The dust is beginning to finally settle down from all the chaos that ensued after the Charlie Hebdo attacks with people now intellectually trying to analyze what happened. The initial response, however, included significant vilification of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. It seemed for a while that there would be no limit to this vilification, including entertaining the horrid thought of killing all Muslims.
The attackers were extremist Muslims who took the law in to their own hands and murdered 12 innocent people in the name of Islam. It was wrong, severely anti-Islamic, and a plethora of Muslims including myself unequivocally condemned it.
A new phase with a real conversation on responsible free speech should now begin. The only problem is that whenever Muslims in general try to mention this they are treated in a patronizing and ignorant manner.
In addition, there is a double standard towards Muslims using free speech even if they are using it responsibly. Duke University recently reversed its decision on letting Muslims recite a call to prayer once a week on their campus. The decision was eventually reversed due to "serious and credible" threats, and the vociferous hate-filled opposition by the likes of influential Christian preacher, Rev. Franklin Graham, who went as far as claiming that Christians were being marginalized in a community where the bell tower rings on a daily basis and Islam was a deeply violent religion.
This is not the first time a Christian organization or person felt threatened by a Muslim's view. In a 2013 interview, Fox News' Lauren Greene was visibly disconcerted when Reza Aslan, a Muslim with a strong background and multiple degrees in the academic study of Christianity, had the audacity to write an entire book on Jesus called "Zealot", repeatedly questioning his right to publish such a book.
It is true that Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran do the same thing when it comes to Christians but that is why it very important to have this conversation instead of playing a game of tit-for-tat.
In our conversation about free speech we must first make the distinction in why it is required and who is promoting it.
For instance, our founding fathers wanted to protect us from the control of a tyrannical government and so in the first amendment of the US constitution they stated, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech."
Even before the US constitution Islam allowed free speech under the guidance of Prophet Muhammad for the creation of a pluralistic society with diversified views, a need for all times. Prophet Muhammad, as the governor of Medina, always practiced the Quranic tenet,
"When you hear the Signs of Allah being denied and mocked at, sit not with them until they engage in a talk other than that" [4:141]
These things let us know that free speech is a tool for all of us to build bridges between each other and is not divisive to promote bigotry and hate.
I believe the staffers at Charlie Hebdo understood this too but failed to carry it out when it came to Islam.
First, Charlie Hebdo's original staffer, Henri Roussel, penned a recent column in Nouvel Observateur criticizing the late editor Stephane Charbonnier for his stubbornness to publish the cartoons back in 2011. He wrote that the editor would "drag the team into overdoing it" and the team were "fools who took unnecessary risk." Secondly, Charlie Hebdo had once fired an employee for anti-Semitism due to a sense of journalistic responsibility on publication of such material.
If nearly a third of the world is not laughing at these cartoons, but is deeply offended then Charlie Hebdo has to do better. Pope Francis said it best, in a recent address, "The right to liberty of expression comes with the obligation to speak for the common good." In all free societies like ours we have been given the freedom of conscience to know what is ethically correct.
The common good would have been for the Charlie staffers to have read the narrative on Prophet Muhammad that the overwhelming majority of Muslims adhere to or that the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has adhered to for over 125 years.
Certainly exercising journalistic responsibility in regards to cartoons of this nature is not unprecedented. After all, staffers for Jyllands-Post, who published the Danish cartoons in 2005, have done this. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community approached this publication and had a formal dialogue explaining to them the life of Prophet Muhammad, a champion for free speech. Soon afterwards they issued a formal apology and gave airtime for the Ahmadi Muslims to explain their side.
If we keep insulting each other and calling it our right under the auspices of freedom of expression then the dust will never settle. In fact, it will become a full blown storm that envelops us all and nothing will be achieved in the process. So, let us begin the conversation of responsible free speech now in the name of tolerance instead.