“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”
This quote, usually attributed to Voltaire, doesn’t seem to make sense to many people who still question the freedom of expression and ask for ‘laws’ to ‘regulate’ it, or simply put, for mechanisms to reverse and ambush one of the most celebrated values in the civilized world and a basic human right.
To reduce the Charlie Hebdo tragedy into a religious ideology or a political message is to miss the bigger picture: the cultural context. It is the cultural context that I will intend to address in this message.
And because my interest is mainly cultural, my conclusion is that you can never explain freedom of expression to people who have never fully experienced it; people whose minds are trapped in the straightjackets of state-sponsored media and the self-administered taboos of religion and sex.
Most of the Arabs that I know condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but attach a disclaimer to this condemnation, undermining it in many cases: We condemn terrorism but…
When examined through a European moral lens, this is unacceptable because condemning terrorism should come with no ‘but’s attached. Seen through an Arab cultural lens, things would look quite different, as scores of innocent Arabs are killed every day in Palestine, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere without anyone lifting a finger or doing as much as showing sympathy. This is why many Arabs would tell you I am not Charlie; I am Ahmed, I am Gaza, to the end of the list, and they definitely have a point.
Again, and because this is not about politics, the West (consciously or unconsciously) falls into the enormous mistake of referring to the assassins as Islamists and/or Jihadists, while the only term that should be used to describe them is one that we all know all too well: terrorists! Islamists are not equivalent neither to Muslims nor to terrorists, and the term Jihad should never be used lightly by those who do not understand it, because likewise, you can never explain Jihad to a secular mind.
This is not about a clash of civilizations, but rather about cultural relativism as a friend referred to it…it is about a cultural ‘divide’. Caricature is a very fine art and a powerful tool for social and cultural change, and by nature it mocks and reveals things that many people do not want to see or accept. Not so to those accustomed to censorship as the easiest ‘and cheapest’ way to fix things. The worst is yet to come, as the attacks give a new impetus to the European far right and the ultras, and as a new wave of Islamophobia looms in the horizon, only to add insult to injury…that is, of course, if you still look at the ‘region’ rather than ‘your corner of the world’.
PS. This article represents my personal opinion as an Arab living in Europe.