In the wake of the recent Paris attack, France ordered a strict crackdown on ‘hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism,’ according to the Associated Press. Shortly after, French police arrested notorious comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala for being an “apologist for terrorism.” The comedian wrote on his Facebook page “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” purposefully combining the hashtag “Je suis Charlie”, used in tribute to the journalists killed at magazine Charlie Hebdo with the name of gunman Amédy Coulibaly the accused of perpetrator of holding hostages at a Paris supermarket. The post has been taken down since the launch of the investigation. For years, Dieudonné has tested the limits of free speech in France with comments that has been equated anti-Semitic hate speech by government officials, including France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Dieudonné has rejected the accusations saying his attitude is no different from Charlie Hebdo’s. In addition, France has also reportedly opened 54 criminal cases for “condoning terrorism” since the attacks.
And so the complex debate over free speech commences, where is the line between free speech and hate speech? Why is a particular speech considered anti-Semitic whereas another is not considered Islamophobic? Which type exactly should the law criminalize or is it a free for all? These questions present a perplexing grey area that many have attempted to both defend and criticize. Who is allowed to mock? What is considered appropriate to satirize? These questions bring us to the modern day socio-political era that we reside in and influence the mockers from the mocked.
In order to uphold the moral value of free speech, we must understand and eliminate the conspicuous double standard that tags along with it. In 2008, Charlie Hebdo fired French cartoonist Maurice Sinet for “inciting racial hatred” in regards to an anti-Semitic column. In 2006, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten reportedly rejected cartoons mocking Christ because they would “provoke an outcry.” Therefore, why is it under the banner of free speech that it becomes socially acceptable to not only mock Muslims and their beloved Prophet, but to expect them to be perfectly submissive and content on the matter? It is the same double standard that applies to Muslims when an attacker such as the ones in Paris justify their vicious murders in the name of Islam and Muslims are expected to (and always do) apologize and condemn each and every terror incident.
None of these instances in any way shape or form justify the actions of the provokers. The murders of the Charlie Hebdo and the comments by Dieudonne alike are both tasteless and condescending. The idea of finding humor in ridiculing a community is not a new one. For ages African Americans were taunted and teased in American cinema and cartoons. The Jewish community was also affected by the same vain form of amusement throughout Europe. However, the newspaper and entertainment industry know better than to publish another black face or scorn the holocaust, a crime punishable in Germany. Surely comedy may come at a price, but one that is unequally distributed dependant on the victims.
The fact of the matter is the Muslim community is continuously treated as sub-citizens where they are commanded when and how they should react. It is not only in the cases of free speech do we see a double standard, rather we see this rhetoric most prevalent during terror attacks conducted by other so-called Muslims. During the 9/11 era and more-so after the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the media is consistently asking, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren’t the Muslim religious leaders condemning these attacks?” And yet the answers are consistently fall on deaf ears. Time after time these so called “moderate” Muslims are attempting to reach out to prove the true face of Islam, but it never makes for a good headline. During the Paris attack, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS News that the attack was “the worst attack in Europe since the attacks in London in July of 2005.” Mr. Morell was wrong. The worst terror attack in Europe occurred on July 22, 2011 when Christian extremist and terrorist Anders Breivik bombed several government buildings and shot up a summer camp in Norway killing over 70 people. But the media didn’t ask for the Pope to condemn his attacks in the name of Christianity. Europe didn’t declare a war against civilization and we certainly did not see a #KillAllChristians campaign online and on TV as we saw Fox news call for against Muslims.
Despite how many times the Muslim community continues to condemn attacks globally and preach vigorously that they are disconnected from any and all terrorist groups, the average Muslim is still held responsible. The vilification of Muslims has extended beyond international borders and reached a low point in modern day societies where their existence is constantly generalized by the actions of a few. It is this same rhetoric that yields such a double standard that normalizes all type of defamation, unreasonable treatment and hatred towards the Muslim community. Across the globe we see comments such as the one made by News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch says Muslims must be held responsible for the French terror attacks even though “most” are “peaceful.” We also see over 18 thousand anti Islam protestors marching in Germany. It has become evident that the world is no longer launching a war against civilization or terror may be launching a war against Muslims.
The covers of Charlie Hebdo must and will be protected under free speech. Terrorists will be terrorists regardless of their religious and political motives. However, it is time to remove the double standard and stigma that comes with defaming Muslims. Hate and offensive speech is not only limited to Christ and Holocaust. Similarly, a terrorist is not limited to the Muslim community. The courtesies that are extended in regards to free speech must be extended to all walks of faith. A right to free speech does not negate the right to be offended. The hypocrisy of societal norms are blatantly hurting the Muslim community, a community that is embedded into numerous countries outside of the Middle East. In order to truly overcome terrorism and and hold an honest and open dialogue to protect our nation’s freedom, it is crucial that we progress united and whole and that includes the Muslim community.