The sad events at Charlie Hebdo in Paris are clearly an affront to so many things that we hold dear in society, not least the right to free speech. We journalists obviously value this right above most others, for without it we would merely be puppets, writing or saying whatever is deemed acceptable, appropriate or popular.
Yet, in the aftermath of the shootings, people have all too quickly jumped to the ‘defence’ of free speech, leading to a ‘with us or against us’ mentality which has seen those who do not outwardly show solidarity with the cartoonists being labelled as terrorist sympathisers.
Muslims the world over are being called upon to condemn these acts, to apologise for something that they had no part in, to assume responsibility for events that happened on a different continent.
One tweet in particular that struck me as narrow-minded, simplistic and frankly dangerous, came from a respected Canadian journalist. Known as a self-proclaimed secular Muslim and a staunch defender of liberty, human rights and tolerance, it was a surprise to see him tweet: “If you are a Muslim on social media and you have not yet tweeted “I am #CharlieHebdo”, then you are an Islamist and our enemy.”
I am a (secular) Muslim, and yes I am on social media. But no, I haven’t tweeted that (for reasons which, given the debate on free speech, I don’t feel I have to share). And no, I am not an Islamist and, as far as being ‘your’ enemy, I’m totally baffled as to who is being referred to. Pakistan-born Canadians? Secular Muslims? Published authors? People who wear glasses?
In fact, the whole idea of defending free speech by forcing people to say things seems totally askew. Surely free speech goes hand in hand with the right to say nothing at all. And sadly, the tragic events in France have, rather than highlighting the importance of freedom of speech, led many millions to the unfounded conclusion that not following a mindless and fairly useless campaign for solidarity is akin to being a terrorist sympathiser.
I wonder what connection the Muslim, Spanish-speaking community of Barranquilla and Maicao, which has existed since the time of the Ottoman Empire – made up mainly of people of Syrian and Lebanese descent – feels to the French-speaking terrorists of North African origin. Very little, I should imagine, so why should they have to distance themselves from people who may as well be Chinese, Latvian or Guinean in their eyes?
There is no justifying what was done in Paris, and no vaguely sane person could even begin to claim that they supported it. We all know that it was a heinous crime committed by people who are several baguettes short of a picnic, so why the insistence on people the world over showing ‘solidarity’?
In fact, the show of solidarity put on by world leaders in Paris was a veritable who’s who of enemies of free speech, with the PMs of Turkey, Israel, Russia, Bahrain, Mali and numerous others showing up to show their support for free speech, despite boasting long lists of imprisoned and tortured journalists.
Hardly surprising, but nonetheless potentially damaging, were Rupert Murdoch’s comments. He tweeted: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful [sic], but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” I struggle to see how I – a London-born British-Arab who has never set foot in Iraq, the country of my parents’ birth – can be left with the burden of ending the curse of deadly jihadism found in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
One journalist had a more extreme solution. Jeanine Pirro, of Fox News, shared a particularly horrifying reaction to the events. Ignoring her fairly ignorant classification of Pakistan as an Arab country, Pirro’s call to arms for Muslims across the world is unjustified, irresponsible and an outright incitement of violence. She claimed that only Muslims can end this war and that Arabs should be armed to the teeth by the Western world who, she suggested, should turn a blind eye as they begin to massacre each other.
Perhaps most chilling of all was her final, eerily-delivered war cry: “It is time for this to be over”. End terrorism by starting wars in the Middle East? I think we all know that doesn’t work.
With her smug, self-satisfied smile she slated the “cowardly” responses of governments and the public. But shouting your mouth off and inciting racial hatred is not brave, Jeanine, it’s just stupid.
Similarly, not republishing the cartoons does not make you a coward, a terrorist or any less of a journalist. I haven’t posted any of the pictures, purely because I find them offensive and, to be honest, pretty racist. But that’s just me – I respect people’s right to draw them, publish them, comment on them and laugh at them as they choose, just don’t tell me that I should think they are funny too.
These disgusting acts of violence were carried out in the name of Islam, or at least a completely warped idea of a religion that is, on the whole, very peaceful. With over a billion Muslims worldwide, I think it’s safe to say that these atrocities aren’t in all of our names. So, for the sake of free speech and an accepting and open society, please stop telling me to apologise. I didn’t do anything.