Deaf to the Detriment

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The West experienced the horror that 6 members of the French satirical cartoon publication Charlie Hebdo had been killed by Islamic extremists.

Islamophobes are relevant – again!

The terrorists reportedly ransacked the offices of satirical cartoon publication Charlie Hebdo, shot Editor Stephane Carbonnier, Cartoonist Georges Wollinski, and Cartoonist Jean Cabut, then chanted ‘Allhalu Akhbar!’ or ‘God is great‘. As the shooters fled, they also claimed their killing had ‘avenged the prophet Muhammad’. Such sayings, of course, are what all religious zealots chant in some form or another.

This particular group of Islamic terrorists was incensed at the continued portrayal of the supreme prophet Muhammad in Hebdo. Though the magazine contemptuously satirizes political and cultural leaders across the spectrum, the most newsworthy and economically profitable editions are those depicting Muhammad in a negative light.

The first instance of controversy came in 2006, when Hebdo published the infamous Jylland-Posten comics, which depicted Muhammad in a less-than-flattering light. The Grand Mosque, Muslim World League, and the Union of French Islamist Organizations took editor Phillipe Val to court, though he was ultimately acquitted. Four years later Hebdo would find their offices firebombed after the issue Charia Hebdo’ (a version of Sharia) depicted Muhammad as a ‘guest-editor’ as well as on the cover saying: ‘100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing’. The attack, however, failed to dissuade Hebdo from publishing a series of illustrations featuring a nude grand prophet Muhammad in crude and compromising positions.

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Currently a large-scale manhunt for the killers is happening in streets of Paris. Simultaneously, there is universal condemnation of the religiously motivated attack in the Western world. The U.S. has already voiced support  for French president Francois Hollande, if he so requests. The major leaders of Europe have characterized the attack as ‘barbarism’ and an ‘assault on our freedom of expression’.

Formerly fatwa-ed Salman Rushdie also contributed his thoughts: ‘Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern technology becomes a real threat to our freedom. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which, has always been a force for liberty against tyranny, dishonesty, and stupidity.’

Certainly today’s attack by the extremist is reprehensible and freedom of expression a necessity. Yet, what are we in the West espousing as expression? Is it our prerogative to display the once sacred (i.e. religious iconography) without sanctity? When North Korea (supposedly) issued a warning that if American theaters were to screen controversial film The Interview, the U.S. public should ‘remember 9/11′ — it was seen as offensive to our right of free expression. The American response to the threat was new sanctions on North Korea and, if a certain journalist would have been listened to, preemptive war without a guilty verdict. Isn’t it rational, then, to assume devout believers of Islam would react in an equally aggressive way to a similarly provocative act?

While we in the West view democratic tradition with divine reverence, other cultures have disparate and occasionally diametrically opposing beliefs. To the followers of New Atheism and Neoconservatism, if these religious sects and minority groups are to live amongst us – and for the indigenous people not to end up submitting to the alien belief – what they hold dear must be treated with the same ridicule and mockery that Western ideals are contemporarily cherished. While this calumny may be acceptable to the point of banality in our culture, a large portion of the world are as shocked as the Catholic priests seeing Luther’s Theses. Thus, some Muslims, understandably, seek little need for a religious schism that would see Islam met with the same irreverence as Western Christianity. In fact, their willing to kill for it.

During the 2008 trial of the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organizations vs Phillipe Val, the Hebdo editor claimed it is ‘racist to assume they (Muslims) can’t understand a joke.’ It is certainly a generalization. Yet, what would the (largely sectarian) Muslim community find so funny about the breaking of Aniconism with images of their Grand Prophet inserted into Brigitte Bardot’s compromising position in Godard’s Contempt. Such imagery leaves this Western Protestant un-amused and wondering: why do we find it so necessary to continually yell ‘fire’ in a crowded room. If we would like to have the dialogue and debate with the Muslim world about Islamic terrorism, lets avoid denigrating an important tenant of their quotidian existence. Charlie Hebdo’s idea of an illustrated olive branch is akin to the logic the Bush administration presented when imposing democracy on the Middle East: through the barrel of a gun.

The rational bodies of the Muslim world voiced their opinion to the editors of Charlie Hebdo. They continued to print inflammatory material. Today, unfortunately, their biting satirical message fell upon the ears of the radicalized and irrational.

(For George Galloway)

 

Daniel Engelke,

1/8/2014

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