Though it is not an easy task to find the appropriate words to describe the incident at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, it is even more difficult to comprehend how the condemned acts of certain people were inexplicably able to represent a whole religion.
On January 7th, the whole world witnessed the attack on the writers of Charlie Hebdo; the act being one of vengeance for the Prophet Muhammad–peace and blessings be upon him–after the magazine had issued offensive depictions of the prophet. It is truly inevitable for Muslims to not feel offended or disturbed by these cartoon publications that ridicule their faith. However, a true Muslim understands that patience, peace, and tolerance towards offensive material is a better response than violence. Allah says in the Holy Quran: “ . . . and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.” Having said that, these cartoon publications can never tarnish our prophet’s elevated image, nor lessen his status in our minds as the best man to have ever walked this earth. This is why, in this article, I do not aim to give these publications any prominence, nor do I aim to direct any further attention to these cartoons. On the other hand, I do intend to comment on how these publications are a representation of human’s abuse of free speech.
There are numerous examples from the prophet’s life that illustrate how he countered maliciousness with goodness, even when confronted with insults. The Quran records how the prophet was often labeled insane, a liar, and a magician by the non-believers who refused to believe, despite having been amazed by proof of his revelations. In spite of this, the prophet never retaliated or asked his companions to execute the offenders because the Quran tells one to both be patient and overlook mockeries made by ignorant people. So, to address those people who possess very little understanding of Islamic preaching, yet claim that Islam encourages believers to murder whoever insults their faith, I suggest they read the Quran and Hadiths (sayings of the prophets) before making such false and absurd claims. This problem is furthered by the fact that verses from the Quran are often wrongly translated, or at least half-translated, by non-Muslims. These “non-believer” translators usually pick words that appeal to them and disregard the rest. This, in turn, creates confusion and misunderstanding of the holy text. I remember once reading about how a person was arguing that the Quran explicitly tells Muslims to fight the non-believes. This misconception was the result of the translator only translating the part of the verse that stated Muslims shall only fight the non-believers if the non-believes start fighting them.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but this right also has limits that should not be transgressed. People consider different things to be sacred, and, to Muslims, religion is considered to be a red line. If the French people of 1789 fought and shed blood to gain the right of equality, aren’t we simply destroying these freedoms by transforming them into tools to produce animosity? We talk proudly of how we have sanctioned laws that enforce human rights and peace, but I find it quite hard to see how peace blossoms from indecent speech and mockery. Although Pope Francis is not a Muslim, he still commented on the events in Paris by saying that, “You cannot insult the faith of others.” We must understand that we all live in the same world, on the same planet, and under one sky. We are all brothers and sisters in humanity and should never dare to denigrate one another. If freedom of speech means that you have the right to curse anyone, then don’t I also have the right to feel hurt when you do so? If the definition of freedom of expression has become like this, then, starting tomorrow, one can shout “ugly”, “fat”, or “annoying” to anybody’s face.
It is true that Muslims view the killings in Paris as unacceptable and reject any links between the cowardly murders and Islam, but I simply cannot ignore the double standards in society, in which violent deaths in other parts of the world are not emotionally exaggerated as much as those in Paris. Every day, in countries like Syria, Gaza, Burma, Afghanistan, and Iraq, innocent children are killed without justifiable reasons. Despite this, the world stares at them with indifference, and continues its normal rhythm as if nothing happened.