2015 is off to an awful start for humanity. First #CharlieHebdo‘s consistent xenophobia, racism, and sexism provoked terrorists in Paris to kill journalists for an “offensive” cartoon, and immediately Muslims feel the need to apologize, to separate themselves from this terrorist ideology that kills people in the name of Islam, God, and the Prophet…and instead say #JeSuisCharlie! Why do Muslims have to be complacent with journalistic principles that degrade women and ethnic and religious minorities to prove that they do not condone killing? Why do 1.5 billion Muslims have to apologize for the actions of a few every time an incident happens? Who says we owe anyone anything?
Yes, the magazine is supposed to be a satire magazine – but satire exists to challenge power in a comedic manner, not to belittle the marginalized and the oppressed. Charlie Hebdo is an example of a media outlet abusing their freedom of speech (if you simply look at previous covers, one depicting a female black minister as a monkey!). Satire exists to aspire for more meaningful values and progressive means of thinking, not to reassert racist and sexist perceptions. This does not justify the terrorist actions committed against them, but my point is Muslims do not have to approve of such poor journalistic values to prove anything.
Je ne suis Charlie, because I don’t have to comply with that magazine’s bigotry to prove I’m not an evil Muslim who would kill when insulted. Instead we ought to be stressing the importance of an inter-Muslim dialogue; this ideology does not arise out of nowhere. This afternoon after Friday PRAYER no less, Saudi Arabia flogged Raif Badawi for daring to establish an online liberal forum in KSA. The hypocrisy in this is endless, for it was only days ago that Saudi denounced the Charlie Hebdo attacks, only for it to practice the same form of intolerance today by sentencing a man who wants to make Saudi better to 1,000 lashes just because they are so threatened by his ideas. It’s also important to not portray the West as entirely innocent in all of this; Muslims should not apologize for the actions of other Muslims so long as Westerners have yet to apologize for their colonialism and modern-day neo-imperialism. Let us not pretend that America did not destroy Iraq, that such destruction did not contribute to the rise of an Islamic state. But let us also be conscious of our own flaws, of our own urgent need for us to have our own dialogue within our own region, amongst one another without looking to the West for approval or guidance. Imams need to be more tolerant in their Sermons, civil societies need to be putting in more of an effort to stand up for progress and stand up to barbaric punishments such as Raif Badawi’s. This process is a gradual one that is never easy and never quick. Forcing people to publish offensive cartoons of the Prophet they idolize just to prove they are not terrorists does not pave the way to tolerance, but to resentment, to a rejection of freedom of speech if that is its product. Instead let us honor Raif Badawi’s idea – a forum of sorts, where we can entertain ideas and listen to one another in a comfortable space to consider possibilities for our present, our future, and ourselves. Teaching and promoting the concept of freedom of speech is not an easy task, especially in a region where the government itself refuses to allow that to happen.