By now, after the second caricature depiction of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad to emerge from within Europe, the illusion that the West is a genuine practitioner of freedom of speech should be thoroughly shattered. Recent history has revealed the consequences of a Muhammad cartoon publication, as evidenced by the Danish Jyllands-Posten case, resulting in the usual repercussions across the Muslim world. Flag burning, embassy storming and murderous chants; culminating in scores of non-Muslims – namely Christians – being killed in the name of free speech. Charlie Hebdo is of no exception.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo publications, multiple examples of vengeful violence has and is taking place particularly within Islamic nations. Pakistan demanded those behind the publication to be put to death, hundreds of Gazans attempted to storm the French cultural centre in Gaza city, threatening the lives of the staff with: ‘leave Gaza you French or we will slaughter you by cutting your throats!’ and minority Christian sects have been targeted – most publicised in Niger, with 70 reported churches decimated and an unreported number of Christians butchered. Who can truly know the current atrocities being committed towards non-participatory, innocent civilians throughout especially the Islamic world as many enraged and senseless Muslims embark upon a bloody and relentless rampage all in opposition to freedom of speech.
A freedom that in actuality is a myth, a dying concept the West has not wholly been entitled to in the recent decades. The inevitable violence unleashed per Muhammad depiction or comment deemed offensive to Islam has served a warning to freedom of speech, acting as a deterrence to many queries, disagreements and fault found with Islam being published into the public domain. Free speech limited to publicly interpreting Christianity and Judaism for example whilst enshrining Islam. I cannot recall the last time a caricature of a big-nosed Jew incited vengeful wrath into the Jewish community. Moreover, how often is the name and portrayal of Jesus Christ slandered in the media, books, magazines and films we watch; where in scene after scene, openly vulgar behaviour is demonstrated inside Churches? Does this result in Christians worldwide torching the American flag, physically maiming or depriving people of life? Instead such depictions have become subconsciously and consciously accepted and internally normalised – widely recognised as an expression of freedom of speech regardless of being in disagreement of such a portrayal.
Islam has become an exception to the rule, thereby invalidating the very concept of free speech. For example, despite the condemnation of the murder of 12 Parisians, global politicians and other influential figures have been apt in labeling the Muhammad cartoon as an act of provocation, as though a drawing conducted by a pen could ever justify the employment of a gun.
I have no doubt that future depictions of Muhammad will occur much less frequently, as history continues to reveal its consequences. Of course I do not encourage anything that results in the merciless loss of life. To an extent it is comprehensible for Muslims to feel outraged, hurt or insulted, however too many have shown time and time again their inability to express these sentiments justifiably and with rationality, attune to basic humane behaviour. Yet until the underlying reasons behind such violence is addressed, future depictions and future gunshots will continue to ricochet back and forth and status-quo will remain unchanged.
I personally have experienced and witnessed an insecurity and instability within Islam, which provides the driving force behind much of the violence we see amongst many Muslims today, a force particularly prevalent within militant Islam. A clear analysis of the environment from which Islam was created provides the basis for much of the Islam we see today. 1400 years ago, Islam was a religion born out of an arid, desert and harsh environment; birthed from a tribal culture which produced an emphatic distrust of the outside world. Loyalty and trust tended to be awarded to those of the same tribe, the same clan. At its most extreme, this paved way for a mentality of fear and paranoia, always in anticipation of an attack. In essence, followers of such an ideology become victims to it, frequently regarding non-adherents as working toward their subjugation or annihilation. Therefore violence is mandatory for the sake of survival.
Place this into the context of the Charlie Hebdo cartoon and notice how the freedom of speech context cannot register with such a frame of thinking. Instead, Charlie Hebdo represents an inevitable attack on Islam and its Prophet, an unforgivable act that requires the ultimate consequence.
When watching a CNN news clip in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, an interview was being conducted with a French Muslim Councillor and the trait of self-victimisation was prevalent throughout. Like many Muslims of his thinking, he did not condemn the murder of 12 Parisians, let alone speak out against the anti-Christian reprisals worldwide. Instead he cited the usual Islamophobia as the context from which the gunmen reacted. However such cries of Islamophobia are invalid as he failed to recognise that Islam is generally not openly berated and challenged by the European media, as Christianity is for example. He also failed to consider that since billions of people are adherents of religion, it opens up a forum for scrutiny, queries and disagreement as different ideologies and philosophies continue their search for a world truth. It is also interesting to note that Muslims do not cry Islamophobia upon any depiction of Jesus they may deem offensive, despite Him being a Prophet in Islam. Clearly Jesus has become associated too deeply with Christianity in the West and therefore freedom of speech is abided by when Jesus is the object of the concept.
Islam has bred instability and insecurity into many of its adherents, self-evident in the irrational and remorseless violence we witness today – of which Charlie Hebdo has proffered the latest example. But until the underlying reasons are addressed, freedom of speech will continue to remain a myth, a theoretical concept abhorred by many Muslims. It inevitably molly-coddles and exempts Islam from being publicly depicted by its non-adherents, laying the foundation for a limitation of speech.