Home News Reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons just isn’t about free speech

Reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons just isn’t about free speech


French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo is at it, once more: it has chosen to republish the derogatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad which provoked a violent assault towards it in 2015. The editors say it’s “important” to reprint these on the eve of the trial of the perpetrators of that violence.

A decade earlier, in 2005, the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten additionally printed a dozen defamatory cartoons of the prophet which it then republished three years later.

It was the printing of those cartoons that in the end provoked some Muslims to resort to violence and, as is customary, it was their backlash that turned the nub of the “cartoon controversy”.

The unique affront to Muslim non secular sensibilities was swallowed up by assertions of the cartoonists’ proper to free speech and to interact in humour. In truth, in most critics’ views, it was not simply the cartoonists who have been victimised by “Islamic rage,” but in addition the precept of free speech itself.

Nonetheless, it must be doable to sentence violence by Muslims with out giving a free go to those that defame and vilify their faith, their prophet and their scripture. But, this not often occurs.

As a substitute, the Muslim-baiting intelligentsia depends on exactly its personal vilifications to incite the violence which it then feigns to be horrified and shocked by. I say feigns as a result of, by now, just about everybody is aware of that, goaded to a degree, some Muslims will reply violently to caricatures of their prophet as a terrorist, amongst different issues. I additionally say feigns as a result of provocateurs require such a response to anathematise all Muslims as a risk to European identities and values.

Whether it is simple sufficient to know why some Muslims reply violently to derogatory tropes about Islam, the prophet and the Quran, what does it say about those that compulsively maintain recycling these? I’ve speculated about this want at size elsewhere however will make just some temporary factors right here.

First, it’s troublesome to see how anybody – not solely a Muslim – may discover a cartoon of the prophet as a terrorist/suicide bomber amusing with out additionally treating terrorism itself frivolously. In spite of everything, how many people can chuckle at a cartoon of a suicide bomber, regardless of who that individual is meant to be? As for the purported irony of such representations of the prophet, what’s satirical about these, when Muslims are already considered as born terrorists-in-the-making?

Second, European vilifications of the prophet and Islam have a a lot older pedigree than free speech and don’t have anything to do with humour. To be exact, they’ve their roots in medieval Europe and the altering self-conceptions of Christians over a millennium.

For example, Tomaz Mastnak, a historian of the Crusades, argues that it was within the mid-ninth century when Western unity started to specific itself as Christendom, that Muslims additionally got here to be seen because the “normative enemies” of Christianity. Till then, that they had been considered as simply one other pagan group and customarily ignored – even the Muslim conquest of southern Spain didn’t make it into main chronicles.

Over time although, Europe’s Christians got here to see in Islam not only a “sinister conspiracy towards Christianity [but] that whole negation of [it] … which might mark the contrivances of Antichrist”. That is how Robert Southern describes it in his e book Western Views of Islam within the Center Ages and he attributes this suspicion to the “sturdy need to not know [Islam] for concern of contamination”.

As a substitute, he says, even the Christians who lived in “the center of Islam” (Muslim-ruled Andalusia) regarded to the Bible to elucidate it, which is how they got here to contemplate it the Antichrist. In brief, based on Southern, it was ignorance and the concern of contamination that made “the existence of Islam probably the most far-reaching drawback in medieval Christendom”.

Given this historical past, it isn’t shocking that medieval Christians would additionally painting the prophet as a heathen idol, the satan, Mahound (as in Salam Rushdie’s Satanic Verses), an imposter, and the Antichrist. He seems in such guises from the Crusades to the Reformation, along with his illustration as a non secular imposter, reaching its literary apotheosis in Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, wherein he’s confined to the eighth circle of hell.

Two centuries later, he reappears as an Antichrist within the work of German reformist Martin Luther, who after all, believed the pope and the Catholic Church have been a lot worse. A century later, Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, lauded as the daddy of worldwide legislation, was nonetheless calling him “a robber” and declaring that, in distinction to the Christians, who “have been males who feared God, and led harmless lives … they who first embraced Mahometanism have been robbers, and males void of humanity and piety”.

With the approaching of the Enlightenment, the prophet’s critics additionally started assailing him in secular language, because the “worst kind of … fanatic” (French author Voltaire) and “the best enemy of cause who ever lived” (German thinker Immanuel Kant).

Such depictions didn’t, nevertheless, portend a change in his illustration because the antithesis of European civilisation. If he was now not known as an Antichrist, in European minds, he was nonetheless considered exterior cause and rationality. Because of this I see the cartoons of the prophet as a terrorist to be only a secularisation of the determine of the Antichrist.

Each pictures serve, equally powerfully, to find him and, by extension, Islam and Muslims as Europe’s pure enemies. Because of this decreasing the cartoons to simply a difficulty of free speech obscures their historic and ideological family tree.

Lastly, (free) speech is conducive not solely to critique, humour, honesty, and dissent but in addition to assertions of dominance and enactments of energy. Although energy is enacted in another way, its train is “inseparable from its show”, as American author Saidiya Hartman argues in her e book Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America.

Within the context of slavery in North America, for example, with the ability to characterize energy was “important to reproducing domination”. For example, Hartman notes {that a} slave-holder’s “show of mastery [over a slave] was simply as essential because the authorized title to slave property”. This show often concerned demonstrating the slave holder’s “dominion and the captive’s abasement,” publicly. It additionally took the much less obtrusive type of organising “harmless amusements and spectacles of mastery” as a approach for the dominant courses “to determine their dominion” over the enslaved and dominated.

Borrowing from Hartman, I need to recommend that, at present, some Westerners search to reveal and reproduce their dominion over Muslims by caricaturing and maligning our sacred symbols at will. They’re thus in a position to obtain epistemically what they can not bodily or legally. Even when this displacement from the bodily to the psychological signifies the bounds of Western energy, speech is integral to its show. Because of this derogatory caricatures of the prophet perform as spectacles of mastery and as an ideological means to bolster intra-Western unity towards Muslims.

It’s as a lot to such enactments of mastery as it’s to the content material of particular assaults that Muslims like myself react angrily, and what we condemn just isn’t the concept that folks must be free to talk however the usage of speech to dominate and degrade the already marginal or weak. Defending domination within the identify of freedom simply confirms that not all conceptions of freedom are equally price defending.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.