COLUMN – Abuse of life – and of freedom
I take the opportunity in this column to revisit a topic that I wrote on three weeks ago. I am doing so for several reasons. Foremost is the gruesome attack and murders that occurred last week in Paris, France, at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and the resultant intense spotlight, once more, being shed on the faith I subscribe to and its followers. I am also motivated to write by the several persons who have called and asked that I comment on the events.
My Foundation schoolmate and University of the West Indies colleague Peter Wickham was the first among others to ask that I or others of my faith and Barbados Muslim Association make a statement.
I reminded Peter that I do not subscribe to the view that each and every time some fanatical, misguided individual behaves in an unjust and barbaric manner that it is necessary for us to respond, apologize, explain or distant ourselves. Others of my faith and I have done so on numerous occasions, and it is well documented that right-thinking Muslims, here in Barbados and across the world, do not in any manner or form agree with, subscribe to or endorse the actions of these misguided individuals who claim their actions are religiously mandated.
Interestingly enough, I have come across several others, not of the Islamic faith, who also agree that Muslims do not need to respond each and every time these events occur. One such person is Katie Halper, who writes:
Every time an extremist who is Muslim commits an act of terrorism, people ask where the moderate Muslim voices condemning violence are. (Interestingly, as a Jew, I don’t usually get asked to condemn extremism when it is perpetuated by Jewish fundamentalists like Baruch Goldstein, who shot 29 praying Muslims to death, and injured 125, at the Cave Of The Patriarchs; or Yigal Amir, who killed Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.)
And the same thing is happening following this week’s deplorable, pathetic, and tragic killing of 12 people at the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/46-examples-of-muslim-outrage-about-paris-shooting-that-fox-news-cant-seem-to-find/)
I am also motivated to write because my family was subjected to a caller to my home last week who made a point of insulting members of my faith, calling us all killers. In addition, there was another caller last Sunday who felt I should comment because Muslims all over the world are killing people and we are all “vipers”.
I am not intimidated by these calls; just saddened that such behaviour could reach the shores of our beautiful island. I truly hope this behaviour is an exception, and does not grow.
In my column of December 23, 2014, I wrote:
The faith to which I adhere and to which one fifth of the world’s population is also a part, has over the years been under the spotlight due to the actions of various individuals and groups who claim they are acting in accordance with the teachings they subscribe to. They have committed grave crimes against humanity; in most cases against their fellow adherents.
There is no justification whatsoever for their crimes and deeds. Their actions must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. In addition, we must make a concerted and determined effort to weed out all these elements from our midst.
I maintain that position with respect to the recent happenings in France, and I am sure that the vast majority of right-thinking Muslims hold a similar view.
I also wrote:
The sad reality is that such horrendous actions are increasingly being undertaken in several parts of the world –– from Boko Haram in Nigeria to ISIS in the Middle East to Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How do these groups gain momentum? What brings them into existence, and why are some humans inclined to follow these misdirected ideologies?
These and many more questions need to be asked and answers found. Some individuals seem to find an easy answer and, as witnessed by comments made in the various media (mainstream and social), they blame the teachings of my faith for promoting this violence . . . .
With a faith of 1.5 billion adherents in the world today, it is a well recognized fact that only a very small percentage of these are involved in this type of despicable behaviour. Regrettably, it is this small percentage that gets the most media attention, and so the world has come to be conditioned that people of my faith are to be viewed with suspicion, and their intentions and actions always held as questionable.
There is no doubt that what occurred in France was barbaric and heinous. Fanatics took human lives away. Among those first to be killed were two policemen patrolling the streets where the magazine is located, one of those a Muslim. The media gave us the graphic details of all that went on over the three days.
It spawned a global campaign of denunciation, cries of free speech under attack, and other slogans like Je Suis Charlie (I Am Charlie). Once more the spotlight was thrown on Muslims and freedom of expression.
Beyond the rhetoric, the hype and the marches, I have found that there is a group of people who don’t subscribe to this “movement”. They are unified in condemnation of the actions of the fanatics, but they question the whole concept of freedom of expression.
So beyond the sound bites, we have to dig deeper. I maintain there are double standards in the way we are presented with information, and what is hyped up and what is downplayed.
Charlie Hebdo, until last week, was regarded by many as about the most offensive, racist and malevolent publication one could imagine. It has been censored in the past. Catholics, Jews and leading French politicians and businessmen have had their grouses with the magazine as well.
Let me strongly point out that I do not hold that what happened last week was in any way acceptable. It was totally wrong! These fanatics did untold damage, destruction and murder with their guns, unleashing a tidal wave of fear, hate and distrust.
On the other hand, their victims, with their pens, insulted, maligned and attacked –– also creating hate and distrust. It is strongly argued that freedom of expression protects them in doing that. But many do not subscribe to that view.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue said the cartoonists’ “obscene portrayal of religious figures” represented an “abuse of freedom”. European countries also have in its laws limits to expression with regards to anti-Semitism and holocaust denial.
The fact is that those superpower nations that today boldly speak about freedom of speech and expression have a history far removed from that reality. Dissidents and those who have voiced opposition are known to have been expunged extrajudicially –– not in the full glare of the media, or watched by millions; but quietly and covertly.
These skeletons in the closets must be brought out so that the world can come to the truth, and due justice can be done.
No society can truly be at peace and harmony if we allow people to insult and malign others and what they hold sacred, regardless of class, race, ideology, religious belief, lifestyle, culture or whatever other measurement one may apply to a fellow human being. We can only move forward and truly fight the fanatics among us if we live with each other in love, peace and understanding.
Where we have points of disagreement, these must be resolved through honest, intellectual discourse, using wisdom and care.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)