I am not Charlie. I have the right not to agree with Charlie. But nobody has the right to take Charlie's life.
Horror segued into shocked sadness as the Charlie Hebdo news flashed across glowing screens around the world. As the manhunt for the terrorists unfolded, sadness has segued into a righteous, defiant call to spread Charlie's cartoons further and wider. Yet the images of a million plus people in Europe gathering in solidarity for the slain, their families, and in defense of freedom of speech, while still moving, evoked a different mix of feelings in the various immigrant communities of the continent and in many other countries of the world.The deceptively simple and by now viral tweet by political activist @Aboujahjah, who lists his location as 'Beirut/Brussels', highlights the poignancy:
"I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed".
While many migrants have succeeded well in integrating into their second countries to the point where they are in truth Europeans, there are also far too many who have grown up marginalized and forgotten by society until it was too late. We know that to radical recruiters, the cultural ambiguity of these disowned is their major asset: malleable to ideological manipulation whilst retaining the facility to operate underground in their adopted countries (in many cases their country of birth) to set setting up scenes of considerable havoc.
To the successfully integrated, this sub-strata is the Achilles heel, by which they could all too easily be dragged into an era of condoned racism and 'justified' discrimination. The increasingly blurred separation between Freedom of Speech and offensive bigotry is not helping their case. Even 'Western' authors such as Jeff Sparrow as far away as (and in no less troubled) Australia who point out the clear difference between the two are often ridiculed as apologists.
In France and other parts of Europe, the far right are wasting no time taking advantage of the outcry. That fact alone is indicative that a disturbing quality of bigotry has infiltrated these journalistic creations targeting the Prophet Mohammad. Caricatures of Iran's Ayatollahs for example would never be enough to universally stoke the ever-ready fires of so called Islamic fundamentalists, nor be subsequently twisted into banners of Nazi-like fervor. However any Western teenager knows that taking a swipe at the Prophet will offend every Muslim, with the exception of a handful of saints and the odd lapsed one. What some people might call a cheap shot and what others such as Teju Cole in the New Yorker more bluntly call bigoted ideology.
From the perspective of the average Indonesian, a citizen of the country with the world's largest Muslim population, this focus on one of the few things guaranteed to unite the multifarious and often fractious world of Islam, it is not only shocking but also puzzling. Whilst these caricaturists may use the excuse that they are defending truth and freedom from religious tyranny, for almost nearly a quarter of the world's population the caricaturists are perceived as expressing a deep hatred and disrespect for basic Muslim values. That such work can be published with impunity, rightly or wrongly, indicates to the average Muslim that once again the West would probably rather they didn't exist at all or that Muslim's should "know their place" somewhere in the back of the bus.Ironically, these 'expressions of free speech' are partly why the silent, so-called 'moderate' (Westerners might have to reimagine what that means according to Tariq Ramadan, ) majority of Muslims in Indonesia and elsewhere have been slow to come out in their millions to vocalize their very real unease with extremism and complete disagreement with terrorism. To quote a one time world leader who readily took the bait of escalation, it's becomes a case of:
It is clear that we live in pluralistic times, but many of us are not pluralists. One of Indonesia's former presidents, the late Abdurrahman Wahid, said that
"If you're not with us, then you're against us."
"pluralism is not simply a case of tolerance but also the willingness to defend the rights of others to practice beliefs other than our own."
Terrorism in the name of religion is not the exclusive territory of deviant Islam, nor is suicide bombing. In fact the one of the earliest recorded historical instances of suicide attacks was carried out by the Knights Templar who deliberately sacrificed 140 Christians on their ship in order to kill more than a thousand of their (Muslim) enemy. Going further back in the Abramic tradition of martyrdom, by all accounts Samson was quite cognizant of the fact that he would also die when he brought the roof down on the Philistines.
In more modern times, one of the greatest 20th Century champions of peace, Gandhi, was killed by a Hindu religious extremist. Irish Catholics fought their Protestant brothers most bitterly. The more recent Buddhist Myanmarese's shameful killings of Muslims leaves an indelible black mark on Buddhist History, all whilst their esteemed fellow Myanmarese and Nobel Peace Prize laureate stood by silently. The world's most powerful nation carries out regular drone strikes on (Muslim) targets apparently too ill-defined to guarantee that no innocents will be hurt or killed during these missions. So how is it that only Islam is the religion of extremism and terror?
I stand up to be counted as one of the millions to express solidarity for the victims of this attack, to express my condolence and outrage at their murder, to say no to terrorism, violence and bigotry. It's also why I won't take part in spreading Charlie's caricatures.