Charlie Hebdo’s Muslim Tragedy

There is a self-inflicted tragedy in the Muslim response to Charlie Hebdo.

In the discussions of Charlie Hebdo and the events surrounding it, one divide between the west and Islam was clear.

While the cultural west (those who identify culturally and/ideologically with values that grew out of the West) cry out the attack on Charlie Hebdo as an affront to freedom of speech, Muslims reiterate the demand that the Prophet not be depicted in any form.

The issue is not about violence. It is not about response to the cartoon. Any attempt to refer to the issue as though it is about violence is akin to saying the Christian response to abortions is to bomb its clinics. That violence have occurred is a secondary event. It resulted from other concerns that have not been sufficiently explored.

What need to be investigated is the difference in values. It is this difference that determined our action and reaction.

While the west claim freedom of speech as an absolute right, Islam does not confer a similar position to speech.

Instead, in Islam, freedom is qualified to only what is good. We have the freedom to do what is good, not to participate in conduct that are evil or criminal.

The west however, has struggled in framing the discussion within a coherent discourse. It claims to grant absolute freedom to speech. But it admits that freedom to speech cannot impinge on another person’s rights or represent public menace.

The concept of “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” is traditionally seen as a limit to speech. To falsely shout fire in the theatre may cause a panic resulting in stampede, death and destruction. The person’s right to speech then, does not include his right to be a menace.

But that is not where the limits are now. While France and its cultural allies claim to believe unequivocally in freedom of speech, to deny the holocaust, performing the quenelle and other expressions deemed to be anti-Semitic lay outside of this freedom.

The limit to freedom is therefore not only in relation to public menace but also on who it applies to.

While Islam provides an objective and clear standard, the west’s limit is subjective. It demands some groups to be protected while denying others of that right.

But what is interesting in the discussion the last week is how Muslims are internalising western cultural values. Muslim leaders have come out in support and promotion of freedom of speech as though it is an absolute. And this support is subsequently promoted and universalised.

Tony Abbott’s response to Keysar Trad’s comments is a case in point. Trad, an Australian Muslim community leader claimed to reject Charlie Hebdo’s caricature of the Prophet but recognise their right to offend. This was promoted by the media and the Prime Minister with the added demand that Muslims who took umbrage should emulate Trad’s stance.

Western values are not theirs. It is ours.

The right to offend and insult is now a given. It does not merit further discussion. It is universalised and we are to adopt it as our values.

Islamic values do not exist independently anymore. It only exists if it is compatible with the west.

That is the self-inflicted tragedy of the Muslim response to Charlie Hebdo.



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