Illustrated biography of Muhammad coming soon

Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane CharbonnierIt has been announced that there is going to be an illustrated biography of Muhammed produced … methinks this means that there is trouble coming. The editor (pictured) of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has just announced some details …

Its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, made the announcement to Agence France-Presse (AFP), arguing that Life of Muhammad would be “perfectly halal” because it was a compilation of all that had been written about the prophet in the past by Muslim writers and they had “simply put it into images”.

Why oh why would they invite trouble, is it because they feel passionately about freedom of expression? Nope, the motivation is clear, they need to sell 30,000 copies each week to stay afloat financially, and every time they have done a satire of Muhammad they have sold out.

Last September when they published cartoons of a naked Muhammad they sold out within hours of publication. Alas, the French government was not too happy about it, because they had to close embassies and cultural centres in about 20 Muslim countries due to the fear of a backlash. In the end the vast majority of Muslims did what they usually do, they simply rolled their eyes and ignored all the fuss, thus demonstrating that most humans, with or without beliefs, can be quite sensible at times.

So is the motive purely financial? Perhaps not, back in 2011, a special edition of Charlie Hebdo entitled Sharia Hebdo featured a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad on the cover as “guest-editor”, saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” Just before it was published, the magazine’s offices were firebombed, so I imagine that they do indeed have a bit of an axe to grind here.

We know that many Muslims object to representations of Allah or Muhammad, so is this wrong? I’d argue no it is not. People should of course be free to believe whatever they wish, even if it is obvious that is is not only not true but is quite frankly insane, and this topic is no exception. Freedom of thought does not in any way entitle individuals to enforce their beliefs upon others. To get my point across, lets look at some examples.

The Burqa: France has banned the Burqa, well not quite … they have a ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places, so if out in public the burqa is only banned if it covers the face. I would argue against this ban. Where there is a clear need to identify somebody, sure why not, but this ban applies to the street, shops, museums, public transportation, and parks. Telling people how to dress, or as in this case, not dress, infringes their rights, and that makes it wrong.

One other key point to rememeber, the face-covering veil is not actually Islamic and is not encouraged by the Quran. Instead, it is part of the Muslim cultural heritage and is only embraced by the more radical strands of Islamic thought.

To be honest, this one is a tough call to make, I get the ban, I really do, it can successfully be argued that the veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women, that the burqa is a prison for women, and is a tool of sexist domination and Islamist indoctrination, and therefore has no place in the secular spaces, but an outright ban is a step too far. Instead satire and mockery of the batty idea of wrapping yourself in a bag would be a more appropriate form of response. To go any further is no different than banning drawings of Muhammad.

OK, on to a second example, one that can indeed stir up emotions.

Holocaust Denial: Some do indeed truly reject historical reality and claim that the German Nazi government had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews, Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas chambers to mass murder Jews, and the actual number of Jews killed was significantly (typically an order of magnitude) lower than the historically accepted figure of 5 to 6 million.

Today this idea is promoted by various Arab leaders and others and in Arab media throughout the Middle East and so they happily ignore the reality of what happened and instead embrace a complete myth. Shocking, but perhaps not too great a surprise given the anti-Semitism that runs rife within the Arab world.

So what is the best response to such insanity? Former members of the SS, those who actually took part, describe such deniers as “malevolent” people who have “personal interest to want to bury in silence things that cannot be buried in silence.”. 17 countries have laws against Holocaust Denial, but once again this is a really bad idea because such laws are an attempt to impose historical truth as legal truth. Yes it is indeed racist, but those who hold such views should not be criminalised, but instead should once again be free to believe whatever they wish, and the rest of us will retain our freedom to heap the appropriate amount of satire, derision and mockery upon them.

In the end, we are dealing with beliefs, be it the burqa, holocaust denial, or not drawing Mohammad, we should never get into the game of policing peoples thoughts, or attempting to legalize  how individuals should think correctly, but instead let all ideas flow in the marketplace of ideas and face the barrage of criticism. That is the space where the good well-reasoned and rational ideas will thrive, and the batty insane ideas will shrivel and die.

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