Hebdo and Islam: Extreme dichotomies

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Hebdo and Islam: Extreme dichotomies

  /   January 9, 2015  /   0 Comments

While most onlookers, in the international scene, stand horrfied by the appearance of a jihadist fog bank in a European capital, Paris, the reality is more complex; indeed, potentially, more sinister

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Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

It is the height of naiveté to presuppose that Muslim reaction to Charlie Hebdo would be tempered. As a Muslim journalist, one understands those who have been, over the past years, aggrieved by many of the opinions and cartoons published on the pages of the famed French publication. Equally so, as a journalist, freedom of speech is a core belief that is non-negotiable. For all Muslims, the prophet Mohamed (PBUH) is the most serious of red lines. For the vast majority of journalists, the notion of free speech is a powerful line of demarcation as well. Where these red lines intersected is the tragic overlap that resulted in a massacre that has seen 12 lives extinguished in a brutal execution. While most onlookers in the international scene stand horrified by the appearance of a jihadist fog bank in a European capital, Paris, the reality is more complex; indeed, potentially, more sinister.

As of the penning of this piece, the chief gunmen of the massacre have been killed, as Associated Press confirmed the news. But in the wake of tragedy we are left with truly difficult question: why? Charlie Hebdo, at its most basic level, is a strongly left wing publication that holds the banner of free speech high above its controversial head. In 2011, Hebdo published a highly provocative cartoon satirising the prophet “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing”. In a short, but significant interview in 2011 Stephane Charbonnier, tragically gunned down in the recent terror attack, explained: “We have the right to use ourfreedom, as we understand it.” This is the crux of the matter: if you believe that censoring the written word harms society, at large, should all remain silent even if that includes the “insulting religion”? Interestingly, for Hebdo, all subject matter, and particularly all religions, were fair game. But, prophetically, Charbonnier explained that responses are especially searing when the faith under attack is Islam. “It just so happens that every time we deal with radical Islam we have a problem,” said Charbonnier. The business of Hebdo was never about intellectually deconstructing the paradigm of modern faith. For the publication, their existence was one of provocation, according to the words of its own murdered editor. As a writer, one understands the basic principle at work: provoke the reader to react, then you are a step closer to forcing the reader to rethink his or her own paradigm.

As a Muslim, however, one can strongly question the notion of drawing a nudeMohamed (PBUH) and its associated potentially explosive reactions. Missing in Hebdo’s journalistic ethos is the idea that for every action there is a reaction. Within the framework of reason it is logical that ideas are to be fought back with ideas. But, in case you have been sleeping in a cave throughout the 20th century, ideas often result in violent consequences, especially when those ideas dip their feet in the boiling waters of religious dictum. In 2011, when the magazine chose to publish a spoof edition named ‘Charia Hebdo”, trumpeting an Islamist victory in Tunisia, the reaction was both immediate and violent: a fire bombing of the newspaper’s offices. But where, in the Quran, does it say that violent reaction to the satirisation is a duty of the faithful? Like many Muslims, I have read the holy book, and while this does not allow the donning of the expert cape Islam’s holy book and Hadith clearly say violence is not the answer. “For {true} servants of the Most Gracious are {only} they who walk gently on earth, and, who whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace’’ Surat Al-Furqan [25:63]. It is the extreme right wing of both the west and the Muslim world who misunderstand, frequently willfully so, the notion of jihad. Mere mention of the word, jihad, evokes images of machine guns and ISIS but that is a false narrative. Though requiring book length explanation, the meaning is a far more existentially peaceful one that does not contradict freedom of speech. On the contrary, jihad, in one of its many forms, espouses a laissez faire euro-centric temperament that is well equipped to understand. In fact, the Quran instructs Mohamed (PBUH) merely to ‘not sit’ with those who ridicule his faith. “When you hear the verses of Allah being disbelieved you should not sit with them unless they enter into some other discourse” [An-Nissa].

There is negligible doubt that most understand that radicals do not represent the majority of the 1.57 billion Muslims worldwide. Yet, hate mongers continue to reference a faith that is, at its core, one of brotherly love and one that puts education and discourse on a high plateau, as one with violent leanings to explain away the rise of groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Such groups are a haven for the intellectually and emotionally vulnerable, yet, for political gain, many choose to ignore that those belonging to those groups are a highly finite percentage of modern Islam.

From this vantage point, it is incumbent upon society to hold freedom of speech in high regard. No less importantly, writers must recognise that words are not pebbles dropping into an ocean- some words may cause a tsunami.

Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr


About Amr Khalifa

An analyst, a political comentator on the uber complex Egyptian and MENA scene. I may not have every answer but I know the questions to ask. When not publishing in Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Daily News Egypt and Muftah I love the dynamic of the short story. If you adore the written word you have come to the right place. Pull up a chair and join me for a cup of literary tea.
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