Friday, January 9, 2015

My Name's Not Charlie

Asalamu Alaykom,

Dangerous mentalities threaten civilization.  That's true.  We saw two -isms clash this week in Paris and I thankfully sit in the middle between the two.  I am a moderate Muslim; I cling neither to extremism or secularism.  Being in the middle, I want to comment on both sides.

There is a huge outcry against extremism when it comes to Islam.  Honestly, no one can be blamed for wanting an end to ISIS/ISL.  That kind of extremist Islam brings about a twisted ideology so far removed from the actual word of God and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Yet, there is a lot happening in the name of Islam which seems extreme to others when it actually isn't.  For instance, the scarf I wear on my head is a religious covering which I believe protects my modesty.  It's worked for me in Egypt but in the United States (Home of the Brave and Land of the Free) I was fired for wearing it---illegally of course (and compensated for it later).  In France, (Land of Liberte') female teachers and students have not been allowed to walk onto school grounds wearing it.

See, that attitude of NO RELIGION ALLOWED is secularism.  That's the belief that we, as a civilized people, can shrug off our life as worshipers when we commune with others.  We should not offend others by identifying ourselves as believers.  We should not ask for allowances to be made; there should not be any accommodating for observers.  If there is one country which embodies secularism more than others it is France where it is called “laïcité.”

One of the fuels for the burning desire of secularism is democracy.  There is a strong belief that a democratic society is an essential human right.  In the West, democracy  is seen as so crucial that wars are fought in other countries that don't even want it.  Yes, freedom of the people must be brought about---even if it means killing them.

There must be, goes the idealized theory, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  After the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, there has been a lot of mix-up on which freedom the satirical magazine was exercising.  I'm not sure why that was so confusing.  It was not freedom of speech.  It was freedom of the press which allowed such memorable moments as:

in  2006, reprinting the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which had provoked outrage;

in 2011, placing on its cover a Muslim man french kissing a man who had "Charlie Hebdo" written on his shirt;

in 2012, showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad naked and on all fours on the ground;

and 2013, printing the book, "La Vie de Mahomet" as a cartoon book portraying Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a  buffoon.

To be fair, it wasn't only Muslims whose religious leaders were debased and defiled over the years.  There was that one cartoon of the Pope being sodomized by priests.  Isn't that a laugh attack?

Do you find that kind of humor funny or you find all of that kind of gross, rude, juvenile and scatological?  Actually, the head of the Cartoonists Rights International called Charlie Hebdo, "a cross between Mad Magazine, Playboy cartoons, and 'The Daily Show'."  There's another magazine to mention and that's Hara-Kiri.

In 1970, the magazine Hara-Kiri (yes, that's Japanese ceremonial suicide) poked fun at the death of WWII freedom fighter and former President Charles De Gaulle along with 146 victims of a disco fire.  "Poor taste," is putting it mildly but the subtitle of the magazine was, "stupid and vicious" after all.  The Minister of the Interior banned both the sale of the magazine to minors and publicity for it.  France didn't allow freedom of the press in that case, did it?  No.

The staff from that magazine tossed the name "Hara-Kiri" but kept the concept with its new effort Charlie Hebdo.

Freedom of speech was what its editor, Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier exercised when he made his many interviews.  He loved to be public and loved to voice his thoughts even if they didn't exactly coincide with his actions.

He knew that he was inciting rage yet he acted in his interviews like he was unsure why, " happens that every time we deal with radical Islam we have a problem and we get indignant, violent reactions..."

Showing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon) in ANY form is against Islam.  I once asked for a children's book on Egypt in the public library to be taken off the shelves because it showed a likeness of the prophet.  By the way, it was respectfully discarded from the collection.  Am I radical for writing to the Library Board?  Was I violent?  In a civilized society, dialogue is key.

Actually, in 2006, prominent Muslims of France brought the magazine to court for insulting their (and my) religion.  Guess who showed up?  All three presidential candidates came to court as they wanted to support the magazine.  Would they have done that if the group asking to be heard were Jewish or Catholic?

