Asma Hanslod argues that the right to free speech does not go hand-in-hand with the right to offend
In recent months, there have been growing instances where people across the globe have taken it upon themselves to take the place of the fallen, whether it be ‘je suis Charlie, ‘je suis Ahmed’ or ‘I am Eric Garner’. The Charlie Hebdo attack along with the murders at the Kosher Supermarket on 7th January 2015 garnered exactly this support.
What did this display of solidarity in Paris actually achieve however, apart from the attention of over 40 world leaders in an unprecedented sign of unity in hypocrisy?
The question remains as to why world leaders ignored the atrocities that were happening in Nigeria at the same time, it is estimated that over 2000 people may have been murdered at the hands of the terrorist organization, ‘Boko Haram’. Some argue that the Western media perceptions of the Paris attacks were deeply rooted within its current media culture. Some have blamed the western narrative as being deductive because of its roots in African colonial history. Whereas others argue more simply that mainstream media had more “impetus” to eclipse the ongoing conflict in Nigeria for something more appealing. Were the Paris attacks just more newsworthy, or was the soul of journalism sold to the West for the mainstream masses?
Daniel Wickham’s tweets for instance, aptly indicated the hypocrisy of nearly all the world leaders who linked arms in the Paris Rally, symbolising that ‘je suis Charlie’ was more than just a fight against terrorism. It was more than a defense of free press; it was mostly a show of secularist kinship, an allied partnership to protect incumbent leaders from the threat of isolation. You know what they say, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Nevertheless it should be an outcry that this is breeding a counter terrorist culture, which endorses the mantra of ‘you’re either with us, or against us’! With the growing strength of activism through social media there is pressure to post your solidarity on Facebook, Twitter or upload a selfie on Instagram condemning the attacks.
I on the other hand refuse to become an apologist. Does refusing to apologise make me tacitly complicit in endorsing terrorism? The ‘with us or against us’ view of the world, punishes those who refuse to ascribe to the simplification of this perception. Exploring the complexities of the situation in Paris does not make me ‘guilty’ and it certainly doesn’t make me a sympathiser. Thus by ascribing to this apologist mantra it encourages the belief that the inherent nature of Islam supports terrorism, therefore legitimising these pro jihadi terrorist organisations. The biggest problem with the apologist strategy is quite simple; why apologise for something you didn’t do?
Let me make this clear, Islam cannot be a religion dictated by violence or radicalisation because it simply does not have any such political blueprint by which to dictate this simplification. The Pre caliphate State during the life of the Prophet Muhammed did not have any such codified constitution by which to organise a political framework and it certainly didn’t leave one behind. It is important when approaching the ideology behind a group like ISIS, to understand that the idea of an Islamic state has been an organic process supported by three main sources which are open to interpretation and different schools of thought. This is clearly shown in the Middle East and South Asia where State ideologies are so varied that they do not necessarily label themselves as Islamic, in fact very few do; Saudi Arabia and Iran are the only two official Sharia states. Unfortunately media perceptions are creating a binary understanding of the religion as being either good or evil, what about the 50 shades of grey in between? Creating a simple solution for a heterogeneous and complex religion is quite ignorant and very naïve.
The dangerous consequences of such vilification started surfacing only days after the Paris attacks, the Pegida marches in Germany were a success with 25,000 citizens turning out to take part in protesting Islam. Islamophobia is also growing in other parts of Europe, in London several Mosques have been receiving death threats and this spike in abuse is in direct correlation to the events that took place a few weeks ago. Obviously this rise in Islamophobia is to be expected given the nature of the attacks in Paris. However given some already tense political situations in many countries, the media is not helping by endorsing an over simplified deductive narrative. By transmitting fear you are playing into the hands of ISIS, creating disunity is a failing of simplification and a weapon for the terrorists.
So before you think about apologising, think about what you’re apologising for? It is a nuance gone wrong when you accept that ‘je ne suis pas Charlie’ translates as ‘I am a terrible person’.
By Asma Hanslod
[image credit: Brian Talbot]