I stand with freedom of speech, and the right of everyone, including bigots and racists, to freely express themselves and their ideas; as such,#jesuisCharlie. I do not stand with or support the freely expressed opinions of everyone, in particular those of racists and bigots; as such,#jenesuispasCharlie.
I understand and appreciate the position of many of my Muslim friends who have chosen to publically condemn the massacres and who have tried to explain that Islamic teachings do not condone in the slightest these attacks in order to educate, but I stand with my Muslim friends who refuse, on principle, to condemn these attacks. The latter refuse to condemn not because they condone these attacks (they don’t), and not because they don’t support freedom of speech (they do), and not because they don’t consider this to be a heinous attack on innocent civilians (they do), but because they refuse to play this condemnation game whose underlying logic they recognize as essentially bigoted. I say bigoted because the implicit logic here is that unless they publically condemn this attack, they are deemed to be complicit in this attack by virtue of their silence, and solely because they share the same faith as extremists who claim to be acting in defense of that faith. As such, their refusal to condemn is a refusal to acknowledge this bigoted logic. On a deeper level, the fact that they feel it necessary to take this principled stance is a reflection of a certain Zeitgeist, especially in the West, that has permeated social discourse on these issues. Sometimes, this is explicitly vocalized by aforementioned bigots in the form of “why aren’t the moderate Muslims speaking out against these attacks!?”, but most of the time, it is more subtle and expressed in the form of suspicion and un-trust towards Muslims in different spheres of life. This creates a poisonous atmosphere where the targeted group begins to feel the walls closing in; thus defiance and the principled stand.
I do not stand with hypocritical proclamations coming from the leaders of France about their unequivocal support for freedom of speech as a universal value that ought to be protected and that serves as a fundamental pillar of French values. I say hypocritical because when freedom of speech is elevated to a universal value (as it should be), but only selectively enforced, then that claim to universality is automatically undermined. Leaving aside the historical fact that the French law advocating for freedom of speech, passed in 1881, was explicitly shaped to exclude France’s colonial subjects, including Algerian Muslims, from exercising that freedom, freedom of speech continues to be selectively enforced today across different facets of French policy. It is selectively enforced within France when that freedom of speech is not accorded to some who wish to criticize certain religions or events, and selectively enforced when it interferes with certain business interests of the French Republic. The latter is especially ironic when one examines the relationship between France and Saudi Arabia. At the same exact moment that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were occurring, a world away in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi blogger by the name of Raif Badawi was publically flogged 50 times in public for running a liberal website that criticized Saudi rulers and the ruling Wahhabi ideology. Badawi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1000 public lashes (50 of which were administered a few days ago) and 10 years of prison for exercising his freedom of speech. Meanwhile, France has been busy supplanting the US in becoming Saudi Arabia’s leading arms dealer; Hollande, in particular, has been leading this charge. Raif Badawi’s freedom of speech, which he used to criticize this ideology that is responsible for so much of the Islamic extremism that we see today including the Charlie Hebdo massacres, is one that is conveniently not being supported by France, by virtue of their continued business dealings with the Saudis. And to be clear, Badawi is not the only victim of this oppression: Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Bajadi, Abd- al-Kareem al-Khodr, Omar al-Saeed and countless others have had their freedom of speech denied by the Saudi state, and yet, their freedom of speech is not deemed worthy of being defended by France (by for instance, terminating their arms deals with the Saudis).
These dynamics and other underlying issues that I’ve failed to highlight in this post are worthy of being examined and unpacked as a result of this tragedy, so hopefully, we can have a good discussion that goes beyond the usual clichés.