Charlie Hebdo and hypocrisy of Free Speech

In the aftermath of the attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, many are tweeting and writing in solidarity with Je suis Charlie. But I prefer not to be, because I am not Charlie. Of course, I unequivocally support the right to Free Speech. And I also believe in choosing to exercise that right responsibly and respectfully. That’s why I would never support publishing cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), insulting 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide in the process and no, I won’t support the publishing of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons insulting Judaism and Christianity either.

Why are these people obsessed with free speech phobia silent on the glaring double standards? Let me remind them Charlie Hebdo sacked the veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet in 2008 for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark and to add to their knowledge Jyllands-Poste, the Danish newspaper which published caricatures of the Prophet (PBUH) in 2005, reportedly rejected cartoons mocking Christ because they would provoke an outcry and proudly declared it would in no circumstances publish Holocaust cartoons- fair enough.

Do they expect Muslims to have thicker skins than the Christian and Jews? You ask us to laugh at the cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH) while ignoring the vilification of Islam across the globe and the widespread discrimination against Muslims in education, employment and public life especially in West.

You ask Muslims to denounce a handful of extremists as an existential threat to free speech while turning a blind eye to the much bigger threat posed by these negative stereotypes. For heaven’s sake don’t jump on the Free Speech ban wagon. Weren’t you sickened to see Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of a country that was responsible for the killing of seven journalists in Gaza in 2014, attend the “unity rally” in Paris?

I was bemused to see some of the hypocritical world Leaders march for the same free speech which they often oppressed. The King of Jordan, who sentenced a Palestinian Journalist to 15 years in prison last year, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry who detained Al Jazeera staff as well as photojournalist Shawkan.
Sadly, I wonder if Charlie Hebdo had been attacked for cartoons insulting Christians and Jews whether there would be a similar outpouring in support of the newspaper, especially in the Europe and the US.

Indeed, on the same day of the attack in Paris, a bomb was placed outside the Office of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Colorado U.S. Thankfully, no one died in attack, but still it was a bomb on United States soil and yet the story was absent from much of the mainstream media. Had Muslims been the suspects, it’s fair to say there would have been much more attention to this incident also.

Back home, again it is hard to understand the mystery behind a video of police mock drill couple of days ago showing dummy militants posing as terrorists and wearing skull caps were arrested by the police as part of the drill. Isn’t it absolutely wrong to stereotype a particular community in this manner?

In the aftermath of Paris attack, it’s important to remember that Free Speech and respect can go hand-in-hand. Put another way, when I open my mouth, I don’t want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution. I want to help society in general to become more open and inclusive and democratic and liberate. Free speech is fundamentally essential to that project and so is respect.

Author can be mailed at ahrarershad@gmail.com