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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Je suis Charlie

I have not seen any of the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, I will not see them, I don’t want to see them. What Charlie Hebdo has to say about my religion doesn’t interest me in the least. They can mock my faith all they want, it does not matter to me, they can have their heartfill lampooning my religion; I’m not angered and my faith, Islam, isn’t impacted by their words or cartoons. The terrorists who carried out the butchery in Paris and those who hailed or even merely  justified their cowardly act damage Islam more than any of the cartoons at Charlie Hebdo ever can.


By contrast, the so called American Freedom Defense Initiative anti Islam posters spark a completely different feeling in me, they offend me, I feel insulted. The courageous Egyptian American journalist Mona Eltahawy, in an act of civil disobedience, sprayed the ugly hateful posters with pink paint, she was arrested. The New York Metro is used by tens of thousands of Muslims daily, people use it to get to their places of work, kids use it to get to their schools and colleges: here the freedom of expression of hate for my faith interferes with my right not to be subjected to such hate, I can chose not to buy Charlie Hebdo, but I have to use the Subway, it is my subway, my public space, my infrastructure! Eltahawy’s used pink spray paint to signify her rejection of the laws that permitted the hate speech in a public infrastructure, she stood there, elegantly dressed peacefully spraying pink, while a woman associated with the bigoted ad attempted to use her umbrella as weapon against her. Eltahawy was taken into custody and faced a long legal battle for breaking the law, she received wide support from Muslims and non Muslims alike, thousands of people joined her cause, civil disobedience campaigns confronted the hateful ads wherever they appeared. Eltahway refused to pay even one dollar and was prepared to go to prison for her defiance of the unjust application of the laws that permitted hate speech in a public space.


My native country Egypt has blasphemy laws banning the belittling and disrespect of religions. Yet, Egypt has only three sanctioned, officially recognized religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Islam, in Egypt means only Sunni Islam, so Shia’a Islam, which is the faith of well over 100 million people is publicly discredited and belittled. Shia’a mosques are not allowed in Egypt. While Judaism is an officially sanctioned religion in Egypt, anti semitism is rampant and Jews are talked of often with words like impure, filthy and pigs. Former President Morsi lectured his adherents publicly to teach their children to hate Jews, while Morsi is currently facing several charges ranging from spying to jailbreak, there are no charges against him for belittling or disrespecting Judaism. Such charges will never get filed because they would surely bring Morsi only sympathy. In Egypt, the State itself launches campaigns against what it deems to be false religions such as the Baha'i faith. In short, we only ever hear of the anti blasphemy laws being applied when it comes to Sunni Islam and Christianity. Blasphemy, disrespect and belittling of other faiths is tolerated and often encouraged as matter of state policy.


For Egyptian Christians, like most Christians, a fundamental belief is that Jesus Christ was crucified to offer salvation to those who believe in him. Yet Muslims strongly reject every word in this notion, Jesus was never crucified and there is no such a thing as Salvation through belief in his crucifiction. Muslims claim to respect Christianity but, in fact, what is respected in Islam, is an Islamic Christianity, entirely different from that the Christians themselves actually believe. Muslims believe the bible was corrupted and Christians have essentially been misguided..... well if that is not belittling and disrespectful, I am not sure, what is. Similarly Christians do not believe Islam is a religion of the same God and those Christians who politely concede that Mohammad was a Prophet, use the word prophet to mean a sage, a wise man, a man with blessing but not a messenger of God. Manifestly, the belief in Islam is a disbelief in Christianity and the belief in Christianity is a disbelief in Islam. To belief in one faith we reject the other. To Christian ears the Friday Muslim sermon blaring out on loud speakers addressing Christianity is disrespectful of the Christianity actually practiced by the Christians, it is blasphemous to them.  


Back to the West and France in particular, where secularist values dominate; the laws and cultures grant people the total right to chose, and to change, their faith, to state it publicly or keep it private, to practice their faith or not, to gather for worship etc. We, Muslims in the West have gained from this freedom, we enjoyed it and lived it and were able to build our mosques and schools.  In our mosques, we teach that Christians believe in a corrupted bible and Jesus was not divine, thoughts and ideas contrary to Christianity. We teach that Jews have deviated from God and exasperated Moses, what we teach is, in reality, offensive to most non Muslims.
Words such as ‘I am not afraid of retaliation….It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.’ These were the words of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, they carry a religious zeal to them. Just like a Muslim magazine in France has the right to ridicule and belittle and disrespect the beliefs, morality and values of a large percentage of the population around them, others have similar right. Muslims wish to offer sermons and write articles on the evil of homosexuality, a practice that is permitted in the west, why would gays not be allowed to respond. Do I wish for the Law in the USA or France to ban me from reciting Quran Surah 112 in mosques because it is blasphemous to Christianity, for it categorically states that God has no sons.  In order for Islam to exist as a minority religion in the West, it requires the very freedom that Stephane Charbonnier was willing to die for. Like him, I too, I am prepared to give my life for my right to recite my Holy Quran and will not allow any authority to censor me from it. The religious notion that morality is only a product of faith is challenged, not only by the atheists’ acts of charity but also by their willingness to die for the values they believe in.  


Honest condemnations of the terrorist attacks in Paris came fast and furious, the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag dominated social media.  Many Muslims saw the offensive cartoons for the first time and were offended by the work of the dead cartoonist. The #JeNeSuisPasCharlie (I’m not Charlie) hashtag emerged, aided by some non Muslim writers as well. We, as Muslims, need to confront a simple fact; not an insignificant number of us believe that the killing of those who insult the Prophet, be they Muslim or not, is their just comeuppance.  Recall the Salaman Rushdi Fetwa, indeed the death penalty or life in prison would be the likely outcome in most Muslim countries for publishing less offensive material than what appeared in Charlie Hebdo.


Condemnations with "but" or allocation of any level of blame on the victims come across to my ears as indecent and frankly are more disturbing than silence ….  for I’m Charlie because Charlie stood for my freedom to practice my religion as I want to, to recite my Quran without fear of the majority culture around me.


I’m Charlie because I want to practice my beliefs in my mosques, the way I choose, with no censorship by others and I want for others to practice what they believe in away from me, even if it is offensive to my eyes and ears.


I’m Charlie for Charlie’s courageous stance for freedom is actually far closer to my faith than the cowardly act of those terrorists who butchered Charlie


I’m Charlie and Je suis Charlie with no reservation!

Ayman S. Ashour

1 comment:

Amira Aly said...

I love how you see that the courageous stance for freedom is closer to faith than bigotry--sadly very few people do.