On freedom of expression and “Islamist separatism” | France


French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s decision to reprint the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in September sparked a new wave of violence in France, a repeat of what happened when these images were first published in 2015. This time the government responded to the attacks by throwing the cartoons on public buildings, while President Emmanuel Macron has declared Islam “in crisis” and has pledged to eradicate “Islamist separatism” in France.Earlier in September, I argued in an editorial that it should be possible to condemn Muslims who kill people because of the prophet’s cartoons, while acknowledging that they are meant to display epistemic mastery of Muslims, a an already vulnerable minority in France and Europe. I had also questioned that the insatiable urge to continue recycling such images is indeed an exercise in freedom of expression.

Some critics read my essay as endorsing murder by Muslims and condemning or not understanding the concept of free speech. So, in the following lines, I will address two interrelated questions: how Muslims manage to defend freedom of expression and Macron’s misleading reference to “Islamic separatism.”

Freedom of expression is based on the principle that people have the right to profess their ideas and beliefs without fear of reprisal. However, while the concept of free speech is clearly secular, modern, and Western, this principle itself is not. The Qur’an also affirms the right of people to believe and profess different truths without imposing them on others. It also warns against restraint in the face of abuse, disbelief, and verbal attacks, and prohibits contempt for the deity of another religion. The Quran arrives at these positions because it promotes religious and racial diversity.

The revelation describes diversity as a sign of divine grace. Some verses say that among “the wonders of God is found … the diversity of your tongues and your colors: for in this, behold, there are truly messages for all who are [innate] knowledge ”(30:22). Other verses specify that “to each [us, God has] prescribes a law and an open way. If god had wanted [God] would have made you one people ”(5:48). Instead, even though God created us from the same me (nafs), God also made us different “nations and tribes, so that [we] could know each other ”. The best of us, says the Quran, is not a specific group but “the one who is most deeply aware of [God]»(49:13).

Of course, differences can only allow mutual understanding if people are prepared to be civil and forgiving in their dealings with others. To this end, the Qur’an repeatedly warns Muslims not to argue with critics other than “in the kindest way”, and to respond to attacks “only to the extent of the attack directed against [us]And “to endure one another with patience is indeed much better” (16: 125-128).

It also forbids Muslims from making fun of other people’s gods lest they retaliate by making fun of our own. But, if they do, the Qur’an does not allow us to harm them, nor does it outlaw punishment for unbelief, apostasy, or blasphemy. In fact, the Arabic word for blasphemy, tajdif, is absent from the Qur’an. It is important to note here that blasphemy laws in some Muslim countries were imported from Europe during or after colonialism.

If Muslims enter into discussions with “followers of the earlier revelation” – Jews and Christians – the Qur’an advises us to assure them that we believe in what “has been granted to us from above, as well as in what you are receiving. has been granted: for our God and your God are one and the same ”(29:46).

And if unbelievers pressure us or attack us, we could follow the advice of the Quran to the prophet: “Say: ‘O you who reject the faith, I do not worship what you worship. And I won’t worship what you used to worship. You won’t love what I adore either. Thine be thy way, and mine mine ”” (109: 1-6).

Unfortunately, however, such teachings are not visible among Muslims, and there are many complex reasons why people read scriptures the way they do. The first is that the practice of Islam itself has become politicized. This is particularly the case in Europe where Muslim minorities feel under siege and where, as a result, the practice of Islam has been reduced to a defensive political and / or military position against Europeans. Muslims, of course, have been in Europe since they conquered Spain in the 8th century, but their conquest never spawned this “type of Islam”.

Paradoxically, the biggest victim of this reduction of religion to a politics of resistance has been Islam itself, in particular the Qur’an’s ethics of tolerance, acceptance and mutuality. The historical background to this form of politicization is European colonialism, which also explains the presence of Muslims from former European colonies in the “home” country these days.

If, for example, Algerians are in France today, it is because France was once in Algeria. Not only that, but France was / is also responsible for the deaths of over a million Algerians during his reign. And that’s just his record in a former Muslim-majority colony.

However, since the French seem to have buried this sordid and criminal history, it cannot be reported that France continues to victimize people it has victimized in the past, without being accused of forgiving the violence of Muslims.

Hatred of Islam in the country does not appear to be a simple right-wing phenomenon. It is underpinned by its exceptional and intimately fundamentalist form of secularism, secularism. Other secular countries guarantee freedom of religious expression by remaining neutral with regard to religion. But not France, whose mark of secularism is essentially ethno-nationalist and hostile to Islam; it even requires Muslim women to dress in public, as some Muslim states do.

This institutionalized bias against Muslims has ghettoized them, which is why, for Muslims and blacks, France is truly an apartheid colonial state. Thus, when a French Muslim commits a crime, the state treats the individual not as a citizen but as an “Islamist”, an epithet which signifies collective guilt and justifies collective punishment. To be a French Muslim today is therefore to wear the “plural mark”, to quote the Tunisian Jewish intellectual Albert Memmi, who observed the tendency of French colonizers to consider Tunisians an “anonymous collectivity”.

If it is separatism that worries Macron, he could start by dismantling state-created secularism / apartheid. Instead, he behaves like the old French colonizers, of whom Memmi wrote: “The praise of oneself and of one’s fellows, the repeated, even serious affirmation of the excellence of its ways and institutions, its cultural superiority. and technology do not erase the fundamental condemnation that every colonialist carries in his heart.

If there is one lesson Macron could draw from France’s colonialist past, it is that “if colonization destroys the colonized, it also rots the colonizer”.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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