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January 19, 2015



Je ne suis pas Charlie

Nothing justifies the actions of Said and Cherif Kouachi. Let’s be clear about that. No matter what the provocation, no matter what the slight, perceived or real, nobody has the right to take the law into his or her own hands and become a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner. The Mumtaz Qadris and Cherif brothers of the world deserve condemnation and not accolades, not even sympathy or even understanding.
Their actions have caused more harm to Islam than the actions of those they brought violence upon by giving even more ammunition to those who seek to disparage or criticise the religion and/or its adherents. Their actions have brought more attention to the offenders than would have been possible in any other way.
Charlie Hebdo normally sells around 50,000 copies. Its latest print run is five million. Without Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, Salman Rushdie would have remained a relatively unknown writer outside the United Kingdom or the Subcontinent. Nobody would have even looked at that infamous YouTube video if such a fuss had not been made about it.
As the Muslim Council of Britain says on its website, even though the cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo is again likely to cause many Muslims to “inevitably be hurt, offended and upset” the response to it “must be a reflection of the teachings of the gentle and merciful character of the prophet (pbuh).”
“Enduring patience, tolerance, gentleness and mercy as was the character of our beloved prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is the best and immediate way to respond … With dignified nobility we must be restrained, as the Quran says ‘And when the ignorant speak to them, they say words of peace’… Our aim is to not, inadvertently, give the cartoons more prominence through our attention. Muslims must remain calm and peaceful in their speech and actions … Repel harm with goodness is the Qur’anic imperative and by which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

lived… If we feel strongly, the only course of action to us is with reasoned debate, civil activism and other legal avenues.”
Having said that, does Charlie Hebdo have the untrammelled right to publish anything it wants? Freedom of expression is not unlimited. Article 4(a) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Discrimination (CERD) makes “all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred” a punishable offence and Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) outlaws “any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.”
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) grants the right of freedom of expression to all as long as it conforms to the necessary restrictions, including “for the protection of the reputation and rights of others.”
Accordingly, Article 266(b) of the Danish Criminal Code criminalises “expressing and spreading racial hatred”, and makes it illegal to publicly use threatening, vilifying, or insulting language. Section 24 of The 1881 Press Law of France, makes it a criminal act to incite racial discrimination, hatred, or violence on the basis of one’s origin or membership in an ethic, national, racial, or religious group. Articles 137(c) and 137(d) of the Dutch Criminal Code prohibit making public intentional insults, or engaging in verbal, written, or illustrated incitement to hatred, on account of one’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or personal convictions.
In the United Kingdom, Sec. 18(1) of the Public Order Act (POA) of 1986, states that “a person who uses threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, is guilty of an offence if: a) he intends to thereby stir up racial hatred, or; b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.” Further, Section 5 of the POA criminalises using or displaying threatening, abusive, or insulting words “within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm, or distress thereby.” Similar laws exist in the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, amongst many others.
There are laws against Holocaust denial all across Europe. The Austrian National Socialism Prohibition Law prescribes punishment for “whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity.” In France, the Gayssot Act makes it illegal to even question the existence of crimes that can be categorised as crimes against humanity. A challenge to the act was turned down by the Human Rights Committee which declared the act necessary to counter any possible anti-Semitism.
The swastika is banned in Germany where the Public Incitement Act prescribes imprisonment for “whoever publicly or in a meeting approves of, denies or belittles an act committed under the rule of National Socialism” and “assaults the human dignity of the victims by approving of, denying or rendering harmless the violent and arbitrary National Socialist rule.”
The same holds true in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic where the laws also apply to communist atrocities. The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools prohibits displaying any religious symbols in public schools and the French ban on face covering prohibits any face-covering headgear, including the niqab, in public areas.
Let’s take a specific case from France. In January 2002, Denis Leroy, a French cartoonist, was found guilty by French courts of condoning terrorism and glorifying the violent destruction of American imperialism. His crime was the publication of a cartoon in the Basque weekly newspaper Ekaitza on September 13, 2001 which depicted the attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers with a caption, parodying the advertising slogan of a famous brand, “We have all dreamt of it... Hamas did it”.
Freedom of expression or speech is never unlimited. Rules of society, whether enforced by legislation or not, require us to moderate our behaviours in certain – in fact, many – ways. Take a few very simple examples. You (generally) do not walk around nude in public. The use of the ‘N’ word is condemned when used by non-black people. Prince Harry was roundly criticised for wearing a swastika armband to a fancy dress party. Freedom brings with it certain responsibilities and that freedom must not be abused.
As the Muslim Council of Britain states, Muslims “do believe” in the freedom of speech and “they do respect the right for people to say what they believe to be correct. However, freedom of speech should not be translated into a duty to offend.”
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz