On 7 January 2015, two men opened fire in the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo (French for Charlie Weekly), a French satirical weekly newspaper, and killing twelve people, including staff cartoonists Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski, economist Bernard Maris and 2 police officers, and wounding eleven, four of them seriously.
During the attack, people alleged that the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is the Greatest” in Arabic) and also “the Prophet is avenged”- convenient phrases anyone could use while causing mayhem even if they have nothing to do with Islam.
Sigolène Vinson, a female visitor to the offices, claimed one of the gunmen said to her, “I’m not killing you because you are a woman and we don’t kill women but you have to convert to Islam, read the Qur’an and wear a veil”. It sounded similar to what people allege another set of madmen, Boko Haram, say in Nigeria to their female victims.
President François Hollande described it as a “terrorist attack of the most extreme barbarity.” The two gunmen were allegedly identified as Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent.
It was the famous Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie who said, “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person”. She said, “The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, ‘secondly’”. “Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story”.
The world rightly expressed outrage, like every sane Muslim did, at the destruction of lives in the office of Charlie Weekly (a.k.a. Charlie Hebdo) but only a few are asking how matters got to that point. Almost everyone started the story of the attack from the shooting, thereby telling a different story of the events.
A married man catches another man in his bedroom and in a fit of rage hits the usurper, who promptly dies. Everyone would express shock and disapproval at the murder he has committed but many would also understand that he had good reasons to be angry and they will be less condemning of his actions than they ordinarily should.
Any unbiased follower of the remote and immediate causes of the gruesome murder of the 12 men would not fail to see a pattern. He would also see the predictability of the response of Muslims, which has helped the cause of the goading cartoonists and their collaborators more than anything else has.
Take the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights for example. In its editorial of the same day (January 7) which was titled “MUSLIMS ARE RIGHT TO BE ANGRY”, Bill Donohue, the League’s president said, “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.
“Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.
“While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them”.
In response to comments like this, other commentators see Donohue as a partial judge. After all, they say, Charlie Hebdo lampooned the Catholic Church on more than one occasion. One, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, went as far as to say that no religious body has the right to protest the ‘free speech’ that she claimed Charlie Hebdo represents. She has a background of attacking Islam. She was initially raised Muslim before becoming the atheist she is today. She collaborated on a short movie with Theo Van Gogh, entitled Submission (2004). It was a movie that was critical of Islam and it provoked controversy leading to death threats against both of them. A Dutch Muslim assassinated Van Gogh later that year. She hardly qualifies as unbiased.
Russian Orthodox Christians from the “God’s Will” movement called the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “blasphemers” who “received a just punishment, while Cartoonist-journalist Joe Sacco expressed grief for the victims in a comic strip, and wrote: ”but … tweaking the noses of Muslims … has never struck me as anything other than a vapid way to use the pen ..”. In reaction to the killings, #KillAllMuslims became a trending hashtag on twitter.
Le Monde, the influential French paper reported that more than 80 per cent of students in a randomly sampled school did not observe the one-minute silence in honour of the slain cartoonists. The students said the idea of free speech that allowed people to make fun of others’ religions was not compatible with their faith.
No one is asking why Charlie wants to incite the anger of otherwise loyal readers of the paper. Before we attempt to dissect their motives, we should look back and see the history of such caricatures and satires against religious symbols and specifically, against Islam.
It might interest my readers that Muslims started this madness, long before the 2005 Jyllands Posten cartoons that started the first set of worldwide protests against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Historians vary in their dating, but there are drawings of the Prophet (PBUH) that date back to 700 years old. These pictures are the exact opposite of what the Messenger of Allah instructed: ‘Abdullaah ibn Mas’uud (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Those who will be most severely punished by Allaah on the Day of Resurrection will be the image-makers.” (Reported by al-Bukhaariy, see al-Fath, 10/382)
That later on, secularists in Denmark and France would officially draw pictures of the Rasul was just a matter of time. I wrote here recently that many of my brothers and sisters in Islam behave unjustly and inconsistently at injustices. I was referring then to the unnecessary protests on the removal of the Ajami words from the 100-naira note on one hand and the lack of protests at the inclusion of a Qur’anic verse on the Army coat of arms on the other.
