The subject of Islam in the world at the moment is a subject mired in labyrinthine historical and sociological complexity, and surrounded by constant irrational spittle-flying vitriol from all sides. Much as I would love to write a long introduction about the incessant and belligerent labelling and daft assumptions that fly in all directions, I just don’t have the time or inclination.
So I’m not going to write much about this, only to say that I’m tired of this fight, and the only voices I find even slightly compelling are those who talk in wise Dumbledorian tones, saying ‘now calm down, sit down, use your inside voice, and let’s just talk about this.’
I was quite affected by the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January this year, partly because the publication was a mainstay of shelves everywhere I went in France for a year and I have several well-loved copies lying around, but also because it epitomises this whole issue. The publication satirises and mocks every religion without prejudice, making it rather egalitarian in that way, but it was its fun-poking of Islam that ultimately brought it the most trouble.
In much the same way as in the aftermath of Lee Rigby’s murder, every ISIS atrocity, and even the 9/11 attacks, questions come forward like ‘what is a true Muslim?’ ‘Is it okay to mock someone’s religion?’ ‘Is it okay to be offended when your faith is mocked?’ ‘Is freedom of speech really a right, or should blasphemy or offensive speech be illegal?’ ‘Should Muslims be allowed to spread throughout the world?’ ‘What can we say or do without offending people?’
My own thoughts on these questions are probably just as confused and definitely just as irrelevant as everyone else’s, but sometimes there is a ray of lucidity and understanding, or even enlightenment that seems to shine through the haze.
Two days before his death, Stéphane Charbonnier – journalist and cartoonist, notably the late director of Charlie Hebdo, killed in the January attacks – completed a letter, published in book form, in response to the constant accusations of racism Charlie Hebdo received as a result of its mocking of Islam.
The copy I ordered arrived this morning, and I haven’t had time to read the book yet, but I have dipped into it, and if the two page foreword is anything to go by, then I think this may well be as clear and concise an explanation as we can hope for on this subject, and I look forward to it.
I’ve translated the foreword into English – as best I can – for those who are interested, as follows:
If you think that criticising religion is racism,
If you think that ‘Islam’ is the name of a people group,
If you think that people can make fun of everything except what is sacred to you,
If you think that condemning people for blasphemy will open the door to paradise,
If you think that humour is incompatible with Islam,
If you think that a cartoon is more dangerous than an American drone,
If you think that Muslims are incapable of understanding irony and subtle humour [‘le second degré’. Might have mistranslated, but seems to make sense],
If you think that the atheists of the Left are playing into the hands of fascists and xenophobes,
If you think that a person born to Muslim parents can only be a Muslim,
If you think that you know how many Muslims there are in France,
If you think that we must classify people by their religion,
If you think that popularising the notion of islamophobia is the best way to defend Islam,
If you think that defending Islam is the best way to defend Muslims,
If you think that the Quran forbids drawing the Prophet Mohammed,
If you think that drawing a funny cartoon of a jihadist in a ridiculous position is an insult to Islam,
If you think that fascists are predominantly attacking Muslims when they target an Arab,
If you think that every community should have its own dedicated anti-racism organisation,
If you think that islamophobia is just like anti-Semitism,
If you think that the Zionists who run the world paid a negro [un nègre; avoiding the ‘n-word’, but that’s what this means] to write this book,
Then you should read this, because this letter was written for you.