Freedom of Religion is also part of a democracy.  Guess where that shows up in the list of important American freedoms.  FIRST!  Those are the very first words in the first amendment on the U.S. Constitution.

Freedom of Religion was considered important in 1776 but like powered wigs and wooden teeth has been discarded along the way.  Is that right or wrong?  Is everything from the past antiquated?  Of course, as a Muslim, I believe that universal truths, such as respecting the sacred, need to be upheld through the centuries.

Blasphemy is the insulting of God, religious people or holy places and things.  What we are taking about is blasphemy and that's not secular.  Remember, the goal of secularism is that laws of the state are devoid of religion.  It is oh-so-modern to say that God, religious people and things don't need to be respected because in this world everything is fair game.

As a teacher, I read books with my students about Pharaoh Hatchepsut and the Ancient Egyptian deities, Abdur-Rahman the founder of Muslim or Moorish Spain,  Peter the Great and the Russian church, and Crazy Horse and his belief in Wakan Tanka or "Great Spirit".  Which one deserves our respect?  All of them are worthy of our respect.  Learning to value others and their beliefs doesn't diminish us and our beliefs.Civilized people understand differences and appreciate diversity.

There is a name for this method of learning and appreciating others:  cultural pluralism.

  1. Cultural pluralism is a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture provided they are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society.

France has NOT accepted the Muslims in their midst "as is" because they keep wanting Muslims to assimilate.  As a country, it has gone out of its way to be hateful not helpful to that 7.5% of its population.

There is documented discrimination in employment as this article confirms and it is a cyclical problem.  The Muslims are treated differently and fear the mistreatment so sabotage themselves in anticipation of that discrimination.

Above, I mentioned the hijab ban.  A personal hero of mine, school girl Cennet Doganay, shaved her head in 2004 bald rather than submit to the hijab ban.  Later, 2011 saw the "Burqa Ban,"  Just last October, the Paris Opera refused to continue until a tourist wearing niqab was booted from her seat.  She was not even refunded the price of her ticket.  None of that behavior is being tolerant and a country that is intolerance is what...civilized or uncivilized?

"Hate speech" is not allowed in Western societies.  You can seemingly make fun of Muslims' way of life but not that of gays, for instance.  In France, it is against the law say that the Holocaust never happened as it's 1.  wrong and 2.  inflammatory.

Those whose rights are not protected and who are not able to voice their anger often take up arms against the powerful.  When one of the powerful are targeted directly, it is not terrorism but an assassination.  Charbonnier flirted with the rage of 1 billion believers and he didn't care as long as he got to publish as he chose.

It's interesting to me that Charbonnier kept bringing up in interviews that Islam was the second biggest religion in France.  It didn't seem as if he was at peace with that growing demographic.  Islamophobia is rampant in the world because we fear that which we don't understand.  For sure, Charbonnier didn't understand Islam.

So, do we hold up pens in Charbonnier's honor?  I don't.  He was not a friend to Islam.  He's dead now and maybe the world will be a better place without him.  Inshahallah.

Does the Muslim world honor the two orphaned Algerian-French brothers?  I don't honor Said and Cherif Kouachi.  They were no friends to Islam either.  They have done just as much to harm the religion as Charbonnier ever did.

Until our deaths, there is always the possibility for change.  Charbonnier could have changed.  At some point, he could have become more introspective and exhibited more decency.  I don't know how much the Muslim intellectuals of France did to help him gain understanding over the years.

The brothers were so young that certainly they could have matured and found the righteous path.  They also needed guidance and support from learned men.  One of the biggest tragedies is that neither of the two extremes ever found a way to co-exist somewhere in the middle.

Did Charbonnier deserve to die?  Islamically, if he were living under Sharia Law, then "yes" he would be tried for his actions and perhaps sentenced to death.  He didn't live in a Muslim country so that is a moot point.

As Muslims, we are not to live or practice Sharia Law in the countries which are not Muslim.  We are to live according to the law of the land.  Judging Non-Muslims by the same criteria goes against Islam.  We are, as a peace-loving people, to understand the differences and be accepting and kind.  The Prophet of Islam faced many tauntings from Non-Muslims but remained calm and forgiving.

