Just as with other religions, we must be allowed to offend Islam

As long as radical Islam remains immune from criticism a moderate version will struggle to emerge.

As long as radical Islam remains immune from criticism a moderate version will struggle to emerge

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is a watershed moment in dealing with Islamist terrorism. But we’ve had at least four of those in the past month or so, in four different countries, on four different continents.

Islamist terrorist attacks have become as predictable as the ensuing reaction. The Sydney siege was owing to Australia’s participation in Afghanistan; the Peshawar attack was a corollary of US funding counter-communism jihadists; whereas Boko Haram’s massacre in Cameroon, just like their kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, was un-Islamic because the Quran does not endorse killing nonbelievers or slavery.

Therefore, the retort of the apologists – who seem to hog the intelligentsia in both the Muslim world and the leftist circle in the West – is easy to discern as well. This is also because it isn’t the first time Charlie Hebdo has been attacked by radical Islamists.

Charlie Hebdo’s office was firebombed after 2011’s ‘Charia Hebdo’ (Sharia Hebdo) edition that had Prophet Muhammad’s caricature on the cover. The reaction following that attack basically accused the satirical publication of being ‘racist’ and ‘Islamphobic’ for treating Muslims like any other community in terms of satirising religion.

Hence, let’s brace ourselves for Paris attack condemnations to be followed up with how Charlie Hebdo should have been smart enough not to infuriate Muslims; which is a bit like saying every woman who is sexually assaulted in a nightclub should have been smart enough to not drink or to have dressed so ‘provocatively’.

Anyone who is condemning mockery of Islam, fearing Muslim hostility, appears to be suggesting that Muslims have a complete lack of control on their actions when their religious sentiments are offended.

In addition to mentions of Charlie Hebdo blatantly disregarding the religious sensitivities of Muslims, the apologists’ reaction would also manifest the usual anxiousness vis-à-vis the anti-Muslim backlash. This story in the Telegraph, headlined, ‘France faces rising tide of Islamophobia’ and published hours after the attack, perfectly epitomises that reaction.

The admirable #illridewithyou hashtag, and the invigorating movement to reassure Australian Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the Sydney siege, unfortunately showcase the priorities of the Western intelligentsia. It is almost as if bigotry is considered worse than the act of killing itself. Political correctness and extroverted gestures of tolerance seem to have superseded any genuine intent to counter Islamist terrorism by addressing its ideological roots, without which taming radical Islam is impossible.

Being oversensitive about Islam and giving the religious sensitivities of Muslims preference over the security of citizens is something that some Western liberals and Islamist fundamentalists seem to share. Instead of focusing on Islam and how its literal interpretation has become a global security threat, many liberals are doing their best to shield Islam from pointed fingers.

These are the same fingers that compelled Christians and Jews into not paying heed to the Old Testament calling for blasphemers to be stoned to death a few centuries ago, and which more recently made Hindus realise how absurd it is to burn women alive with their husband’s corpses.

Britain is no stranger to a backlash against caricatures. Last year’s ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon controversy involved Maajid Nawaz, who tweeted an animation featuring stick figures of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad, claiming that he “did not feel threatened” by the cartoon and vowed to defend his religion “against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest”.

Yet if some are to be believed, shouting loud and reacting violently is the expected Muslim reaction, with moderate and reformist Muslims like Maajid Nawaz considered the anomaly. And yet these same people would bellow chants of Islamophobia (the ‘irrational’ fear of an ideology), used synonymously with ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ (veritable xenophobia against the religious community), when someone points out the fact that an extremist mind-set prevails in the Islamic world.

All British publications that reported on Maajid Nawaz’s Tweet blurred out Prophet Muhammad’s image, but Jesus’s caricature was visible, clearly implying that orthodox Christians won’t resort to violence even if offended, while radical Muslims would go for blood.

While some publications are displaying the cartoons that led to the Charlie Habdo massacre, many are blurring the images while claiming to ‘show solidarity with Charlie Habdo’ and ‘safeguarding free speech’.

This is either a manifestation of bigotry against Muslims by setting lower standards of tolerance for them or it’s an acceptance of the fact that Muslims generally are more extremist than other religious communities.

If Islamophobia is an irrational fear of Islam, what should we call the perfectly rational fear that one might get killed for mocking Islam? A fear that is exclusive to Islam in the modern world. Regardless of how we christen that fear, it is being fuelled by the left succumbing to ‘the religious sensitivities of Muslims’.

