As emotions continue to run high following the atrocious attacks in Paris last week the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo went on sale in the UK, with customers queuing overnight to get their hands on the Survivors issue. As I’m sure you’ve all seen the front cover maintained their brazen stance, with a cartoon of their depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, who is in tears, holding the slogan ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) alongside the headline ‘Tout Est Pardonne’ (‘All Is Forgiven’) – regardless of the diverse reactions, it’s a potent message.
The only thing I could be sure about in this situation was that the death of artists is heartbreaking and rage inducing. I’ve heard people of a similar descent as me comment that ‘they weren’t innocent …’
No, they weren’t innocent. But who is? That never warrants death – why do we still need to say this? This awful moment in history struck a chord with me as someone who is Muslim and define themselves as an expressionist of sorts. I wrote a think piece about being a part of the LGBT community as a born-Muslim last year – I showed it one of my most liberal Muslim friends, who responded by saying I didn’t represent Islam fairly. It was a surprise to me – the feature wasn’t disguised as an analysis or a study – it was real life experiences and real life reactions received by someone who is gay and a Muslim. It seemed I could write as many Vice-style articles slagging off what I like, but this one had hit a nerve with people who I assumed wouldn’t flinch. I filed it away.
I wrote a piece about being a woman in Islam. A dear friend – a Muslim woman who works in media – told me it needed to be more balanced. But when women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia yet many Islamic countries have had female Prime Ministers (Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh) – something the United States are yet to see happen, how was this ever going to be a balanced piece of writing? Our culture, Islamic culture, be it in England or Egypt, is too vast and too varying to be balanced when it comes to first-hand experiences.
What I found is that when it comes to Islam, even the most liberal of Muslims I knew wanted some form of censorship placed on my personal experiences as a Muslim woman. First – let us not pretend that this censorship would not and does not exist anywhere in other religions. Furthermore, I found many people’s defensive reactions to what I wrote occurred because we as Muslims are now used to living on the defensive. We’re constantly defending, some of us even apologising for our identity. I understood my Muslim friends points – there are so many bad opinions of Islam in the media, why deliver anything that could possibly add to the detriment of societies perceptions of us? Creatives must own responsibility.
But my belief in freedom of expression means I will always believe in the likes of Charlie Hebdo and their right to offend. We all have the right to be honest with our beliefs, to share our thoughts. Honest art is too important to me not to acknowledge this. The ‘depiction’ of Prophet Muhammad didn’t bother me because I didn’t let it. I revere him so highly that a ridiculous looking cartoon is quite literally laughable, and to me, it has nothing to do with him because no one can ever say it’s remotely accurate. His teachings are what stay close to my heart – they’re what matter.
What does bother me however is the political stance that has ensued, as it always does – dare I say it – in this post 9/11 world. The news has made it clear in a very Orwellian fashion that it’s now most definitely them against us. Freedom does not exist in ‘our’ countries and now ‘we’ are coming to take your freedom too. But the fact of the matter is that though deranged, these murderers are citing political reasons for their despicable behaviour and at this stage we shouldn’t be brushing anything off.
Yet political leaders continue to ignore the consequences of air drones that fly over Pakistan and Afghanistan, occasionally killing children. Why would a loose few cannon balls want to avenge them in an evil way because they feel powerless? Ridiculous. Why should anyone care that the BBC have censored the suffering in Palestine more than once? It’s all Hamas’ fault that over 2,000 people were killed in 2014 alone, 70% of them civilians – please, let’s not look at who supported and funded those who threw the bombs. It’s not important whatsoever.
Let’s not think about who created the Taliban to defeat the Soviet Union for them. What part did the United States have in the making of ISIS, you say? Well I gotta say, this video makes no sense at all.
Whilst there’s no denying that the Muslim community have things to work through, until those in charge are willing to acknowledge the snowball effect of their part in major decisions we are going nowhere. The problem isn’t just about Islam and the West – we know colour plays a part in the bigger picture. We’ve seen a bizarre amount of news coverage on Paris since the tragedy occurred – I say bizarre because whilst this has been happening, the world has ignored the much larger death toll in Nigeria. By terrorists. From what I can see, real news coverage on Nigeria followed outrage on social networks regarding the lack of coverage.
On that note, our attention spans are not that short that we can only deal with one issue at once. So why has the disturbing phenomenon of police officers killing civilians in America seemingly been brushed under the carpet? Has anyone else been murdered by an officer of the law since they’ve had Paris to talk about? Would we even know if it wasn’t for Twitter?
Once upon a time George Orwell wrote about a world that I can now relate to a bit more. In Nineteen Eighty-Four information from the government was given as fact, and there is no room for dispute – 2 + 2 = 5. That’s that. But the truth is that most actions are taken on behalf of agendas, and we should be as aware of the agenda as we are the action. Take, for one, the conversation we are now having about the use of encrypted services following our threat of security. Is banning Whatsapp or the government having access to our private messages going to help when most terrorists who commit despicable acts were already on the national security radar prior to them happening? Is compromising our privacy the real answer?
I respect the rights of a Muslim woman who wants to wear a hijab without being attacked, and I respect the rights of a publication creating what they want without murderous backlash. I don’t respect the media contributing to division or rash judgments. It’s now about reading between the lines.