Portuguese / Spanish / English

Middle East Near You

Freedom of speech is a French myth

Years of taunts, insults and humiliating caricatures of the revered Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and immigrants, by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has resulted in what the French authorities have long warned against, an explosion of violence leading to the tragic deaths and injuries of more than 20 people. President François Hollande described the carnage as an assault on secular French values, democracy, freedom of speech and expression; he condemned “Islamic terrorists” for such heinous crimes.

The bloodbath in Paris, though, had nothing to do with freedom of speech nor, indeed, Islam.

The deliberate provocation of six million Muslims in France and their 1.8 billion co-religionists worldwide through constant racial vulgarity and indignity directed at the Prophet and Islam under the guise of freedom of speech is reckless and reprehensible. Do French “values” and democracy really confer the freedom to denigrate someone who is cherished so deeply by fellow human beings?

It is now being promoted that the French media is free to publish anything as a fundamental right without restrictions of any kind; this is a myth. For example, French law does not permit the publication of material that promotes the use of drugs; hatred based on race or gender; insults about the national flag and anthem; or questions about the Nazi Holocaust. Dieudonné M’Bala, a French comedian and satirist, was convicted and fined in a French court for describing Holocaust remembrance as “memorial pornography”.

In fact, in 2008, one of Charlie Hebdo’s famous cartoonists, Siné, wrote a short note citing a news item that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son Jean was going to convert to Judaism to marry the heiress of a prosperous appliance chain. Siné added the comment, “He’ll go far, this lad.” For that, Siné was sacked on the grounds of his “anti-Semitism”.

When Sarkozy was the Interior Minister he ordered the sacking of the director of Paris Match because he had published photos of his wife Cécilia Sarkozy with another man in New York. He even had rapper “Joestarr’s” song censored because it criticised the politician.

A French court banned Closer magazine from re-publishing or distributing photographs in France of Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless. Despite this, Muslim women have been ostracised and forbidden to wear the headscarves in educational institutions and are ridiculed, arrested and fined for wearing the face veil in public.

The “Quenelle” hand sign has been described as anti-establishment and anti-Zionist by French youth and famous footballer Nicolas Anelka. It has stoked serious controversy in France since first being used by anti-establishment comedian M’Bala in 2005. He has been barred from many theatres and convicted a number of times for exercising his “freedom of speech” and using the Quenelle.

Protests by Muslims about blasphemous films and cartoons have been banned by the French authorities; France was the first country in the world to ban demonstrations in support of the Palestinians massacred in Gaza. This has led to the further marginalisation of France’s Muslim and African minorities in the political and social life of the nation and increasing anti-Muslim bigotry and hate-crimes.

Many have seen through the hypocrisy of a nation outraged at the murder of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s office, and yet is complicit with Israel in the murder of 17 journalists and 2,300 men, women and children in Gaza last year.

France’s support for the “war on terror”, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and its pivotal role in Libya and Mali, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, adds to the grievance and disaffection of French Muslims. The humiliation, suffering and injustices felt for their co-religionists makes for a common cause.

There is undoubtedly political motivation underlying the vile, racist and vulgar cartoons lampooning Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which is fuelling the climate of Islamophobia. Claims by defenders of Charlie Hebdo that other religious icons have been vilified disregard the fact that the targeting of Muslims has been more systematic and consistent. Instead of maligning the rich and powerful in society, the magazine’s cartoonists satirise the weak and marginalised, adding fuel to an already volatile fire.

When Muslims are mocked and insulted, and their Prophet, whom they love more than themselves, is dishonoured in an appalling way under the guise of “freedom of speech”, it has to be a factor in the explosion of violent fury in Paris. Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to defame or malign a Prophet except, it seems, in Europe.

There has been a near-universal condemnation by Muslim leaders of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Muslims have been urged to follow the Prophet’s example of never retaliating against those who insulted him personally. Islam emphasises that the rights of each individual are limited by the rights of others and society at large. These rights do not merely include freedom of speech, but equally the basic right to dignity, privacy and respect, and the right not to be subjected to degrading or inhuman treatment. Perhaps the French and their European and Western counterparts (including those in the supposedly Muslim world) need to imbibe Islamic values of tolerance, respect and honour if the obvious application of double standards is to be avoided in future.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Categories
AfricaAsia & AmericasBlogBlogs - PoliticsEurope & RussiaFranceIraqIsraelLibyaMiddle EastPalestineSyria
Show Comments
Remembering Jamal - One year on
Show Comments