Charlie Hebdo: Not all Muslims agree on what is offensive. And we must make that clearer

We can no longer run from a frank discussion of 'blasphemy' laws

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The Independent Online

Wednesday’s abhorrent attack in Paris, in which twelve people were killed at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, presents a grave crisis for all Europeans, none more so than the Muslim community in France.

Yes, its leaders have spoken out against the murders, but condemnation of these atrocities is not enough. Meaningful discussion of some very uncomfortable truths must follow. And it must not stop at discussion – there needs to be reform, as well.

We are expected to talk about foreign policy after invasions of distant lands by Western governments, just as we are forced to rethink our human rights complacency after reports on torture emerge. In the same vein, we Muslims must talk about interpretations of the so-called blasphemy laws after Wednesday’s shooting. We cannot run from the issue.

Yes, the attacks were perpetrated by adherents of only the farthest reaches of the Islamist spectrum, but that does not mean that it is they alone that should be held to account.

Rather, those who fanned the flames of hate for Charlie Hebdo and the cartoonists that made it famous must be considered as contributors to this as well. After all, it was these people – the mob that fostered the atmosphere conducive to this vicious act of terrorism – that made the magazine a “legitimate” target for the jihadists.

On Wednesday, when I tweeted that we were faced with an opportunity, a chance to usher in reform for our community and abolish blasphemy codes wholly inappropriate for this age, I was criticised and accused of “missing the point”. However, this is exactly the issue at hand and to wilfully ignore it is to run from it.

 

It is upon Muslims throughout Europe to have a full and frank conversation with themselves about blasphemy - what it means to them, whether they are actually offended by depictions of the Prophet (pbuh) and, if they are, what the appropriate response to it is. Personally, I am not offended by cartoons that depict the image of Muhammad, something that caused uproar last year, when I tweeted an innocuous cartoon of Jesus saying hello to “Mo”, and said - as a Muslim - that I did not find it offensive, because my God is greater than that.

However, for those that are offended, there is no doubt in my mind that, for them, the answer for all but a tiny, tiny few, is not what happened on Wednesday. Indeed, for most, it is anything but that. However, until the moderate majority come out and say as such, and demand the isolation and alienation of those who have called for such attacks in the past, the problem will remain.

Now is not the time for defensive posturing. Now is not the time for simple condemnation of terrorism. We must do more. No idea, not even religion, is above scrutiny. Poking fun at other people’s beliefs, while it may seem frivolous and offensive, is a non-negotiable right. It is a principle that underpins free speech, the basis for progress. Hence, just as we applaud those who speak out against anti-Muslim hate and racism, we must stand together with the rest of mainstream society and express our solidarity against reactions to so-called blasphemy that are more at home in the medieval times than the 21st century.

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