Nothing justifies terrorism, but free speech shouldn't be abused.
The horrific memory of the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine still lives on. It was undoubtedly one of the darkest days for all journalists around the world. The whole world came together to mourn that day. We saw world leaders marching together and unite with a firm resolve to uproot such radicalism.
As an Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada, my thoughts and prayers go out to all people of Paris, especially the victims' families, who have suffered immensely over the last year.
Like with many other such attacks around the world, such instances sometimes present an uncomfortable situation for Muslims everywhere. Living in Quebec, I especially felt so due to its unique connection with France. Therefore, while it was quite pleasant to see the world unite for Parisians, it was especially heart-warming to see Muslims from all walks of life condemn these horrible actions. I believe that such actions help create unity in our society.
I do not, however, agree with the conduct of Charlie Hebdo.
While I fully recognize their legal right to publish such cartoons and defend their right of free speech to do so, I also think that such privilege should come with some responsibilities as well. Of course everyone has the right to critique religion or disagree with any of its principles, but there is a difference between genuine criticism and plain mocking.
As we have seen, to mark the anniversary of this terrible tragedy, Charlie Hebdo has released a cartoon depicting 'God' with blood and a gun under the headline: "One year on: the assassin is still out there." What they are doing is attacking the very concept of 'God' and religion and holding it responsible for such attacks.
This is why, even being a Muslim, I fully agree with the following critique of this cartoon by the daily newspaper of the Vatican Church:
"Behind the deceptive flag of an uncompromising secularism, the French weekly once again forgets what religious leaders of every faith have been urging for ages -- to reject violence in the name of religion and that using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy."
I believe that free speech is one of the pillars of our democracy. Hence, this is neither an attack on free speech nor am I justifying the actions of terrorists in any way. I am just pointing out what in my opinion is an extremely poor use of free speech.
Insulting personalities such as Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna etc. hurts the sentiments of those who hold them dear to their hearts. One can disagree with their ideas and critique their actions without using derogatory cartoons and language.
Pope Francis voiced similar opinion following last year's attacks when he said:
"One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith."
I believe that if we can come to a point where hate speech or racism or anti-Semitism isn't tolerated in our publications and is looked down upon, surely we can find some room for not hurting people by mocking their spiritual leaders.
However, as stated earlier, it was absolutely erroneous and disgusting that some Muslim individuals took it upon themselves to attack this magazine and kill the cartoonists. Even if it is only a tiny minority of Muslims who practice their faith in such an extreme manner, it is a problem that should be dealt with swiftly. Such fanatical interpretations of faith have no place in our society.
The overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims and those that I come across absolutely abhor such actions. They would simple like to live by the golden principle of Islam that "there is no compulsion in the matters of faith". (The Holy Quran, chapter 2, verse 257)
This is why I disagree with the most recent publication of Charlie Hebdo which seeks to blame religion and God for terrorism. This is absolutely unjust. It would be so wonderful if the magazine focused on religions' power to create peace, rather than conflict.
After the Charlie Hebdo attack, the head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad said:
"In this day and age the media has great power -- if it is irresponsible then it can fuel disorder and unnecessarily provoke, but if it is responsible then it can play a great role in creating peace and harmony within society."
Over the last year, the Parisians have suffered immensely. Innocent people have lost their lives and their families continue to suffer. There is already too much hatred and violence in our world. So while I support the chant of 'Je Suis Charlie' to stand for those who lost their lives, I believe that we should use freedom of speech to promote peace and tolerance, not create more conflict and hatred.