As long as Muslims are treated differently when it comes to offending their religion they will continue reacting differently when offended. As long as Muslims are expected to react violently to religious mockery some will continue fulfilling those expectations. As long as there is only an odd voice or two that ‘dares’ to consider religious sentiments of Muslims as being equally worthy of insult as that of any other community, those voices will be brutally silenced by radical Islamists.

And as long as radical Islam remains immune from criticism, a moderate version cannot be sifted into modernity.

Just like with other religions, we must be allowed to offend Islam because it is criticism that will instigate Islamic moderation. When overprotected religious sentiments are offended at the same frequency as that of any other community the pious will finally realise that their religion is as respectable as any other ideology.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Friday Times journalist. Follow him on Twitter

26 Responses to “Just as with other religions, we must be allowed to offend Islam”

  1. Foullaini

    Why doesn’t this article contain the cartoons?

  2. LB

    Exactly. It’s the axis of weasel.

  3. Mike B

    As an agnostic humanist (of Jewish upbringing) I feel it essential that my ideas are as worthy of challenge as anybody else. To expect a belief system such as mine or others to be beyond challenge is if anything the real insult. The respect for religious ideas does not imply they should not be challenged. The most robust discussions take place when participants feel free to accept they can intellectually be forced to defend their position and challenge others. If any group withdraw into a position of hyper sensitivity to close down debate they degrade their own position.

  4. subtleknife666

    Good article. Very good.

    However… “how absurd it is to burn women alive with their husband’s corpses”?

    So all those women had one single husband, but he had several corpses? How confusing.

    Illiteracy and contempt for the English language seem to be everywhere, alas.

  5. Sparky

    I agree. But you’re approaching this from the perspective of a rational, educated person. Religious belief is, as Salman Rusdie put it, a “medieval unreason”.

    People whose belief systems are rooted in the knowledge that mankind had several hundred years ago are fundamentally impervious to reason.

    It’s such a shame that as a species we have not managed to abandon religious belief. I think the real problem is that that poor people are sold religion as a way of keeping them in check. “You may nothing in this life, but just wait until the next one!”

  6. Cole

    What a stupid comment.

  7. Mike B

    Dear Sparky, where I would take issue with you is that on a world view we probably agree on so much that it we might not sufficiently challenge each other. It is that challenge I think we all need. Let’s consider the religious person. There is a huge spectrum of belief. At one extreme there are the morons who carry guns and brook no argument. Of course there is no proper discussion with such people. In fact they have given up on real thought altogether. At the other extreme there are well read religious people who would be able to out quote me not just on the Bible, Torah or Qoran but also on David Hume and Bertrand Russell. I may disagree with such people but in one sence I need them to challenge my arguments. In between these two type of religious follower comes the vast majority. How do we present ourselves to those we disagree with? Our only hope is to present well reasoned views to those who will engage with us. Rusdie is right that religion is based on irrational faith but then so are most belief systems.

  8. damon

    Well good luck with that conversation, or attempted education of the wider Muslim community. I’ve heard a few of hours of radio today, and it would seem like a majority of Muslim callers into the programmes don’t like mockery of their religion. Even the mild mannered imam Ibrahim Mogra on Nicky Campbell’s show thought that it was hurtful and that people should self-sensor, so not to hurt people’s feelings.
    He was suggesting that people should be nice and not go out to offend.
    I must have heard ten people saying similar things.

  9. Just Visiting

    > At the other extreme there are well read religious people

    True.
    But even they do not want the kind of liberal, democracy that we have in the west.

    Are you aware of the Cairo convention of human rights (see wiki) ?

    It is sort of like the Universal declaration: a long legal document except (in brief);
    * it explicitly excludes equal rights for women (just ‘equal respect’ whihc in legal terms means zilch)
    * excludes equality for non-Muslims
    * makes it illegal for Muslims to give up their faith

    * states that the higher authority over the convention: is Sharia law.

    So who signed this long legal document?

    57 Muslim countries did: including Sunni and Shia.
    They put aside their differences to document at length after many months of debating and re-wording: their ideal human rights legal framework.
    It was ‘well read’ Muslim lawyers and politicians and Imams who put the document together.

    So Islamism is not just a few terrorists attached to a religion called islam.

    Islam itself, at it’s heart: is illiberal, undemocratic. And it’s founder was very violent military leader:

    – even beheading prisoners: setting the pattern of Muslim violence down to this present day.

  10. Just Visiting

    it’s amazing: a day after the deaths and already the victim blaming is in full swing.

