Following the horrific murders of police and journalists in Paris yesterday, Muslim communities in Europe are facing the inevitable consequences. Today mosques in France have been attacked. Muslims in Europe are feeling further reverberations, evident in criticisms of their supposed contention with freedom of speech, whilst governments continue to justify tightening measures that will ironically restrict freedom of speech amongst Muslims who condemn foreign policy. The dominant voices in the mainstream media are focusing on perpetuating myths about a clash of civilisations: the Western ideals of freedom of speech vs the barbaric repression of the (Muslim) Other.
Social media is abound with calls to #killallmuslims, whilst all Muslims are expected to apologise (again) for the individual evil actions of murderers, and declare loudly #notinmyname, else their silence will be subject to scrutiny and suspicion and branded as complicity. At such times it is the Muslims who are always expected to apologise, a point frequently argued by Muslims and non-Muslims:
“So let’s avoid religious profiling. The average Christian had nothing to apologize for when Christian fanatics in the former Yugoslavia engaged in genocide against Muslims. Critics of Islam are not to blame because an anti-Muslim fanatic murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011…. Let’s also acknowledge that the most courageous, peace-loving people in the Middle East who are standing up to Muslim fanatics are themselves often devout Muslims”.
The prevailing narrative on social media is of #JesuisCharlie understandably demonstrating how humanity feels compassionately for the victims at Charlie Hebdo. And yet there is an alternative narrative (not well publicised) of those Muslims speaking up against the atrocity without having to apologise for a crime they have not committed. Others, Muslim and non-Muslim, are voicing their concerns with how the hegemonic narrative on Charlie Hebdo is unfolding to promote the status quo. Whilst some are highlighting how a Muslim policeman was a victim too:
“My name is Ahmed. A name I share with one of the two police officers killed in Paris today in the#CharlieHebdo attack. Ahmed Merabet who was only 42-years-old, was killed outside the building after he encountered the gunman while patrolling the 11th arrondissement. Ahmed is also one of the Prophet Mohammed’s names, derived from the Arabic root word “hamd” meaning “praise”. It can be translated as“the Highly Praised One”. There is a sick, deep, and dark irony in the fact that the men who launched the attack in Paris, claiming that they had avenged the Prophet Mohammed by murdering 12 people, killed a man who himself was named after the Prophet. Those who view the world in an us versus them paradigm are dangerous because they are obliviously ignorant to the fact that we are all the children of God – whatever or whoever you believe God to be. #JeSuisCharlie#JeSuisAhmedMerabet”.
One blogger states JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE drawing parallels between this situation and her experiences as a black female:
“I will not stand for this magazine, I will not celebrate the privilege of “free speech” to be a disguise for hate. I am a black woman who understands how frustrated one can be as whites continue to use laws as an excuse to be abusive to who we are whether it be religion, skin color, or sexual orientation. I know France is scared, I know people are hurting. But I cannot be this newspaper’s ally. I am an ally for the people of France, I am an ally to the victims and their families but I will not stand in solidarity for this hateful newspaper.”
Whilst another blogger highlights her disconnection also:
“But the simple fact is, I am not Charlie. I couldn’t be. Rather, I’m the sort of person who’d only ever get to be an ugly, rude caricature in their pages — a trans woman, a Latina, Puerto Rican but in the same community of Latinos scapegoated for various and sundry evils in the US, much as Muslims are in France. I’d never be the one wieldingthe pen, merely the lewd, pornographic subject and nothing more. I’d be fit for only the consumption of a privileged community, their joke, an unwilling jester. No, je ne suis pas Charlie.”
Anti-censorship bloggers are even highlighting the complexities calling #JesuisCharlie when the magazine was inciting hatred against Muslims:
“…I understand why a culture that is being systematically and individually mistreated and ignored by the privileged in power may eventually spawn some folks who resort to violence doesn’t mean I condone that violence! It means I can see why decades of hurt, fear, and institutionalized abuse may lead to a violent reaction. Understanding is not supporting, it simply means I can connect the dots. Can you not?!?
What I find incredibly disappointing is that on my social media, I see a bunch of white people “standing up” for the “bravery” of a racist magazine to incite hatred against people of colour. I have seen next to nothing about the bombing of the NAACP by a white man on our own soil. I see anti-Muslim protests being started in Europe, and people calling for the genocide of Muslims on Twitter, but very little attention to the number of Muslims who condemned the violence.”