Was it right for masked men to enter the offices and execute 12 people?  No.  That is crazy.  It was not, however, terrorism.  Remember, they were there to kill a specific staff of a specific blasphemous publication.  They were assassins and they have died for their beliefs as sure as the Charlie Hebdo staff have died for theirs.

Two Muslims died at the offices of Charlie Hebdo as well.  Mustapha Ourad was a 60-year-old copy editor for the magazine but he was also an Algerian-French Muslim man.  Ironically, he embodied the two warring factions within one person.

The other man you probably have seen but did not know that he was in fact Muslim.  That policeman lying on the ground hoping for a miracle was Ahmed Merabet.  Caught by that amateur video, the 42-year-old was executed by a bullet point-blank to his head.  May Allah accept him as a martyr.  There is no way, as a Muslim, that he would have supported the actions of Charlie Hebdo but he was ready to die in order to guard the staff in their office.

This is a very sad turn of events that it has deep roots---maybe going back as far as 1830 when France conquered Algeria.  Nine years ago, when I first learned who Charbonnier was and what he was intent on doing, I was pretty sure he would be shown violence if not killed.  It wasn't my hope but it was my very logical conclusion.

Regardless how inevitable the ending is, the immense bloodshed is still very sad and shocking.  Please understand that the sadness and the shock today in 2015 were felt in the Muslim world many years ago and those raw emotions have now come home to roost.  Astragferallah for intolerance and hate.

Let's check ourselves.  It's nine days into the new year and we have a chance to be new people.  Whomever you fear needs your understanding.  Whomever you hate needs your forgiveness.  Whomever you hurt needs your help.

No matter how small your bad feelings are, they are poisoning the world.

Let's stop, push pause, then re-start.



Anonymous said...

Could you please let me know where it states that the prophet Mohammed PBUH cannot be shown as an image. To help clear up a debate we are having on the issue?

Anonymous said...

Overall, a very well thought out article. You articulate well. One observation, however. It is the "host" countries right to maintain its integrity and culture. If any population immigrates to a country and causes change that the state doesn't want, then it is up to the incoming population to assimilate. Immigrants always have the choice of not moving to France. You don't get to move into a country and take it over just because you can out-populate the indigenous population. If you think differently, then you will feel the pain of rejection, vilification and persecution. It is human nature. You don't come into my house and start redecorating.

No population on the planet has the right to take over another populations culture. Any population that suffers this illusion will endure significant resistance.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Debator,

Thanks for reading and for asking. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) hated the worship of idols. He destroyed statues/images that had become idols worshipped in Mecca. An image can easily become idolized.

Some say that the rule of "no images" is not in the Quran but of course it is: it is within the story of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) who destroyed the statues in the Kabba even though his father's job was to create them.

Here's a couple of scholarly sites:

for more info.

We see that idolotry with pop-stars, actors and sports heroes. We know that they are only human but we feel surprised when they act like humans because we put them up on a pedestal. That "fall from grace" happens all the time because we have idolized them.

The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was only a man. He was a really, really good man---even his enemies couldn't say differently. Yet, he lived and died. His truth is in his words (the Hadith) and his actions in his life (the Sunnah) which collectively allow us a beautiful picture of his truth.

To show even a handsome smiling actor playing the role of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is not the truth of who the real man was. It is a lie--astragferallah (may God forgive). The same goes for EVERY prophet--including Jesus (pbuh) and Moses (pbuh) so I don't watch those movies that come out about them.

There was a movie about Prophet Muhammad "The Message" which did not show a face for the prophet. Some Muslims don't even like that movie---as it shows the early followers of Islam (the Sahabbi).

For me, my Islam has been honed over these last 12 years. I no longer keep pictures with faces on display in my home. There are others who do have framed pictures up. I would not be rude to someone who did that. I would not talk to them about it unless they asked directly.

I hope that I answered in a way that made sense to you. If I didn't, then search for a better answer from a reputable source.


Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Kind Compliment-Giver,

Ya, it's nice to know that my post was understood--by you at least. It's a hard subject matter but I felt like I needed to say it as I see it.

