what MACRON WANTS?
Once again, the Muslim world has been deeply saddened and enraged by the heart-wrenching comments of French president Emmanuel Macron about Islam and its adherents. His remarks are the vivid depiction of his prejudice and bias towards more than a billion peace-loving Muslims of the world. He, by passing such anti-Islam rant, rather than uniting his people, has created deep fissures in French society and furthered polarization and Islamophobia.
In his controversial and widely-criticised speech, French president, Emmanuel Macron, has insisted “no concessions” would be made in a new drive to push religion out of education and the public sector in France. He announced that the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated the church and the state in France. “The law permits people to belong to any faith of their choosing,” Macron said, “but outward displays of religious affiliation would be banned in schools and the public service.” Wearing the hijab is already banned in French schools and for public servants at their workplace. He also refused to discourage the repeated practice of publishing blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) by Charlie Hebdo—a French satirical weekly magazine. Encouraged by the head of the state, French people hanged the blasphemous cartoons by the walls of their homes which indubitably amounts to grievous hurt to the sentiments of nearly six million Muslims living in France and roughly more than a billon Muslims living all around the world.
Reactively, Muslims all around the globe are registering protests in their respective ways against Macron’s malicious and unfounded propaganda against Islam.
In a backlash to Macron’s virulent stricture against Islam, Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan commented: “What is the problem of this person called Macron with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs treatment on a mental level.” He added: “What else can be said to a head of state who does not understand freedom of belief and who behaves in this way to millions of people living in his country who are members of a different faith? First of all, have mental checks.”
Another popular and charismatic leader of Muslim world and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, tweeted: “This is a time when President Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarization & marginalization that inevitably leads to radicalization through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet (SAWW).” He added: “By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world.”
Unfortunately, Islam and its founder have been subjected to such attacks many times before. Previously, in 2005, a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ignited protests across the world and riots in many Muslim countries by publishing several cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW), including one depicting him with a bomb in his turban.
Sadly, all that happened earlier and that what is happening now is under the pretext of Freedom of Expression. However, in fact, the issue is not one of curtailing the right to freedom of expression since this a right that is not absolute, nor anyone can claim so. Rights are reciprocal and their enforcement is dependent on other fundamental rights. “I also respect the right of freedom of speech,” remarked Kofi Annan, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, “but, of course, freedom of speech is never absolute. It entails responsibility and judgement.”
Every country that claims to be a part of the civilized and democratic world has put its own limitations on freedom of expression in order to regulate a certain level of human behaviour and thereby protect the dignity of their moral, religious, social and societal values. The free propagation of child pornography, for instance, or the stimulation of religious or racial antipathy in the media, is banned in many countries.
Further, in many European countries like Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Switzerland as well as Israel, it is a crime to deny holocaust. Moreover, degrading or abusing the constitution or certain national institutions such as army, courts of law, or parliament is illegal or at least discouraged in many countries. So, if right to freedom of expression is absolute, why are there no objections to laws such these? Interestingly, some American states do have blasphemy laws in their statute books. Section 36 (Chapter 272) of General Laws of the State of Massachusetts states:
“Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail …”
In addition, when the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi compared himself to Jesus Christ, the Vatican, including Italian politicians, reacted to his statement with shock and disgust. A senior official of Catholic Church added, “I know he will say he was speaking in jest but such things should not be spoken even in jest.”
Even Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) few years ago reportedly rejected publishing the cartoons mocking at Jesus Christ because they would “provoke an outcry” and proudly declared it would “in no circumstances publish holocaust cartoons.” It is indubitably a blatant manifestation of sheer duplicity on the part of the newspaper and a reflection of its prejudice against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (SAWW).
Islam doesn’t oppose freedom of expression but ridiculing and insulting sacred elements under the garb of freedom of speech can, under no circumstances, be condoned. The similar views were expressed by Pope Francis while speaking about the Paris attacks in January 2015 when he said: “There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs.”
Responding to the publication of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) in Jyllands-Posten; some dignitaries not only condemned the publication but also emphasized the restriction of the right to freedom of speech too. Jack Straw, British foreign secretary remarked: “There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting; it has been insensitive; it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.”
The US State Department condemned: “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims.” Spokesman, Kurtis commented: “We all fully respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable.”
To encapsulate, defamation of sacred elements under the pretext of freedom of expression cannot be justified. Therefore, the UN the European Union, and international human rights organizations should exert their clout to inhibit and discourage such practices in the future so as to resolve this highly sensitive issue.
The writer is a legal practitioner-cum-columnist based in Quetta.