Charlie Hebdo: Liberty should –again- lead the people ‎

“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.

Eugène Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple

Explosive Cartoon on the Holocaust Memorial Day

Political cartoons have always been capable of inciting several controversies and even led to marches of protest and violence in some cases (like the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad). The justification ‘package’ has always been readily available: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of press.

The newest case cannot resort to these excuses because it messes with one of the global taboos that no one wants to touch: anti-Semitism. This time the author of the cartoons is the legendary Gerald Scarfe (famous for the animations and graphics he did for Pink Floyd’s The Wall). Scarfe ventured a cartoon that caused all hell to break loose: it shows a ruthless Netanyahu building the Israeli apartheid wall over the bodies of Palestinian civilians, with the title ‘Israeli Elections: Will Cementing Peace Continue’?

This sounds purely political, where does ‘anti-Semitism’ fit into the picture? Well, two things: first, it was published on the Holocause Memorial Day (bad coincidence?) and, second, it was interpreted by the Jewish lobby(s) as alluding to the blood libel attributed to the Jews (ritual murder of kids for Jewish rituals), a horrible medieval accusation that lacked (and still lacks) any evidence.

The interesting part is how Robert Murdoch pathetically ‘washed his hands’ from the ‘crime’ of Scarfe: “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” I say ‘interesting’ because his reaction was the exact opposite to that of the Danish newspaper that refused to apologize over Prophet Muhammad’s cartoon (with a bomb in his head, as a terrorist, also attached below) on the grounds of freedom of expression. It has to be remembered that fostering Islamophobia is not -yet- a crime or a taboo.

Anyway, and regardless of what I think of Netanyahu and the Israeli government, I share the cartoon because, Holocaust and Blood Libel apart, it is an interesting case on the far-from-resolved clash between freedom of expression and respect for different religious, ethnic and racial groups.

Will cementing peace continue
Prophet Muhammad's cartoon