The Ottoman rulers of the Muslims and the Shiites, for example, have a rich history of drawing pictures they claim to be Muhammad (PBUH). Although many of them, in fairness, were condemned by scholars of the time, they have remained as part of our so-called ‘Islamic heritage’ in Museums worldwide unrevoked and without further protestations. We display the worst form of our hypocrisy when other prophets are depicted in cartoons and illustrations. There is no outrage at all as if it is less a sacrilege if the prophet is not Muhammad (PBUH). We refer to him as ‘our Prophet as though the rest are not our prophets. We ignore any blasphemous use of their identity and character.
There have been countless depictions of our prophet Isa (Jesus, PBUH) in ‘blockbuster’ movies. The most recent sacrilege was committed against Prophet Musa (PBUH) in the ungodly movie they call Exodus. Before that, there was Noah, depicting Prophet Nuh (PBUH) and before that, the Innocence of Muslims.
Dante depicted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) being dragged to hell in his notorious work, Inferno. La vie de Mahomet, by M. Prideaux, published in 1699 also shows Muhammad holding a sword and a crescent while trampling on a globe, across, and the Ten Commandments. In Gustave Doré’s illustration of Dante’s The Divine Comedy (1861), he also showed the prophet (PBUH) suffering punishment in Hell (Canto 28). Such was their hatred for Islam and Muslims.
However, in late September 2005, a Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten published cartoons with which they depicted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). About 3,500 Muslims demonstrated against the attack. In November of the same year, several other European newspapers reprinted the cartoons in an obviously choreographed attempt to stoke the anger of Muslims worldwide. This marked the beginning of what we are witnessing today in the world.
What many were unaware of was that in April of 2003, Jyllands-Posten denied an unsolicited submission that caricatured the resurrection of Jesus (PBUH), with the reason, that they were not funny, and would “offend some readers, not much but some”. This is to dispense with the notion that there were no ulterior motives behind the 12 cartoons.
One of the cartoons showed a bearded man with a menacing evil look on his face having a bomb on his head in place of a turban. Another showed a murderous Muhammad with a sword in hand and two veiled women in black behind him.
Due to the outrage the cartoons generated, Jyllands Posten apologised for the insults in January 2006. It was on the 8th of February that Charlie Hebdo joined the fray, republishing the 12 cartoons. Not to be outdone, they added a few more caricatures of their own. This led to more riots in Pakistan, where men attempting to attack the French Embassy were shot, and in Libya and Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Charlie Hebdo had hitherto been a 100,000-copy weekly satire paper. Apparently, due to the newfound fame, they sold 250,000 copies that week. It is that financial angle, more than anything else that I think has been informing their choice of outrageous satires and lampoons to publish.
Take, for instance, the sacking of their long-time cartoonist and editor, Sine, for what they described as his anti-Semitism after he did a caricature of President Sarkozy’s marriage to a Jewish woman. It shows that the paper picks were to give the most offence. They seem to calculate the enormity of the outrage their actions would generate and how that would be tied to the popularity of their initially dying paper. By the way, Charlie Hebdo was banned on two occasions during the reign of President Charles de Gaulle. Their current attack on the Prophet of Islam has yielded some serious funds. They now print and sell about a million copies of their paper.
Many of the cartoonists do not practice any religion, which explains why they take an occasional swipe at Judaism and Christianity too. In one horrible example, they drew a depiction of ‘the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in a threesome sexual encounter. Their aim is to give maximum offence that will drive sales, similar to the actions of prostitutes who sell their wares by wearing revealing clothes. Another caricature of the Catholic Church showed the Pope holding out a condom-like the Holy Communion wafer. By far the most frequent recipients of their senseless and hateful cartoons have been Muslims and Islam.
First published: January 2015
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