January 11, 2015
Charlie Hebdo and the Ugly side of Religious Zenophobia
by Lim Teck Ghee@www.themalaymailonline.com
As they went on their rampage, the men who killed 12 people in Paris this week yelled that they had “avenged the prophet.” They follow in the path of other terrorists who have bombed newspaper of ices, stabbed a filmmaker and killed writers and translators, all to mete out what they believe is the proper Koranic punishment for blasphemy. But in fact, the Koran prescribes no punishment for blasphemy.
Like so many of the most fanatical and violent aspects of Islamic terrorism today, the idea that Islam requires that insults against the Prophet Muhammad be met with violence is a creation of politicians and clerics to serve a political agenda. (—Fareed Zakaria, “Blasphamy and the Law of Fanatics,” January 8, 2015.)
The recent massacre of journalists and other innocents in Paris by Muslim extremists has resulted in a spontaneous and universal wave of sympathy, mourning and concern.
Leaders and ordinary people all over the world have joined in widespread condemnation of these dastardly killings; and rightly so. These are acts of twisted minds. There is no way in which the actions of the Muslim jihadists can be justified.
Political satire has a long and honoured tradition in France and in other democratic nations. The satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo — the target of the cold-blooded massacre – has mocked people of all faiths and backgrounds. One cover of the magazine in April 2011 has listed the major religions by rolls of toilet paper marked “Bible,” “Torah” and “Coran” and has the headline “In the toilet, all religions…”
This irreverence towards all and sundry who are in power or authority is one of the distinguishing features of the democratic system that French Muslims have fled towards and now call their own.
One would expect that the Muslim community would be amongst the first to cherish and protect the secular and democratic way of life in France.
If Charlie Hebdo has lately been seen as paying more attention to lampooning Muslim politicians and Islam, it is because both the religion and their adherents have drawn public attention and scrutiny to themselves. In doing so, in standing up for the freedom of expression, the staff of Charlie have had to pay the ultimate price. All thinking and good people must pay tribute to the murdered cartoonists and their colleagues and unreservedly condemn the barbaric acts aimed at silencing them.
Putrajaya and opposition response
So what has been the response of Malaysia and Malaysian Muslim leaders to this abominable act.On the one hand, we have the correct and restrained response of Putrajaya and the opposition parties.
Kudos to our Prime Minister. In a posting on his Twitter account, Najib said that Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, stands in unity with France after the attack at the publication’s Paris office. He tweeted “Msia condemns in the strongest terms all acts of violence. We stand in unity with the French people. We must fight extremism with moderation.”
Kudos also to Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad who said that the sensitive nature of Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons on Islam cannot be used as a reason to justify the multiple killings of the satirical magazine’s staff members. He said terrorism is a far greater evil than satirical comments and articles against Islam, and that although PAS does not agree with the French magazine’s works, the party believes extremism is not the way to protect the religion.
Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Pakatan and PKR, perhaps belatedly recognising that the source of Islamic religious intolerance and hate is embedded in the leadership of the religion, has urged Muslim leaders across the globe to denounce such acts of terrorism “in the strongest possible terms.”
His colleague, Azmin Ali has noted that “[t]he culprits who committed these murders purportedly in the name of Islam are actually the enemies of Islam…” Azmin has also been forthright in stressing that “such acts of terrorism and sheer cruelty are completely unacceptable in Islam and we reiterate the paramount importance of justice and moderation and reject all forms of violence and fanaticism.”
Two who are not with Charlie
That’s one end of the spectrum in which our leaders have shown by their measured response that they are or can be part of the civilised world. At the other end of the scale, we have two political leaders — one retired, and the other an up and coming — who have made public comments which are reprehensible and irresponsible.
The first is Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who mocked the need to protect satire that is “racist, xenophobic, bigoted.” Posting on Twitter in response to the US Embassy Kuala Lumpur which said satire should be protected because it is “intended to provoke thought,” Khairy alluded that exceptions had to be made when the content of the satire is offensive. “Even racist, xenophobic, bigoted satire? Please. I condemn the murders. Like I condemned the cartoons,” he posted on Twitter.
This response coming from the UMNO Youth Chief is beneath contempt. It will deservedly haunt him for the rest of his political life. If he thinks that people or organisations that are racist, xenophobic and bigoted deserve to be murdered in cold blood, he needs to look into the mirror himself before he repeats this message.
The other Malaysian whose response is reverberating over the internet is former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He has said that Charlie Hebdo had on numerous occasions showed disrespect towards Islam and often derided Prophet Muhammad via caricature.
“Is there a need for them to ridicule Prophet Muhammad knowing that they are offending Muslims? We respect their religion and they must respect our religion,” he said when commenting on the killings.
By his stance, Dr Mahathir is implying, even if he is not directly saying it, that violence is justified against those who do not accord the respect towards Islam that he and his fellow Muslims think the religion deserves. Dr Mahathir has made a great many cynical, inflammatory and instigative statements in the past. This set of comments must rank amongst his most odious.
In some ways, the attack on Charlie can be considered to be the equivalent of the United States 911 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Like the Twin Tower event, the impact of the killings will be long lasting. It will lead to the hardening of European and world public opinion towards Muslims and Islam. That cannot be good.
Unfortunately the comments by Dr Mahathir and Khairy are not helpful in any way. They will lead to the stigmatisation of Muslims even as they embolden Muslim extremists to engage in “revenge” acts aimed at punishing those (including from their own religion) who do not show the proper respect or are perceived to be disrespectful towards their religion.