  11. Just Visiting

    This ‘well read’ Muslim scholar: is threatening legal action in Ireland if Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons are re-published:
    http://www.thejournal.ie/dr-ali-selim-charlie-hebdo-cartoon-1870437-Jan2015/

  12. Just Visiting

    Oh dear, it looks like the big media names are not planning to re-publish Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

    CNN was happy to publish the ‘Piss Christ’ artwork in the past.

    But seems an internal CNN memo, instructs staff to never re-publish CH’s Mohammed cartoons

  13. Mike B

    I had not heard of the Cairo Convention. It sounds a fairly horrendous document. I expect other religions also produce such things. I am certainly not going to defend organised religion of whatever type. My point is that we need to engage with opposing belief systems and sharpen our arguments. How is this done? No ideology will survive for ever. They need to be challenged (as do we). Getting back to particulars, in the middle ages when Europe barely maintained an intellectual life it was in the Islamic world that rediscovered and reinterpreted much of ancient Greek thought. Now much of that region is floundering. Things can change. Perhaps one day Islam will have it’s own enlightenment. Keep in touch with the best elements of the religious and marginalise the worst. All these arguments apply to other religions as well as Islam.

  14. steroflex

    Americans often assume (wrongly) that the whole world is America. It really is not.
    Men often assume that women and men think the same when it is obvious that many women do not think like men at all.
    So Liberal westerners assume that Muslims are simply brown Liberals. No! They are not Anglicans either. Still less are they Methodists or bleeding heart social workers.
    Islam is a religion for young warriors. It offers booty in the shape of slave girls. It offers respect and dignity to all who accept the will of Allah. It offers a safe path to paradise too. Islam means submission to military and religious discipline.
    To say anything else is to insult the Prophet and his Revelation.

  15. Sofiya

    I have been keeping with Left Foot forward for a log time, but this article it seems to me makes little sense. Why should you be ‘allowed’ to offend anyone? Freedom of speech should not allow anyone to trample over anybody’s religious rights and principles. Degrading them and treating them like second class citizens. That is not freedom of speech; it is a form of oppression. Real freedom contains the right to express and practice your religion however you choose without fearing mockery and discrimination because of it and vice versa for those without religions- as the famous phrase goes; ‘live and let live’. It seems in our search for freedom we have lost compassion and empathy- which are simple human values. However, despite how offensive Charlie Hebdo may have been for Muslims I can’t see why any Muslim or even any human for that matter would condone or justify the tragic events of Paris- again the result of compassion and empathy.There would be no apologies made if Muslims were not under attack; instead like the rest of the world they would be given the opportunity to mourn the loss of life and unite against extremists whoever they may be.

  16. Guest

    No surprise you’ll find excuses to lash out.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Quite. Capitalism, Communism…

    I agree with the open debate, which Sparky seems to be rejecting in favour of his viewpoint.

  18. Guest

    Given the right want to cancel all kinds of basic rights here, pot kettle black.

  19. Guest

    And you can add all the right using it for political advantage.

  20. Chrisso

    ‘Look to the plank in your own eye’ – to carry the religious imagery further …

    The phrase used in the article refers to ‘women’ (plural) so ‘corpses’ (also plural) is correct.

  21. Chrisso

    Oh dear, you just don’t get it: “Why should you be ‘allowed’ to offend anyone? Freedom of speech should not allow anyone to trample over anybody’s religious rights and principles. Degrading them and treating them like second class citizens.
    That is not freedom of speech; it is a form of oppression.”

    The words you use: ‘offend’, ‘trampling’, ‘degrading’, ‘second-class’, ‘oppression’ are all used pejoratively to bolster your opposition to satire. Satirical expression as per Charlie Hebdo, Private Eye or whatever is none of the above, it is not hate-crime. I regret that you are an apologist for those that would stamp on freedom of speech.

  22. Just Visiting

    > I had not heard of the Cairo Convention. It sounds a fairly horrendous document. I expect other religions also produce such things.

    Then do a Google search and find one!

    If you find it is only Muslim nations that have done it: the big question:

    What should the attitude of democratic liberals be towards islam knowing that it intentionally treats women and non-Muslims as less human than male Muslims.

  23. Just Visiting

    we’re talking about Islam and the Cairo convention here – do you ahev any views on that?

  24. Thomas Gardiner

    Mocking someone’s religious beliefs is not “trampling on their religious rights.”

    They still have the right to follow their faith without coercion, they still have the right to leave their faith without coercion. There is no right not to have your beliefs mocked. None whatsoever. There is a rich tradition in Europe of mocking Christianity, why should Muslims be held to lower standards? Do you view them as incapable of restraining their anger or offence?

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