The “Charlie Hebdo” Debate Rages

The "Charlie Hebdo" Debate Rages 2

The massive sales of Charlie Hebdo following the Paris terror attacks has also raised a debate about who would permit – or should permit – the publication of such cartoons with issues about free speech and privacy laws raging in the wake of the attacks and the publication of the latest edition once again showing Muhammed imagery.

In the UK, Nick Clegg is clashing with the Prime Minister over reviewing privacy laws in Britain, in light of the terrorist attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo last week.

Both David Cameron and Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, have called for Britain’s intelligence services to be given new powers to read the contents of citizens’ communications, in order to avoid similar “mass casualty attacks” here.

This signals the return of the so-called Snooper’s Charter to the political agenda. The Communications Data Bill, which would give the government new powers to see the contents of any of our messages, phonecalls and other communications without a warrant, will go in the Conservative manifesto for the election this year. Parker referred specifically to the supposed danger of our privacy being “so absolute and sacrosanct”, and supports more powers against privacy for the security service.

However, Nick Clegg is reaffirming the Lib Dems’ opposition to this legislation this week. One of his party’s often-trumpeted triumphs in office is having blocked the Tories’ Bill, and it appears Clegg is as determined as ever to oppose what he sees as a threat to our civil liberties, the New Statesman reports.

In Australia there is debate about the repealing of the ‘Hate Speech’ law – Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said the law should be repealed because under it, a publication like “Charlie Hebdo could not have been published in Australia.” Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane disagreed, saying that that law covers race, and not religion, and that an exemption of the Act protects artistic work or fair comment.

The Huffington Post published an opinion piece from writer and scientist Fathima Nazeer who wrote:

There is no shortage of condemnations of the horrific attack on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo.

There are also the halfhearted condemnations with thinly veiled victim blaming. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean the freedom to offend seem to be the tagline with these arguments.

Then there is the usual cacophony claiming this has NOTHING to do with Islam, that the attackers are not “true Muslims” and that this type of attack goes against the example of Muhammed.

Some claim that this is not about criticism of Islam or insulting Muhammed, but simply about imagery of Muhammed, supposedly banned in Islam. Charlie Hebdo has been irreverent towards religious symbols and beliefs of all major religions. So why is it that only Islamic beliefs about images of Muhammed need to be respected? Why does Islam require special treatment?

Accusations of racism or false analogies with racist cartoons do not make much sense either. Islam or Muslim is not a race, it is simply an ideology. Muslims belong to almost every race and ethnicity.

This is about Muslims being unwilling to face criticism of Islam and Muhammed.

Needless to say, in western liberal societies at least, free speech includes the freedom to offend, and even though it makes us uncomfortable at times we are better off for it.

Satire after all is a form of criticism that help us question the values and beliefs we hold sacred, through irony and exaggeration and of course making us uncomfortable. Media outlets all over the world had an opportunity to do this while showing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo this past week. With anti-blasphemy laws firmly in place in many Muslim societies republishing the cartoons is out of the question. Sadly, many media outlets in western liberal societies as well chose to suppress themselves. Of course many Muslims are happy with this ‘respect’ and ‘protection’ accorded to their beliefs by western media this time.

However, it is precisely this type of ‘protection’ that is part of the problem. When criticism of Islam is suppressed in this way even in western liberal societies, we lose a valuable opportunity that would allow everyone, and especially Muslims living in these societies take a critical look at their values and beliefs, which may include those that have been held unquestioned for generations. Anti- blasphemy laws make it almost impossible for this sort of thing to happen in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but here in America we chose to let the opportunity slip by out of political correctness.

Charlie Hebdo, founded in its current incarnation in 1970, has always been fiercely anti-religious, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-good taste.

Although usually described as “satirical”, its humour ranges from gentle mockery to scurrilous aggression.

On several occasions in recent years, the magazine has published special editions lampooning radical Islam, including cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (who was usually shown to agree with the magazine about the barminess of his more radical followers).



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