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Freedom to offend…only in some cases

By the time you read this, I am sure you will have already read and heard in great detail about the cartoons published by the French satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, as well the murder of its cartoonists in response.

Let me then begin by congratulating not just the Muslims but all of humanity on the birth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his holy household, as we are told in the Holy Qur’an:

“We have not sent you except as a mercy to the universe” (21:130)

Therefore, as followers of the Prophet of mercy, we too should be merciful; not only to each other but especially to those who do not yet know the reality of this great individual, who summarised his mission statement into one sentence:

“I have only been sent to perfect the morals of the people”

No doubt then that the actions of those who take the law into their own hands and kill people indiscriminately is inconsistent with the principles of both the Holy Qu’an and the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is interesting to note that nearly all those who carry out terrorist activities in the name of the religion have a very poor understanding of the religious texts that they seek to justify their actions from.

While many Muslims ran apologetic statements all over the media and social media, this was actually the time to stand firm. Why should I be held responsible for actions I will never commit by people I don’t know acting on teaching I don’t recognise? The answer is I shouldn’t. Only those who committed the crime are responsible for their behaviour and no one else.

However, there is a more pressing issue at hand. Soon after the attacks on the cartoonists, a twitter hashtag that translates to “I am Charlie” started to gain momentum and trended for a while. Unfortunately, some Muslims joined the bandwagon too, and all those who did not were seen to be enemies of free speech and indeed of liberal values as a whole.

It is therefore very interesting to find that France has a law criminalising not just Holocaust denial but all kinds of genocide. It is clear that freedom of speech has to be limited by the law where it may cause offence to other people. Thus it is quite ironic for the editors of Charlie Hebdo to say that they will not accept a limit on their freedom of expression when they did exactly that almost six years ago.

It wasn’t just this newspaper, the owner of News Corp went a step further, apologising for offence caused as well dissassociating himself from a cartoonist that worked in one of his newspapers.  The crime of the cartoonist? Making fun of a politician.

Yet less than two years later, the same person comes out with this gem:

Of course, he was totally destroyed for making this ill-thought post but it certainly shows us that while offending the feelings of other communities is frowned upon, Muslims are thought to be fair game. Whereas no one raises the point about freedom of speech when the intent is clearly to offend, it is a different story when it comes to Muslims.

But focusing on all of this is to miss the point. No doubt many Muslims are angry and annoyed at the disrespectful depictions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as well as the inconsistency in standards when it comes to free speech. However, what is key here is to notice what is happening as a consequence of these attacks. It is always imperative to note what the media is trying to divert us away from by making such stories headline news.

Amongst all the frenzy of what is happening in Paris, most people ignored that over 2000 (yes TWO THOUSAND) people were killed in Nigeria while Takfiris killed people for honouring the Holy Prophet’s birthday in Pakistan, and that the worst offender when it comes to freedom of expression, Saudi Arabia, is not even criticised by world leaders while the Muslim communities in the west are continually demonised for no apparent reason.

No doubt that we are angry at the caricatures made claiming to be Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and so we should be. However, our anger should also be directed towards those who kill in the religion’s name and those who, at best, turn a blind eye towards the global oppression.

In the meantime, this joint statement by Sunni and Shia leaders issued this week serves as the perfect way in which Muslims should respond, just as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself would have done: calm, compassionate and cool.