Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
Mine is filled with fragrant flowers. Welcome.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reflections on the Charlie Hebdo's incident

The dramatic terror attack that killed 17 people in Paris earlier this month has all the ingredients of an action film--the heart-thumping car chase, two separate hostage crisis, a mysterious gunman on a murderous rampage and a female suspect still on the loose. In the span of the three days panic caused by two gunmen who attacked satirical cartoon Charlie Hebdo's headquarters for the comic's portrayal of the prophet Muhammad, a Muslim policeman died preventing the attackers from entering the premise while a Muslim staff at the Kosher grocery store risked his life defending the customers from the mad gunman. The number of Muslim casualty in the terror attack might seem minimal but the sociological and political consequences of the cowardice and ignorant acts of a minority who called themselves Muslims, spilled over to the rest 1.6 billion of the population. 

Nothing quiet reveals the hypocrisy of the West much like the Charlie Hebdo incident and the subsequent chain of events that followed it. Hours after the incident, the rate of Islamophobic attack against Muslims in Paris skyrocketed, with more than 60 cases recorded but were barely highlighted in the mainstream media. The media, was then then too engaged with debates on the ideologies of terror in Islam with self-righteous pseuo-experts churning theories over theories, putting up blanket statements and unverified data on the Muslims. Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, which are offensive to not just Muslims but followers of other faiths that it mocked, became the symbol of freedom of speech, cleverly pushed aside in most of the discussion was how the religious personalities were denegrated (not that one can expect more from a publication with such class anyway). On the social media's end, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) was paraded to symbolize global solidarity with the editorial staffs killed in the name of 'freedom of speech'. Days later, world leaders gathered in Paris to march in honor of the slain and show the terrorists that they are united against them. Looking at the list of the international representatives would make one chuckles in irony as most, if not all, of those who participated have a rather bleak track record in preserving freedom of speech in their home country (need I remind you of these?)

While the world's eyes were attached to the spectacle in Paris, not much was said about Boko Haram's deadliest massacre in Nigeria that killed more than 2,000 people just a day before the march. Nor was there much highlight on another event on the same day, the reopening of a military school in Pakistan that was attacked by Taliban insurgents who opened fire and killed more than 100 school children. It's important to note that these two attacks were orchestrated by people who also called themselves Muslims and have much higher fatality rate than the shooting in Paris. Why was there no hashtag for Boko Haram's massacre? Is there a need for a publicity stunt generated in the West like #Bringbackourgirls #KONY2012 for the plight of the Nigerians to be given attention? Or were the lives of 132 students in Pakistan measure much less than the 12 editorial staffs? Weren't the children and their family who risked their lives to go to school were also championing another tenet of human rights that is the right to education?

The Charlie Hebdo's killing was not the first incident where a small minority of Muslims reacted with violence and bloodshed towards provocations. In 2012, the US mission in Benghazi was attacked where the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens with several of his diplomatic staffs had lost their lives. The embassy was torched to flames by an angry mob who was enraged by the portrayal of the prophet in an independent US film. Innocent people lost their lives over a stupid film that many didn't even get the chance to see and a majority of Muslims at that time faced the hard reality of Islamophobia and continuous false representation of Islam through the actions of a deviated few. And who can forget the Danish cartoon controversy that also sparked violent rots in the Muslim world, death threats and even a significant economic impact against the Danish's economy as the Arab world decided to boycott its exports? If many people just take a moment to reflect, they would notice that each of the violent reactions centre on one theme: the mockery and denigration of prophet Muhammad.

There are countless of lectures, articles and books criticising Islam as a religion but no Muslim ever hold violent protest or kill others because of them. This does not mean that the bloodshed over the mockery of the prophet by Muslims are justifiable because they're not. The prophet was never a violent man, he honors people even when they're known to be frauds and when he had the chance to give back to those who had hurt him and kill his family, he forgive them and show kindness. The prophet has a way of dealing with provocations but there are people who claim to be his followers but did the opposite of his teachings because they don't use their intellect. A Muslim is a believer if he testify that prophet Muhammad is the messenger of god and the prophet has a sacred place in the hearts of the believers. The Islamic tradition holds that no Muslim is a believer until he loves the prophet more than himself, his family and the world. Some people can become emotional when they're consumed with their love for him. But this is the perspective that most non-Muslims don't understand. In Mohamed Ghilan's article 'Why Are Muslims So Serious About Their Prophets?' he said that it is the duty of Muslims to explain to the non-Muslims on the position of prophet Muhammad in the hearts of the Muslims to which I agree completely.

It is all about love! As strange as this may sound to a non-Muslim, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, also referred to as the Beloved, is loved, not in the sense that love is viewed in the West, but in a much deeper way than you can imagine. In fact, every time I speak or write about the Beloved ﷺ I get goose bumps all over my body and my heart races and my eyes fill up with tears out of yearning to see him.

He said that the concept is hard to understand because we have become more and more narcissistic that even the concept of love is only appreciated and adored when it benefits us as individuals. Love used to be understood as selfless and devotion to the object of our affection but it has evolve to be more 'perverse love of self'. 

"We're living in a world where nuance is no longer in our vocabulary. We're living in a cartoon world of black and white,". 

During a lecture in 2012, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf spoke about the different understandings between freedom of speech and freedom to insult. He said that people no longer understand nuances, creating misunderstanding and hatred as people misconstrue other's speech and opinions wrongly. Even when we are living in a globalised and hyper-connected world, it does not mean that all of us have the same ideals and opinions, nor hold the same things sacred.There is a need for us to abandon our sense of importance and righteousness and refrain from imposing our values on others though it does mean that we should tolerate abuse and corruption. He added that we are now living in an age of mockery where people no longer recognise that others have sensitivities and mock the values that they hold sacred just because they can. 

Oxford's senior research fellow in Philosophy Brian Klug did an interesting thought experiment in his article on Charlie Hebdo's moral hysteria when he remarked about some articles 'lionising Charlie Hebdo' but have little regard over the elements that constitute freedom of expression. Does freedom of expression include the freedom to ridicule everything? Nothing is sacred, according to some. In his thought experiment, Klug asked the readers to imagine the demonstration in solidarity for the Charlie Hebdo at Place de la Republique and what they think if a man suddenly step out among the demonstrators, carrying a water gun and wearing a name badge with the name of one of the attackers. Would the protestors feel offended or respect it in the name of freedom of expression? The purpose of the experiment, however, was not to show that some people are hypocrites but that people just don't know their own minds. Unless tested, most people don't know that even they have their limits. 

They see themselves as committed to the proposition that there are no limits to freedom of expression: no subject so sensitive, no symbol so sacrosanct, that it cannot be sent up, sneered at and parodied, consequences be damned. They call this “courage” and they think it is the defining difference between them and the killers – and not just the killers but anyone who thinks there are limits to what can be said or printed. But they too have their limits. They just don’t know it. 
When people don’t know their own minds — but think they do — they are liable to be swept away by self-righteous moral passion; which is just what we don’t need as the storm clouds gather on the European horizon.