An Indian publication highlights the nuances involved in calls for rights to freedom, as Sandip Roy argues:
“And yes, we forget that even France, which has become the embattled bastion of freedom of expression today, wears its own limits on its sleeve. Its staunch defence of freedom of expression did not prevent it from passing a ban on the niqab even though it was deliberately veiled as a ban on “clothing intended to conceal the face”. “Bans like these undermine the rights of women who choose to wear the veil and do little to protect anyone compelled to do so, just as laws in other countries forcing women to dress in a particular way undermine their rights,” says Izza Leghtas atHuman Rights Watch. Between April 2011 and February 2014, French law enforcement fined 594 women for wearing the niqab.
A Reuters report points out that many of the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo got their start in another satirical magazine called Hara Kiri which proclaimed its aim to be “inane and nasty”. That magazine was banned in 1970 after printing a mock death notice for General Charles de Gaulle. Its reincarnation after the ban was as Charlie Hebdo.”
Free speech is not a straightforward and uncomplicated matter.
Satire can be highly problematic as Jacob Canfield explains:
“…the editorial staff of Hebdo consistently aimed to provoke Muslims. They ascribe to the same edgy-white-guy mentality that many American cartoonists do: nothing is sacred, sacred targets are funnier, lighten up, criticism is censorship. And just like American cartoonists, they and their supporters are wrong. White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire, and needs to be called out. People getting upset does not prove that the satire was good. And, this is the hardest part, the murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good. Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist, and remains racist….
To simplify the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices as “Good, Valiant Westerners vs. Evil, Savage Muslims” is not only racist, it’s dangerously overstated. Cartoonists (especially political cartoonists) generally reinforce the status quo, and they tend to be white men. Calling fellow cartoonists TO ARMS is calling other white men to arms against already marginalized people. The inevitable backlash against Muslims has begun in earnest.”
Thus ideas about free speech and satire are impacted upon by who has the power to profess when free speech is acceptable and when it becomes offensive, and there will always be those who are powerless to fight back against what they deem to be offensive.
Some are highlighting how it is troubling to elevate Charlie Hebdo as a magazine representing European freedom of speech when the themes involve Islamophobic and xenophobic ideas of Muslims in cartoons. Where are the boundaries between grossly mocking the tragedies impacting upon people’s lives and freedom of speech? One example is the disturbing depiction of the girls kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram as happy recipients of welfare benefit. How would the families of the girls who are kidnapped respond to this “humour”?
Another example discussed on social media questioning what is sacrosanct is the cartoon about the protestors murdered in Rabaa Square in Egypt. Again, how would those impacted by the massacre in Rabaa Square feel about this “humour”?
Would it be humorous to create satirical representations, and have a sense of humour, about the evil massacre that took place yesterday at the Charlie Hebdo offices? Would Muslim writers be allowed to satirise the tragedy of journalists and cartoonists murdered as they went about their daily lives?
Richard Seymour expresses what some Muslims have argued, that there is a distinction between showing compassion for the victims and the families of the victims and supporting a racist publication:
“…I think there’s a critical difference between solidarity with the journalists who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that journalists are somehow “legitimate targets,” and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication…. I will not waste time arguing over this point here: I simply take it as read that — irrespective of whatever else it does, and whatever valid comment it makes — the way in which that publication represents Islam is racist. If you need to be convinced of this, then I suggest you do your research, beginning with reading Edward Said’s Orientalism, as well as some basic introductory texts on Islamophobia, and then come back to the conversation.”
No, the offices of Charlie Hebdo should not be raided by gun-wielding murderers. No, journalists are not legitimate targets for killing. But no, we also shouldn’t line up with the inevitable statist backlash against Muslims, or the ideological charge to defend a fetishized, racialized “secularism,” or concede to the blackmail which forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.”
Seymour rightly emphasises the need for those who are elevating the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo research Orientalism. Twitter has also revealed many calling for the world’s newspapers to stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo by publishing the offensive cartoons, and yet is this a well-thought out plan to show support?
Others are arguing that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was not an attack on freedom of speech, but about foreign policy and war:
“White people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination”.
The mainstream media’s reach to the masses shows some glimmers of hope in presenting necessary alternative voices in analysis by Owen Jones and Peter Oborne. There are many opinions countering the dominant narrative of #jesuischarlie coming from Muslims and non-Muslims alike as they manifest the problematic nature of claiming oneness with a controversial publication, and show it is still possible to feel pain for those grieving after the shattering events in Paris yesterday, and condemn Islamophobic backlash: