Dr. Ved Pratap Vaidik
The murder of journalists of French satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ would be marked as a black day in the history of journalism. Every year we hear about killings of brave journalists but the episode of this massacre of Paris has shaken the world. Not only lakhs of people of Europe have come out on streets in protest, the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and even Muslims of the world have condemned this terroristic act. Those people who dislike the harsh comments and cartoons by the magazine Charlie Hebdo, they are also gripped by a wave of shock with this inhuman act.
They believe that word must be responded with word only, and not with bullets. That who responds with the bullet proves that his word carries no weight. By deadly shooting he proves that whatever his opponent has said is truthful. It is not necessary that it would be true but with his heinous act he has made that fact a thousand times more truthful.
If by killing Jesus Christ, Maharashi Dayanand and Mahatma Gandhi those assassins must have assumed that they would suppress the voices of these great men but what happened actually? The results were exactly the opposite. Those two terrorists who killed ten journalists in France, they have sent across a message to every home in the world that freedom of expression must be guarded at all costs.
The editor of the said magazine, Stephane Charbonnier was not a follower of some Church or a religious organisation. He was not a crusader of anti-Islam campaign. He was a journalist of an independent tradition of France. The torch of freedom of French Revolution which was lit in 1789, he was penning only in the light of the same. He was against organised religions.
He not only did publish cartoons against Islam but he also published something or the other against Christianity. In the old tradition of French secularism, he had this belief that it was his religion to speak against all religions. Not only he must oppose but also attack the religionists no matter if they were offended by it or took it ill. In his magazine he had made a pun on celibacy of Christian Catholics, he had shown Pope Benedict shaking a condom and had made Prophet Mohammad say that ‘if you won’t laugh I would hit you 100 times.’
Many such assaulting and unbridled cartoons, which we are not mentioned here, he used to publish. He knew very well that by publishing such cartoons, the religion-loving people would get upset. He used to get threats as well but he kept on working fearlessly. He was cautioned by the French Government too.
Here the question arises that what was his policy of attacking all religions correct? Before answering this question we must first explore the answer to this question. That question is why he did so? What was his goal? Was his aim to search for an ultimate truth? Had he analysed every religion by going deep into its tenets like Marashi Dayanand’s Satyarth Prakash? Has he laid bare every religion with a logical and serious intellectual search? Has he established a “Pakhand Khandini Pataka”, (flag of rebuttal of superstitions). Did he intend to cut down the superstitious faiths in religion and show a new path to the humanity?
Did he want to establish a new religion, we never got any evidence on the same. He even did not do any reasoned analysis as well. He just used to take support of satire and fun to attack. By reading his magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’, readers got a chance to laugh a while. There was always a message from his satirical humour. But it never resulted in a person leaving one’s own religion and adopting the other. His cartoons never had the capacity to mitigate the sects and religions which are prevalent. Instead, by seeing those cartoons the devotion might have turned into blind faith.
Hence to kill such a kind of person is indeed a non-religious act. If you do not like that magazine then why do you read it ? You can launch a campaign to reduce its membership to zero level. You can launch a magazine against such a magazine. You can even lodge a legal case against it.
No law allows anyone to cross the limits in the name of freedom of expression. You may get imposed a legal ban on such magazine and this is also an option that you may forget such things silently pushing them under the carpet.
You killed the journalists in the name of Prophet Mohammad. You obviously did not learn anything from the Prophet. Don’t you remember the tale of the Yahudi lady who used to throw filth on the Prophet daily? The day she did not throw filth on him, he was surprised and later came to know that she was not well. He himself went to her home. He served her and asked her well-being. O assasins! You have killed the message of the Prophet.
By doing this unholy act, the assasins have done so much ‘kusewa’ (disservice) of Islam, perhaps no one must have done this till date. Perhaps it would be now be difficult for the five million Muslims to live a normal life in France. There is a ban on Burqa since long, now even Masjids and Madrasas won’t be safe. The organisations through which 1200 Muslims have been sent to Syria for ‘Jihad’, there would be a strong vigilance on them. The French nationalists would now be more active than before. Lakhs of Muslims living in Europe who are only concerned about making their living will face the aftermath of the cruel act of such stupid terrorists.
Moreover, this massacre of Paris would be used to establish Islam and terrorism as two sides of the same coin as it happened after 9/11. It is expected of the Muslim priests and the Islamic countries that they must openly condemn this killing worldwide.
“We cannot go on like this, living in a state of fear. There must be liberty of expression; expression cannot be met with violence.”
Qadir, a Pakistani citizen who works in London but traveled to Paris for the march against terrorism that drew more than one million people.
The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.
Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.
Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.
Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.
So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.
The first thing to say, I suppose, is that whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.
We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.
But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (Ridicule becomes less fun as you become more aware of your own frequent ridiculousness.) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.
Yet, at the same time, most of us know that provocateurs and other outlandish figures serve useful public roles. Satirists and ridiculers expose our weakness and vanity when we are feeling proud. They puncture the self-puffery of the successful. They level social inequality by bringing the mighty low. When they are effective they help us address our foibles communally, since laughter is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.
Moreover, provocateurs and ridiculers expose the stupidity of the fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are people who take everything literally. They are incapable of multiple viewpoints. They are incapable of seeing that while their religion may be worthy of the deepest reverence, it is also true that most religions are kind of weird. Satirists expose those who are incapable of laughing at themselves and teach the rest of us that we probably should.
In short, in thinking about provocateurs and insulters, we want to maintain standards of civility and respect while at the same time allowing room for those creative and challenging folks who are uninhibited by good manners and taste.
If you try to pull off this delicate balance with law, speech codes and banned speakers, you’ll end up with crude censorship and a strangled conversation. It’s almost always wrong to try to suppress speech, erect speech codes and disinvite speakers.
Fortunately, social manners are more malleable and supple than laws and codes. Most societies have successfully maintained standards of civility and respect while keeping open avenues for those who are funny, uncivil and offensive.
In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.
Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.
The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes. And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.
Will “moderate Muslims” finally “speak up” against their militant coreligionists? People around the world have asked (but, as in the past, have not all seriously examined) this question since last week’s horrific attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and on a kosher supermarket in Paris.
In fact, Muslim statesmen, clerics and intellectuals have added their voices to condemnations of terror by leaders around the world. But they must undertake another essential task: Address and reinterpret Islam’s traditional take on “blasphemy,” or insult to the sacred.
The Paris terrorists were apparently fueled by the zeal to punish blasphemy, and fervor for the same cause has bred militancy in the name of Islam in various other incidents, ranging from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa against the writer Salman Rushdie in 1989 to the threats and protests against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for publishing cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
Mockery of Muhammad, actual or perceived, has been at the heart of nearly all of these controversies over blasphemy.
This might seem unremarkable at first, but there is something curious about it, for the Prophet Muhammad is not the only sacred figure in Islam. The Quran praises other prophets — such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus — and even tells Muslims to “make no distinction” between these messengers of God. Yet for some reason, Islamist extremists seem to obsess only about the Prophet Muhammad.
Even more curiously, mockery of God — what one would expect to see as the most outrageous blasphemy — seems to have escaped their attention as well. Satirical magazines such as Charlie Hebdo have run cartoons ridiculing God (in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim contexts), but they were targeted with violence only when they ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, this is not to say extremists should threaten and harm cartoonists for more diverse theological reasons; obviously, they should not target them at all. But the exclusive focus on the Prophet Muhammad is worth pondering. One obvious explanation is that while God and the other prophets are also sacred for Judaism and Christianity, the Prophet Muhammad is sacred only for Muslims. In other words, the zeal comes not from merely respect for the sacred, but from militancy for what’s sacred to us — us being the community of Muslims. So the unique sensitivity around Muhammad seems to be a case of religious nationalism, with its focus on the earthly community — rather than of true faith, whose main focus should be the divine.
Still, this religious nationalism is guided by religious law — Shariah — that includes clauses about punishing blasphemy as a deadly sin. It is thus of vital importance that Muslim scholars courageously, even audaciously, address this issue today. They can begin by acknowledging that, while Shariah is rooted in the divine, the overwhelming majority of its injunctions are man-made, partly reflecting the values and needs of the seventh to 12th centuries — when no part of the world was liberal, and other religions, such as Christianity, also considered blasphemy a capital crime.
The only source in Islamic law that all Muslims accept indisputably is the Quran. And, conspicuously, the Quran decrees no earthly punishment for blasphemy — or for apostasy (abandonment or renunciation of the faith), a related concept. Nor, for that matter, does the Quran command stoning, female circumcision or a ban on fine arts. All these doctrinal innovations, as it were, were brought into the literature of Islam as medieval scholars interpreted it, according to the norms of their time and milieu.
Tellingly, severe punishments for blasphemy and apostasy appeared when increasingly despotic Muslim empires needed to find a religious justification to eliminate political opponents.
One of the earliest “blasphemers” in Islam was the pious scholar Ghaylan al-Dimashqi, who was executed in the 8th century by the Umayyad Empire. His main “heresy” was to insist that rulers did not have the right to regard their power as “a gift of God,” and that they had to be aware of their responsibility to the people.
Before all that politically motivated expansion and toughening of Shariah, though, the Quran told early Muslims, who routinely faced the mockery of their faith by pagans: “God has told you in the Book that when you hear God’s revelations disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse; surely then you would be like them.”
Just “do not sit with them” — that is the response the Quran suggests for mockery. Not violence. Not even censorship.
Wise Muslim religious leaders from the entire world would do Islam a great favor if they preached and reiterated such a nonviolent and nonoppressive stance in the face of insults against Islam. That sort of instruction could also help their more intolerant coreligionists understand that rage is a sign of nothing but immaturity. The power of any faith comes not from its coercion of critics and dissenters. It comes from the moral integrity and the intellectual strength of its believers.
