In the aftermath of the beheading of the French history teacher Samuel Paty, Charlie Hebdo cartoons, including one of prophet Muhammed, have been projected onto the Montpelier government building in France.This is a movedesigned to normalize dissent and defend French traditions of freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, a mainstream British media organization has been busily normalizing outrage over a supposedly blasphemous song played during the Savage X Fenty runway show. American singer and businesswoman Rihanna was criticised and accused of blasphemy for using a hadith (a saying of the prophet Muhammad) in a runway show for her brand Savage X Fenty. BBC Asian Network posted a couple of questions on twitter to stir a debate about the hadith being used in a raunchy fashion show.The tweet reads, ‘A song which contains an Islamic hadith was used in Rihanna’s show. Is it disrespectful? Would you boycott a fashion brand if they insulted your faith?’ The questions are self-evidently phrased to provoke people to react aggressively. It’s like asking people, ‘Are you outraged yet?’
BBC Asia posted these controversial questions a few days after a Pakistani man stabbed two innocent people in Paris.He was reportedly outraged by Charlie Hebdo magazine’s recent republication of cartoons satirizing Prophet Muhammad.
British activist, and the founder of the Centre for Secular Space, Gita Sahgal condemned BBC in strong terms. She tweeted:
‘They don’t seem to realize that it’s not just pushing up viewing figure but putting a target on the backs of freethinkers and other non-conformists.’
This is not the first time that BBC Asia framed questions imprudently to generate outrage. BBC Asia network once tweeted, ‘what is the right punishment for blasphemy?’ – for which they later apologized.
Blasphemy is an ‘unpardonable offence’ in many countries, including 12 Muslim majority countries which practice the death penalitysuch as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Sudan.Twenty others sanction prison sentences for blasphemy. In such sensitive environment, asking people to discuss the ‘right’ punishment for blasphemy, or provoking people to react to an insult towards their faith is clickbait that amplifiesIslamist outrage.
The debate around blasphemy laws is crucial yet highly sensitive.On 16 October, Samuel Paty was brutally decapitated in France for showing cartoons of Muhammad in class to illustrate a lesson on freedom of speech. This was the second episode of Islamist terror attack in France within weeks. After these terror attacks, the main concern has been what drives these terrorists to commit such heinous crimes against humanity.
It is imperative to have an open discussion about religiously inspired motivation, especially when offences against religious sensibilities are being leveraged to justify murder and terrorism. Sadly, the left-leaning media, intentionally or unwittingly, has long been maintaining a state of denial by propagating the position that religiously–inspired terrorism has nothing to do with radical interpretations of Islam.
After the gruesome attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in 2015, many mainstream western media outlets were reluctant to show solidarity with the victims, due to the fear of offending extremists’ religious sensibilities. Charlie Hebdo seemed to be the only magazine holding the line of freedom of expression for the entire western world.
Many mainstream media outlets, with the exception of some newspapers, unabashedly refused to defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish cartoons, perhapsfearing a backlash from Islamists. Instead Muslim activists- such as British radical preacher and former leader of Al Muhajaroon, Anjem Choudary who overtly warned the magazine with fatal consequences for republishing the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad – were invited to share their views.
The New York Times said, ‘The choice to republish the image goes to the heart of the debate about what constitutes free expression versus gratuitous images that at least some viewers find offensive.’Some media pundits even blamed the victims and warned that the republication of cartoons would further escalate the violence in Europe.
CNN published an article with the headline‘Charlie Hebdo Co-founder: Prophet Cartoons went too far.’ Some mainstream British media outlets were reluctant to defend the magazine’s right to republish cartoons fearing causing offence. They condemned the massacre of Charlie Hebdo staff but decided that publishing cartoons satirizing Islam were too risky.These responses showcase how Western media has been avoiding honest discussions about the threat Islamism poses to freedom of speech.
Currently, the French authorities are cracking down on people with affiliation to Islamistideologies in France. Suggestions that the France is going into conflict with its five million Muslim population are disingenuous.
Yet the New York Times has published an article stating there is a‘broad government crackdown against Muslims individuals and groups.’ Calls to boycott French products are growing in the Muslim world.
However, the President of the Imams of France conference, Hassen Chalghoumi, the Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Hafiz Chems-eddine, and the President of the French Council of Muslims, Mohammed Moussaoui are all urging French Muslims to defend French values while being vigilant about the threat of Islamist ideology.
They have unequivocally condemned the calls for boycott French products. These French Muslims have identified their ‘enemy within’: they are not willing to allow extremists to manifest their political grievances or religious insecurities into violence.
Emboldened by French Muslims, secular and progressive Muslim voices are also demanding the abolishment of blasphemy laws from all over the world. Indian Muslim intellectuals and activists for secular democracy gathered to condemn the brutal beheading of Samuel Paty and all those involved in the instigation of this horrific murder. Progressive Muslim voices have frequently been smeared by Western media and the liberal fringe. Progressive Muslims have been criticising radicalisation within Muslim community, yet they have been termed bigots, Islamophobes or ‘not proper Muslims’ in order to silence them.
The situation in France has escalated. Extremist elements are posing a global threat to the secular values of the modern world. During such times, the fear of offending sensibilities runs the risk of shutting down the debate about terrorism. Liberals’ silence is their complicity. Embracing our hard-earned freedoms in the face of terror will guarantee freedom of press – and freedom of thought.