Paris Beheading: What Pakistan PM Needs to Understand About France

Europeans may or may not agree with Charlie Hebdo’s poor humour, but they’ll do everything to defend free speech.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of French Flag and secularism symbol used for representational purposes. 
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Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has done it again, projecting himself (via Twitter) as a ‘protector of the faith’ and ‘champion of the Muslim world’: “This is a time when Pres Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation and marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation.”

“It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists. Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet PBUH.”

“By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked and hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world. The last thing the world wants or needs is further polarisation. Public statements based on ignorance will create more hate, Islamophobia & space for extremists.”

Calls For ‘Jihad’ Against France – And Pakistan’s ‘Hypocrisy’

A few hours later, Turkish President Erdogan followed, saying during a speech: “What problem does this person called Macron have with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs treatment on a mental level.” And, back in Pakistan, simultaneously, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder and president of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, was calling for ‘jihad’ against France on social media: “France is challenging you. Declare jihad” – he was heard saying.

They are proposing, most likely, an ‘alternative model of inclusive, democratic and civilised society’. A society where, according to Pakistan’s human rights groups, in the month of August, the police registered at least 40 blasphemy cases.

Where most of these cases have been registered against Shia Muslims, and where in September, a Lahore court sentenced to death a Christian man with charges of blasphemy, while in July, another man on trial for blasphemy was shot dead in Peshawar in the same courtroom where the trial was going on.

‘Justification’ Of Paris Beheading

Imran Khan wrote to Facebook, in fact, just to accuse other countries of ‘Islamophobia’ and to ask for a ban on contents that were deemed 'offensive' against Muslims. But the others are not allowed to take offence for being regularly insulted (or killed) by his country fellows, apparently.

This campaign started less than a month ago, when the burning of French flags, calls for jihad and hate speeches in Pakistan, ‘endorsed’ by Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Maqmood Qureshi, seemingly ‘resulted’ in the the stabbing of two journalists in front of the former office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. After that, another Islamist beheaded a school teacher, Samuel Paty, who showed Charlie Hebdo's cartoons to his students.

Days later, in Montpellier, the cartoons appeared, as a mark of protest against the acts of stabbing and beheading, on government buildings. And President Macron announced tougher laws to tackle what he called ‘Islamist separatism’, to defend the secular values of the country.

While a French Muslim called Karim Akouche wrote: “Stop calling me brother” in an ‘Open letter to Allah's soldier’ to defend the values of the country where he was born, many people reacted saying, “Charlie Hebdo offended and provoked Muslims – and so does Macron”. In their opinion, apparently, stabbing and killing is just an ‘unfortunate buyout’ and an ‘obvious consequence’ – ‘stop doing it, give them what they want and everything will be all right.’

European Secularism & Values From The French Revolution

What they don't get is that France is a secular country; Europe is a secular entity. An entity where people fought not to include the 'Christian roots' of Europe in any declaration. Where 'secular' means that for the State there are no Christians, Muslims, Jews or Buddhists or whatever else, but only citizens. And those citizens are expected to abide by the Constitution and the law – and where they are bound by the same rules.

If you are asking for special treatment because of your religion, you have got it totally wrong. “My dear countrymen, the battle for the Republic is, in this moment, the battle for secularism” – this is how the Macron addressed the country at the beginning of September, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Third French Republic.

On the same occasion, Macron made many references to the Charlie Hebdo trial, that had just started, and to the values of the republic, the values inherited from the French Revolution, the values that should and must be shared by any citizen of the country, or any guest.

Libertè, egalitè and fraternitè: none of them, according to Macron, is possible without secularism and freedom of speech. And he is totally right.

The ‘Battle’ For Secularism

The battle for secularism, the battle for the values shared by all of Europe, the values of the French Revolution, the values shared practically by all the European countries are NOT negotiable. Europe guarantees and protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech and non-discrimination on religious or racial base.

If you don’t like a cartoon or a movie, simply don’t buy it or watch it. There have been battles in the past, both in France and in Italy, against movies and satirical cartoons targeting the Catholic Church – thousands of cartoons are out there depicting the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ in ‘blasphemous’ ways.

The Catholic Church has tried to stop them (not stabbing anybody but by using Tribunals) and has regularly lost its battles.

What Imran Khan, Erdogan, Rizvi don't get is that Europeans may may not agree with the low-grade, gross humour of Charlie Hebdo, but they will do everything to protect their freedom of expression and their secular, democratic institutions.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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