The French authorities are moving aggressively to rein in speech supporting terrorism, employing a new law to mete out tough prison sentences in a crackdown that is stoking a free-speech debate after the January’s attacks in Paris.
Those swept up under the new law include a 28-year-old man of French-Tunisian background who was sentenced to six months in prison after he was found guilty of shouting support for the attackers as he passed a police station in Bourgoin-Jalieu.
A 34-year-old man who hit a car while drunk, injured the other driver and subsequently praised the acts of the gunmen when the police detained him was sentenced four years in prison. The man shouted, “They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”
All told, up to 100 people are under investigation for making or posting comments that support or try to justify terrorism, according to a prosecutor in Bourgoin-Jalieu, in the east of France. The French news media have reported about cases in Paris, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Orléans and elsewhere in France.
The arrests have raised questions about a double standard for free speech here, with one set of rules for the cartoonists who freely skewered religions of all kinds, even when Muslims, Catholics and others objected, and yet were defended for their right to do so, and another set for the statements by Muslim supporters of the gunmen, which have led to their prosecution.
But French law does prohibit speech that might invoke or support violence. And prosecutors, who were urged by the Ministry of Justice to fight and prosecute “words or acts of hatred” with “utmost vigor,” are relying particularly on new tools under a law adopted in November to battle the threat of jihadism. The law includes prison sentences up to seven years for backing terrorism.
Some of those who were cited under the new law have already been sentenced, with the criminal justice system greatly accelerated, moving from accusations to trial and imprisonment in as little as three days.
A notice from the Ministry of Justice on Jan. 12 directed prosecutors to react firmly.
The accused did not have to threaten actual violence to run afoul of the law. The most prominent case now pending in the French courts is that of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a provocative humorist who has been a longtime symbol in France of the battle between free speech and public safety. With nearly 40 previous arrests on suspicion of violating anti-hate laws, for statements usually directed at Jews, he was again arrested on Wednesday, this time for condoning terrorism.
He faces trial in connection with a Facebook message he posted, declaring, “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” It was a reference to the popular slogan of solidarity for the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists — “Je suis Charlie” — and one of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman and later four people in a kosher supermarket.
Prosecutors and other lawyers say the difference is laid out in French law, which unlike United States laws, limits what can be said or done in specific categories. Because of its World War II history, for example, France has speech laws that specifically address anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, prosecutors said, the targets were ideas and concepts, and though deemed extreme by some, the satire was meted out broadly.
“A lot of people say that it’s unjust to support Charlie Hebdo and then allow Dieudonné to be censored,” said a lawyer who specializes in media rights. “But there are clear limits in our legal system. I have the right to criticize an idea, a concept or a religion. I have the right to criticize the powers in my country. But I don’t have the right to attack people and to incite hate.”
President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany both sought to quash any backlash against Muslims in the wake of the Islamic militants’ attacks. As they have also done in recent days, they raised the issue of anti-Semitism.
“We must be clear between ourselves, lucid,” Mr. Hollande told an audience at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris. He said that inequalities and conflicts that had persisted for years had fueled radical Islam.
“The Muslims are the first victims of fanaticism, extremism and intolerance,” he said.
“French Muslims have the same rights, the same duties as all citizens,” Hollande said.
Pope Francis joined the debate while traveling to the Philippines from Sri Lanka, saying that while he defended freedom of expression, there were also limits.
“You cannot provoke,” he said. “You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
The recent antiterrorism law is now used liberally; its provisions target hate speech and are designed to deal more severely with comments posted on the Internet. If the offense is spoken, the law allows a sentence of five years and a fine of almost $90,000. If it is on the Internet, it allows sentencing up to seven years and a fine of nearly $120,000.
There is an atmosphere of emotion where people are still in a state of shock and the prosecutors justify themselves to act firmly.
A parking attendant in Paris was suspended by the police prefecture for refusing to observe a silent tribute to the victims.
A lawyer who has defended people accused of condoning violence, said the law was being used harshly now because of the political and social climate. She represented the man in Bourgoin-Jalieu and said his prosecution and sentence “is not shocking given the circumstances.”
A lawyer who specializes in media rights and freedom of expression, said that the power of the law was disturbing and that no one had anticipated how quickly it could be employed. “It’s much simpler now for the prosecutor to sue people who said or wrote something,” she said. “What does it mean to make an apology for terrorism? Is it a simple sentence? Do you have to have an argument? Is it something that has to be taken seriously?”
“This,” she added, “is not good for human rights.”
Except for one of the heroes in the attacks, as the authorities sped up the immigration process for Lassana Bathily, a Muslim from Mali, who hid customers during the attack on the kosher market and then helped the hostages and the police. The authorities said he had been made a French citizen.