech want to take the focus away from the foreign policies of western governments and the people who only talk about foreign policies take focus away from the fact that religion and society has played a role in the radicalization of these youths. Before being killed by the security forces one of the attacker was interviewed by a French journalist. The attacker talked about “insult to prophet” and about the western intervention in Middle East and Afghanistan.
Can we deny the fact that some of the prominent Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan criminalize blasphemy against Islam? Even legitimate criticism of some of the practices carried out in the name of religion is considered blasphemy. In Pakistan such laws are used to settle score with opponents or to persecute the people belonging to the minority community. In the Indian state of Kerala a Christian teacher’s hands were cut off by extremist elements because they believed he insulted the prophet. There is a problem and denial wont help fix it .
The media and the international community must also acknowledge that Islam is the most frequently criticized religion in the world. There are thousands of blogs, anti Islamic websites and books that are dedicated to the criticism of Islam and its prophet. Most Muslims, practicing or non practicing, are at the receiving end of Islamophobic abuse on the internet. A recently published article showed how Facebook and Twitter are being used to threaten and abuse Muslims across the world. In spite of facing such hate attacks, an overwhelming majority of Muslims are going about their lives normally ignoring the profanities directed at them. The virtue of patience is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran and most Muslims are practicing that. Of course some Muslims need to reform themselves so do the people who vilify all Muslims on the basis of race and religion.
Now let us look at the other side of the issue. France has a large population of migrants mostly from north African Muslim countries. France has the largest population of Muslims in the European Union. France was among the few prominent countries that had opposed the Iraq war.
Most of the French Muslims were born in France. They don’t associate themselves with Morocco or Algeria, the countries of their ancestors. The only country they can associate themselves with is France. The migrant community of France has played an important role in the development of modern France. The French society welcomed the hard labor of the migrants, adopted their food and expected them to assimilate in French values of freedom, equality and liberty.
With the economic downturn in Europe there has been an increase in the anti migrant sentiment. Increasingly the migrants are being subjected to all forms of racism and discrimination. Out of 6 million Muslims living in France hardly 2000 wore the Burqa. Yet France found an urgent need to ban the Burqa. The newsroom discussions focused on how the Islamic values (of migrants) do not fit with French values. France became a “liberal” country like Saudi Arabia where the Govt decides what clothes people can wear.
The French have a very low threshold of tolerance when it comes to antisemitism. Charlie Hebdo which is now being celebrated as the icon of liberal values sacked one of its staff for making an antisemitic joke and the state of France jailed him. France also happens to be the only western country to ban pro Palestine rallies.
When it comes to Islamophobia the French have a completely different value system. The right to publish vile, racist and xenophobic cartoons becomes the fundamental value of France that “uncivilized” migrants wont understand. I refuse to accept that these were the values that modern France was formed on.
There is a difference between satire and profanity. Satire intends to trigger a thought process that may help people see things from a different perspective. Profanity is designed to offend and humiliate. Who would pay to buy Charlie Hebdo magazine except those who enjoy tasteless and mindless humiliation directed at the weaker sections of the society? Would they be making vulgar cartoons of the soldiers who died fighting for France? No. Because that will hurt the sentiments of the French.
The French Muslims love France and its people. One gave his life protecting the very same people who were publishing vile cartoons to humiliate his community and the other risked his life to save lives in a super market.
Republishing vile racist cartoons wont make France a stronger nation. To recover from this tragedy as a stronger nation the French must reclaim the values they hold dear. Freedom, Equality, Liberty and Justice have no meaning in a society that applies these principles selectively.