Charlie Hebdo, the challenges of freedom of expression
by Kamel Abderrahmani *

The controversial satirical newspaper republished the cartoons about Muhammad at the origin of the 2015 massacre. The publication provokes a wave of indignant reactions throughout the Islamic world, which instead remains silent over murder in the name of Allah.

Paris (AsiaNews) – Wednesday last the most controversial satirical newspaper in France, Charlie Hebdo, decided to issue a special edition republishing some cartoons of the Prophet of Islam Mohammed (Muhammad in Arabic) at the start of the trial over the terror attack during which eight members of the editorial team were killed on January 7, 2015. This special issue was a great success, 200 thousand copies have been sold and another 200 thousand will be reprinted.

The editorial staff of the newspaper explained in an article published in the same issue: “Since January 2015 we have been asked several times to produce more caricatures of Mohammed. We have always refused to do so, not because it is forbidden, the law allows it, but because such an act requires a good reason, a reason that makes sense and that contributes something to the wider debate".

Indeed, this decision to republish the cartoons of the Prophet of Islam is very courageous. Given the context, it underlines the importance of this event and that of freedom of expression, strongly supported in France. In other words, it is a sign that demonstrates the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and the place they occupy in French and Western society in general. Something that the Muslim world and Western Muslims - sadly influenced by anachronistic interpretations of Islam - find difficult to understand or appropriate.

The special edition of Charlie Hebdo entitled "Tout ça pour ça" did not go unnoticed in the Muslim world. Indeed, the University of Al Azhar, one of the references of the Sunni world - which had refused to excommunicate the Daesh terrorists - denounced without hesitation "an unjustified provocation", "a criminal act" against "almost two billion Muslims worldwide."

Iranian Shiism as well as Erdogan condemned the move.

In Pakistan, the Islamist party" Tehreek-e-Laibak Pakistan "organized a large demonstration to protest against the cartoons, and also to dream of beheading the "blasphemers"! In this country, blasphemy is punishable by death. In other words, you should know that this country is still in the reckless worship of a warring and bloodthirsty Allah.

The condemnation from the Muslim world was almost unanimous. And this shows that the leaders of Islam know how to make themselves heard when so desire. However, when Islamic terrorists carry out attacks killing innocent people whatever their faith, when they blow up churches in Egypt, killing and injuring hundreds of faithful, these same voices are silent, then they are not heard!

In France, the French Council of Muslims (CFCM), through the voice of its president, urged people to think of the victims of terrorism, "ignoring" the cartoons that were republished. "The cartoons, we have learned to ignore them and we urge you to observe the same attitude in all circumstances".

Chems-eddine Hafiz, the rector of the Paris mosque, in an excellent article published this Saturday on the Figaro website, ( mosquee-de-paris-que-charlie-hebdo-continue-d-echo-de-dessiner-d-user-de-son-art-et-surtout-de-vivre-20200904 ) writes: "that Charlie Hebdo continues to write, to draw, to use its art and above all to exist. May the drama that befell this publication, the police officers and our Jewish compatriots serve as a lesson to the national community, but also to those who claim to be of Islam, to those who call themselves 'friends of Muslims' and who do not clearly condemn these terrorist crimes: how did the murder of cartoonists advance the cause of Muslims? And how can destruction and barbarism serve the image of Islam? "

It should be remembered that no Koranic text prohibits the representation of the Prophet. The Koran, the main text of Islam and sacred collection of divine revelation transmitted to Muhammad, condemns only idolatry: this means associating other deities represented by idols with the One God. In other words, it is "hard to argue that the alleged rejection of image representation in Islam falls under divine law!" If we look at the history of Muslim art, the Prophet Muhammad was regularly represented in Persia, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, in diverse variations; Muhammad receives the Koran from Gabriel. From Jami 'al-Tawarikh (History of the world) by Rashid al-Din, Tabriz, Persia, 1307; Portrait of Mohammed, taken from the General History of Religion of the Turks of Michel Baudier. Paris (1625); 16th century illustration Siyer-i Nebi.

Muslims who feel offended, insulted and hurt by this type of caricature need to understand that you neutralize idead with other ideas, caricatures with other caricatures, and that nothing justifies the violence and terrorist acts that Charlie Hebdo has suffered. In other words, we must draw inspiration from the Italians who were able to respond with art and intelligence to the famous cartoon by Charlie Hebdo about the earthquake that hit the upper Tronto valley! Indeed, the freedom of expression of the press is one of the greatest achievements of democracy in the West; in other words, it is an asset to be protected, to be defended from free spirits, to go beyond the archaic conceptions of religion and return to the essential: the spirit of faith.


* Young Muslim scholar in Paris