I am a direct person. If I come to your house, I might actually suggest something different for your decor. It doesn't mean that you would have to do it! Just preparing you.

If I come to your country (and I'm not sure where that is), I will still be bringing my hijabs and prayer mat. It doesn't mean that you have to join (in fact if you're a man you couldn't join in praying with me as you'd have to pray with my husband instead). If you wanted to pray with him, you'd have to do it sometime within the window of opportunity (usually a span of a couple of hours) and follow the movements he would make. Does any of that threaten you?

Basically, us needing (not wanting but actually needing) to pray five times a day is a huge non-negotiable for Muslims. I will never (God willing) drop this major part of my existence no matter which country I go to. I'd really like to go to Japan but that doesn't mean I leave my Muslim identity at home. You wouldn't do that for your identity either, would you? It's illogical.

If you think that, after a certain number of years, a normal person would stop being themselves in another country then I've got to tell you that I don't think so. I'm American and I've lived in Egypt for the last five years. I still love chips with salsa and guacamole. I can eat camel meat and stuffed cabbage with the best of them but I will always adore pepperoni pizza and popcorn. Do you blame me? I need to still be ME as much as those first generation immigrants in France need to be themselves. Being authentic shouldn't being threatening.

As far as me wanting to take over's a big place and I don't need the whole country. I would like my little apartment to be a shelter from some of what I can't stand in Egypt. Sometimes I freak out over what happens on our street or in our neighborhood. Occasionally, I kick up a fuss at school over an issue. That doesn't mean I want to be in charge of any of those places. I do want to co-exist but I'm not always able to accept what's going on as it crosses a line with me.

Now, I realize you wanted to focus on the immigrants coming into Europe not immigrants (like me) going into Egypt. My point, which I hope you understand, is that I am an immigrant and I'm just trying to keep warm and keep going through the days and nights of winter in the desert. I don't have time to overthrow a government, nor would I know what to do with it if I succeeded! Most immigrants are in survival mode like me. Every now and then I get to thriving but in those moments I want to run to IKEA or take a vacation. I've never wanted to take over.

I did make a choice to move to Egypt alhumdulillah. I probably think of leaving it a few times a week. In the end, I'm still here as I've made an imperfect home in Giza. Many times I've heard how foreigners don't have the right to jobs here or the right to voice opinions here. I've even heard how foreigners will get dragged out of their homes if anything happens to President Sisi. I'm still here. Doesn't feel good to hear all that but I am tired of bumping around this world and I would rather stay quietly put than leave.

My guess is that the immigrants you suggest leaving as an options also do think of it but (like me) are tired. They also just want a quiet, little life with hopes that their sacrifices will pay off in the hands of their children (the second generation).

Do you know any immigrants? I knew so many in the States. They were wonderful people. I encourage you to actually meet the people you fear. Volunteer to help them. Be brave enough to better them and the future of your country...and our world.


SuperLux said...

I applaud you for speaking your mind bravely. It mus be hard to be stereotyped by your religion. I am a Catholic and I find it hard to defend my faith as well when people focus on the weakness and mistakes of our church, judging generally without looking at the good side. Forgetting that the people who makes the church are just people, imperfect human capable of doing wrong.

I hope we someday understand the value of respect because I think that's where the war really comes from. We forget that freedom must come with responsibility and that includes freedom of speech.

Allow me to quote Pope Francis on this issue:

"one cannot make fun of faith" and that anyone who throws insults can expect a "punch." both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights and that every religion has its dignity. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity ... in freedom of expression there are limits.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Super Luxe,

Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate that you are faith-based, even if we do not share the same religion, it sounds like we share the same faith.

I love Pope Francis! I wish him all the best. Yes, he angered some by speaking the truth that hate speech triggers anger. He didn't say that punching was a GREAT thing to do. He isn't hoping that everyone starts a fist fight. What he is being is realistic.

The teachings from the Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are the same way. What is said isn't always "nice" but it is truthful.

Again, thanks for reading and commenting.

Love and Light!

Anonymous said...

Very well written article.