The recent incident of the beheading of a teacher in France by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee no doubt is an act of sheer violence and brutality. What makes it more heinous is that it is committed in the name of the Prophet and Islam. Islam means peace and this act is an antithesis to the preaching of Islam. This incident has once again sparked a debate over blasphemy and criticism of Islam. Islam has had a strong tradition of aniconism and French President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘not give up cartoons’ and ‘defend the freedom’ remark has further triggered widespread protests against him across the Muslim world.
France and Freedom of speech
France has a long history of Freedom of speech and the skulls of some of the anti-colonial Algerian fighters displayed in a museum in Paris have a lot to say about the ‘French Freedom of Speech’. On 8th May 1945, French colonial authorities and Pied-noir settler militias opened fire on civilians of the town of Setif in French, Algeria, which erupted riots in the region which took lives of 102 French settlers at the countryside and in response French colonial authorities and European settlers executed 6000 to 30000 Algerian Muslims.
Criticism and Blasphemy
There is always a scope of criticism in every religion but to cross the line and hit below the belt shouldn’t be deemed as the right to freedom of speech. Every religion in one way or the other is blasphemous to the other because of its fundamentals but to directly target someone’s fundamentals by spreading hate and lies would just instigate violence and further add fuel to the fire. There have been many incidents where far-right extremist groups blaspheme and ridicule Islam. Recently on 28th August 2020 riots broke out in Malmo, Sweden when an Anti-Muslim Danish politician was prevented to attend the Quran burning rally in which the Sacred Muslim Text Quran was burnt by the protestors. Police arrested 10 to 20 protestors but were released. Similarly, on 19 November 2019, a far-right extremist group SIAN (Stop Islamization of Norway) organized a Quran burning protest in which copies of the Quran were thrown were burnt and thrown in the trash. A Muslim man tried to stop them but the police stopped and arrested the person. Defamation and burning rituals can never justify criticism rather these are the testimonies to the true nature of Islamophobic traditions.
Islam and Terrorism
Terrorism is often linked to Islam and the fundamentals of Islam but Muslims have been in a state of identity crisis for so long. Many terrorist groups claim to represent Islam but they don’t. Instead, they have been a victim of violence & exploited by the world for their interests. Not only France but the entire world has a history of Muslim persecution, sometimes in the name of freedom while most of the time in the name of war against terrorism. On the same lines after 9/11, the US declared ‘War on Terror’ as a part of which Guantanamo Bay detention camp was established in 2002, where alleged ‘prisoners of war’ were detained illegally for an indefinite period without trial and charge, most of whom were Muslims. Out of 779, only 7 of them were convicted and rests were subjugated to human rights violations for as long as 15 years.
Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China are very recent examples of Mass Muslim persecution and genocide. In particular, the Rohingya genocide has taken 25,000 Muslim lives from 2016 and 700,000+ refugees have been sent abroad since 2017. Rohingya has seen mass human rights violations including gang rapes and sexual violence against girls and women and all of this has taken place under the watch of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. While in Xinjiang, China, there is a cultural genocide of Uyghur Muslims. Uyghur’s have witnessed forced sterilization, forced contraception and it has caused the birth rate among Uyghur to fall 1/3rd from 2018.
We should not forget what former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on the brand ‘Islamic terrorism’. During congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s foreign policy on 26 April 2016, Mrs. Clinton said, “Let’s remember here, the people we are fighting today, we funded those twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.”
West and its Hypocrisies
There is no doubt that the freedom of speech is a basic right and suppressing it will be no less than a despotic move but anything that goes beyond limits generates chaos. Western policies have been quite selective when it comes to freedom of speech. On one hand extreme anti-Islamic and violence provocative acts come under the umbrella of freedom of speech but a genuine question on Zionism will be deemed as an anti-Semitic and irrational point of view. They can show the cartoons of the Prophet in schools but they pass resolutions such as HR35 to ensure that the students are prevented from studying anti-Semitic discourses that propose Israel as a state responsible for genocide and mass murders of a particular race in Palestine. Article 19(3) of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights states that freedom of speech is subject to certain restrictions, ‘to protect the reputation of others’, ‘for the protection of public order and national security.’ There are many such laws which debar freedom of expression from being limitless.
France itself closed some mosques after the incident of the beheading of Samuel Paty. Why shouldn’t it be deemed as a violation of both the freedom of speech and freedom of religion?
How to counter blasphemy?
No doubt blasphemy is considered a grave sin in Islam but to counter it with violence won’t end it but further give birth to another. There needs to be a permanent solution to this problem, a powerful yet peaceful message should be given. One way to counter blasphemy or any act committed with the intention of defamation of Prophet Muhammad would be to popularise the acts of kindness that the Prophet preached during his lifetime, to tell the world about the greatness of the Prophet, where he even forgave the ones who abused him. Another way of countering is to ignore and leave it to the will of God.
The Almighty revealed in Surah Al Kausar, “To you have we granted the Fount of Abundance, therefore to your Lord turn in prayer and sacrifice, for who hate you will be cut off from all the future hopes”.
This way will not only be the best response to those who try to defame through objectionable cartoons and videos but also a befitting reply to those who seek to provoke violence under the vile of freedom of speech.
In 1841, a British historian Thomas Carlyle in his work ‘On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History’ has honored Prophet Muhammad as a true prophet. Not only him but there have been many such instances where different scholars in their profound researches wrote about, and revered Prophet Muhammad with utmost respect, one such example is John Davenport. These acts should be glorified to make peace rather than creating havoc.
The Islamic world responded to the controversial scenario with Boycott slogans which can prove to be a powerful message only if it is furthered by those who hold power and not by those who walk the streets, and certainly not by those who just know the act of instigating violence. A diplomatic response in this situation will result in another act of violence. This peaceful yet powerful message can only be a solution in a world, where weapons don’t prove one powerful but a well flourishing economy definitely does.