After the terrible incident in Paris which saw the merciless killings of 12 people, notably, staff cartoonists working for Charlie Hebdo, there was a massive surge in the French satirical magazine’s popularity. This led to its return to newsstands and clearly its extremely suspect political satire which bounces back and forth between Islamophobic, sexist, and racist caricatures.

We are talking about explicit as well as implicit caricatures that are purely racist and nothing else, ultimately creating and aiding a mentality of the ‘free speech enlightened souls’ vs the backward immoral Muslims. An ‘us’ vs ‘them’. I was checking out some of the magazine’s publications and there is a consistent feeling of anti-Islam in the air as well as homophobic and sexist caricatures. One of the publicists depicted a black French justice minister as a monkey and if someone was to create a caricature insulting the victims of this terrible massacre, would that be OK? It would not, in any capacity whatsoever. This is not a justification for the heinous attack in any way but I feel there would be a massive outrage if this was to happen, by the same people who basically legitimize racism and xenophobia. Is racism and racial religious hate really an appropriate expression of free speech?

There has been many an instance where people have demanded and expect ordinary Muslims to apologize for extremist elements who belong to a particular sect of Islam (even though
Islamist terror accounts for only 0.7 per cent of attacks in Europe), and these are the same people who refrain from apologizing for France’s abhorrent colonial history. France also become the first country ever to ban Palestinian demonstrations not to mention a rapper facing jail time for lyrically dissing France. These are the sorts of double standards that seems to be reflective of people when it comes to freedom of speech. I am hoping they feel equally passionate about these incidences, or are they just racist and hate all Muslims?

Also, a British man has to complete his community service for rightfully shouting ‘no public sector cuts’ to David Cameron as well as recent news of a French mayor banning an anti-Jihadist Muslim film. The latter is particularly striking as a film, named Timbuktu. The critically acclaimed piece of work by famous Mauritian director, Abderrahmane Sissako was banned from a Paris suburb inhabited by a large North African population. When looking at these incidents and analysing the reaction of many in their superficial plea for ‘free speech’, IT DOES NOT ADD UP. All of these should get equal attention by concerned free speech activists but a lack of vocal action is ultimately reflective of an implicit as well as explicit, institutionalized racist culture that is pervasive in our society.

Looking at this in terms of its impact on international relations raises pertinent questions. I am more concerned about the negative backlash this will have on ordinary Muslims. Reading comments like, ‘There was a massacre in Paris today and here some people are inviting over illegal immigrants and handing out citizenships’ by Greece’s Prime Minister Samaras does not leave room for optimism.

Facilitating platforms for debate on religion is essential. I am all for criticizing Islam for some of its ideas and practices, despite the fact that the USA is directly geopolitically engaged in the Middle East and elsewhere to shore up the petrodollar system and to secure the last reserves of a dying energy base. And also despite the fact that the USA uses Islamophobism for its advantages, and would probably utilize otherwise legitimate criticism of Islam in the same way.

There are influential factions on the left and liberal persuasion who quite rightly want US imperialism to end, realizing that criticism and phobia against Islam are useful to that empire, they attack those who criticize Islam as being part of the imperial agenda, or at least useful to it. I think we have to bite the bullet and analyse and attack bad ideas – Islam included – regardless of how we are labelled and despite the prima facie association that will inevitably arise. Once this ‘force field’ of insularity against open discussion about Islam is broken, you do not get the end of religion (which is not the goal) but you do facilitate dialogue without offending people who belong to a complex religion, or using them as scapegoats. (A religion, one might add with its acroamatic as well as literature-based iterations of the faith over centuries. Its followers deep differences, as well as the different ways in which they have dealt with those differences; is more than enough evidence to show that Islam is not a single thing. On the other hand, Islam does contain contrasts and competes within itself. These in the process are all interpreted in essentially different ways.)

However, alienating cartoon publications like Charlie Hebdo does not create room for positive dialogue nor intelligent dialogue, but rather maintains cultural stereotypes and aids bitterness.