Once more we are facing the aftermath of yet another premeditated, senseless attack by armed terrorists on defenceless civilians. Twelve people working at or around a satirical magazine in France were killed in this latest incident, all, apparently, to the greater glory of God—or Allah in this case.
Wednesday’s terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s Paris office came after repeated satirical criticism, mainly in cartoon form, of various religions. Now we find it has stirred a debate about how media organizations should balance freedom of expression with freedom of religion and whether they should publish images of Muhammad.
I agree there needs to be a balance between tolerance of religious beliefs and free expression. I do not concur, however, with a wide-held belief that all major religions must be respected equally. Respect is something that needs to be earned and needs not be given just because others demand their belief in the supernatural deserves respect.
The right to free speech/expression is one of the fundamental democratic freedoms. And practice of this right encourages diversity of opinion as well as criticism of political and religious institutions and their leadership—all of which are in the public interest. We are all entitled to our own opinions and should be free to express them regardless of how gratuitous or offensive others may find them. Of course, opinions that preach outright hatred or violence need have limits placed on them for, after all, like most freedoms in a modern society, freedom of expression is not absolute, nor should it be.
As an act of solidarity with the staff of Charlie Hebdo, journalists around the world are being encouraged to publish, uncensored, the offending cartoons of that magazine. And many news sources have chosen to do just that. Notable, however, is the CBC’s decision not to “knowingly show images of the prophet Muhammad.”
I disagree with the CBC. While many Muslims may be offended by the depiction of the prophet Muhammad, to tens of millions of other Canadians he was merely a man of significant historical importance who had a profound impact on world affairs. His image need not be treated any differently than that of any other mortal. After all, we Canadians are supposed to live in a secular country and should not cater to minority religious or other supernatural beliefs as though they were an integral part of our mainstream culture.
Even among Muslims there is disagreement regarding depictions of Muhammad. As I understand the issue, the Quran does not explicitly forbid images of Muhammad; it is in a few hadith (supplemental teachings) that have explicitly prohibited Muslims from creating such visual depictions. In Shia Islam, there seems to be a more relaxed attitude, while among Sunni Muslims there is the belief visual depictions of the prophet should be prohibited.
So let Muslims follow their their own practices and leave our secular world and our secular publications to follow our own traditions, which do not prohibit the depictions of anyone.
The CBC is wrong on this one. It’s a canard to claim the decision is based on a philosophy of respect towards the Muslim faith. The decision seems more to be either political correctness or cowardice—take your pick.