By PATRICK HUNTER
First, let me say this: The mass killing of the members of staff of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, is deplorable. What these killers did to show their displeasure was a criminal act that was and is indefensible.
One of the Ten Commandments in the Judeo-Christian belief systems is that “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Whatever the interpretation one gives to this, there is a simple understanding that creating an image leads to idolatry.
It is my understanding that the Qur’an contains a similar directive.
Christians appear to have disregarded this commandment – or have chosen to interpret it, or accept an interpretation that is less literal.
Not so for Islam. Muslims consider such representations as one of the most serious of crimes – blasphemy.
There have been many situations recently in which depictions of the Prophet have caused tremendous controversy. Charlie Hebdo itself had previously suffered as a result of ignoring this principle. Why perpetuate it? What was to be gained?
To say that this newspaper was being disrespectful is, to say the least, putting it mildly. One interpretation is that they place no value on one of the world’s great religions. What other reason could there be for disregarding one of its fundamental tenets?
In this, I am in agreement with Pope Francis, who has stated that freedom of speech has it limits. As the Pope is reported to have said, if you curse my mother, in all likelihood you would get a bop on the nose…or words to that effect.
People of African descent have come to regard certain words as highly offensive, and have reinforced that condition, unfortunately sometimes violently.
We are living in a world in which there are terms and descriptions which are no longer acceptable because they are, at the very least, insulting; at worse, offensive. Such terms and descriptions assume in their usage a sense of superiority in all things by those using them. In other words, they suggest that those to whom the terms refer are less than human.
Not to respect this fundamental tenet of Islam is to suggest that the religion is illegitimate or not worthy of respect.
Both religions – Christianity and Islam – have histories for which they cannot be proud. The history of conduct carried out in the name of both religions in Africa and elsewhere is fairly well known. Both have clashed in the past because they disrespected each other’s belief system including whom they worship and who their intercessor is.
In part, in an attempt to give some sort of supremacy to Islam, we have seen the development of an ideology which is referred to as “Islamist” or “radical Islam” in which some believers feel that it is necessary to take up arms, as it were, against non-believers.
These are causes for alarm and concern. How, in this day and age, does one seek to justify the validity of one’s religion through mass killings when the taking of lives is forbidden by their religions?
But, I digress. Following the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper some years ago, one would have thought that the owners and editors would change their view by not disrespecting this fundamental principle of Islam. Indeed, the fact that the state, through its police force chose to offer protection to enable the persistence of this disrespect makes one wonder how the state views its citizens whose beliefs have been thus insulted.
To compound the matter, the newspaper then ran another depiction of the Prophet in its first issue after the attack. This has become an international “cause celebre”, with the publishing and distributing of three million copies.
This is not the type of freedom of speech that should be celebrated. I would not be surprised if this was the thinking that suggested to the Obama administration that sending a high-profile representative to the ridiculous show of unity in support of “free speech” would be unwise. In fact, that “inaction” should be lauded. Of course, President Obama has been forced to do penance for this because of the politics of the situation.
And, for once, I congratulate Prime Minister Harper, who also chose not to send a high profile representative, or go himself, to this event.
Let me reiterate: what these killers did is unforgiveable. All self-respecting Muslims should disavow and distance themselves from this act and other murderous trend.
The French government has committed itself – painting itself into a corner – to providing protection for this paper to continue its disrespect under a false premise of freedom of speech. How does it then show that it welcomes all, regardless of religion, race and other cultural beliefs, and be convincing about it?
There have been many quotes and wise saws about freedom of speech. One that I found most appropriate is attributed to Mark Twain: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @pghntr