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Today marks the one month anniversary of the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo, where twelve people were brutally murdered for having the audacity of practicing free speech and expression. During this period, news about blogger Raif Badawi being sentenced to a thousand lashes and seven years in prison for the crime of apostasy has caught media attention. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has gleefully taken responsibility of the murder of up to two thousand people, many of whom were children. Meanwhile, in Iraq, Islamist organisation ISIL have beheaded journalists and burned a man alive, later posting videos of the act online to bask in the notoriety it would bring them. Another video posted by the same organisation shows them throwing a man accused of homosexuality off a building. When the victim survived the fall, he was confronted by a hungry pack of savages who proceeded to stone him to death.

On Thursday, United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of the Child released its report on the second group, detailing its barbaric treatment of children. Crucifixions, rape, mass graves, children being buried alive, mentally and physically challenged juveniles being used as human shields are all common practices within this particular sect. On children from other minorities in the region, the report states:

76. The Committee expresses its deepest concern at the deplorable situation of children and families belonging to minority groups, in particular Turkmen, Shabak, Christians, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandaean, Kaka’e, Faili Kurds, Arab Shi’a, Assyrian, Baha’i, Alawites who are systematically killed, tortured, raped, forced to convert to Islam, cut off from humanitarian assistance by the so-called ISIL in a reported attempt by the so-called ISIL members to suppress, permanently cleanse or expel, or in some instances, destroy these minority communities.

While this is happening, while the entire world are condemning these atrocities, the Muslim Action Forum in Britain has organised a mass demonstration to take place outside of Downing Street on Sunday the 8th February to… denounce “the insulting depictions of our Holy Prophet P.B.U.H re-published by Charlie Hebdo”. This is their priority. The execration of the vile acts carried out by the likes of Boko Haram, Saudi Government or ISIL is not what has caused their blood to boil, cartoons have.

There are two important lessons to be learned here. First, and most importantly, this event proves once and for all that Muslims are not a homogeneous group. There has been countless of honest Muslims excoriating the loathly and nauseating actions of the Islamist groups, as well as the government of Saudi Arabia. They have referred to their personal faith as the moral standard from which they justify their condemnation, and they have stood in solidarity with the victims, not the perpetuators.

This is vital because, in a climate where our political leaders cower away from making distinctions, in fear of offending their constituents or potential voters, a platform is established where no demarcation is made between various branches within the religion of Islam. This platform serves as a breeding ground for anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry, as it makes no differentiations between Muslims and Islamists. As Maajid Nawaz recently said in an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, the political as well as spiritual leaders treat the subject of Islamism as a Harry Potter-esque, Voldemortian entity which must not be named. The supposed consequences are tragically ironic, as the exact results the various leaders are trying to avoid, namely anti-Muslim hatred, are realised when no distinction is made between Islamists and Muslims.

The second lesson to be learned is that of priorities. In the UK, as well as practically every other corner of the Western world, there are groups who claim to be more offended by the drawing of cartoons than the killing of children or flogging of a blogger. This necessitates more than just ridicule; it demands confrontation.

The second lesson to be learned is that of priorities. In the UK, as well as practically every other corner of the Western world, there are groups who claim to be more offended by the drawing of cartoons than the killing of children or flogging of a blogger. This necessitates more than just ridicule; it demands confrontation.

In a democracy, certain fundamental principles are to be upheld at all costs. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, the core principle of Freedom of Speech and Expression has been under scrutiny, as if there even is a debate to be had. Less than a week after the murder of his twelve colleagues, Mehdi Hasan wrote an article claiming to be fed up with “the hypocrisy of Freedom of speech”. His focus was not condemning the murder of people in his own profession. That was more of a side note, said in a throw-away fashion, in the article. Instead, he chose to proclaim that, “As a Muslim”, he denounces the entire concept of freedom of speech as a mere illusion.

I have responded to Mr. Hasan’s article directly here. What I would rather focus on is the priorities of some factions within our society and how they must be challenged.

The observant reader will recognise that the title of this piece is a play on the French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am” and the slogan of support for Freedom of Speech in the wake of the events in Paris, “I am Charlie”. This, I believe, is any rational person’s position in this debate. To think is, by default, to side with the principle of Freedom of Speech above any opposing ideas.

The forces who wish to limit, ban or even question this principle always have an agenda which they wish to claim special treatment for, be it Islam, Christianity or a non-religious ideology. The fear of criticism is very telling, as it exposes a dreading within certain groups that their ideas are in fact so fragile that they must be protected under the guise of “sanctity”. For ideas of which one is certain, one tends to welcome criticism and challenge, not stifle it. It is therefore this author’s view that most people who wish to impose any ban on freedom of speech and expression, in order to protect their beliefs, are not as convinced of their convictions as that of a biologist is in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, to use one example. In fact, in science, the entire process is dependent on the concept of criticism, as no theory is accepted unless it undergoes the meticulous procedure of peer-reviews.

To shout “offence” is too feeble of an argument to be taken seriously. Imagine a world where anyone who took offence could eradicate the behaviours or expressions that supposedly caused them offence. We would not have had the aforementioned Darwin. There would not have been any Galileo or Rosa Parks. In fact, there would not have been any humanity whatsoever. And it is not just this author who has noted the fact that certain people want to be able to say that they are offended, in order to acquire a platform on which they can express their anger in front of an audience. It has also become a tool which Islamist leaders use to propagate their ideologies and create an “us vs. them” climate. How many of the thousands who demonstrated the streets of London in 1989, asking for the head of Salman Rushdie, do you think had read (or have still, to this date read) The Satanic Verses? These people are like house rats, anxiously waiting for crumbs to fall off the table. They revel in the fact that they can shout “offence” and be given a pulpit from which they can spew their hatred.

I think, therefore I am Charlie because being Charlie means the realisation that no ideas are sacred or exempt from scrutiny, criticism or ridicule. A secular society demands this. A secular society is one which the marketplace of ideas is flourishing, and battling it out on an intellectual level and where everyone gains from these battles. No particular concept or belief is given special protection or privileges. And here is the key point:

Religious people should welcome this for the sake of their own religion! Chronicler of science Michael Shermer has noted that Christianity in the US is so prevalent and strong precisely because it doesn’t enjoy any benefits from the state. The first amendment in the US constitution establishes that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Still the only country in the world where such an establishment clause is included in its constitution, United States of America has seen the flourishing of Christianity incomparable to that of any Western country.

And, as I asked Mehdi Hasan, where do we draw the line? How offended must one be for it to become a warrant for censorship? How many people must be offended? Are the grounds for offence-claiming strictly offered to the religious groups, or can Neo-Nazis take advantage of it? If no, then why not? What sets the religious ideologies and convictions apart from other beliefs in their importance? I challenge any religious follower in the commitment of their convictions surpassing that of mine in democratic values. The absurdity of the offence argument is one which cannot continue to be ignored.

Which takes us to the question of who. Who would you nominate to have the right to decide for you what you can and can’t say, write or draw? This seems to be a question that has never been asked by those crying for censorship laws to have their fragile feelings safeguarded. Who do you wish to grant such powers to, and what would you say if that same person decides to use those exact same privileges you have so freely and readily given to them against you?

The late, brilliant Christopher Hitchens, when debating the topic of blasphemy laws in Canada in 2006, exposed this general line of thinking:

“Every time you violate – or propose to violate – the right to free speech of someone else… you’re making a rod for your own back. Because (…), to whom do you reward the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what the harmful consequences are going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor?

Isn’t the famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography, in order to decide what is fit to be passed and what isn’t, is the man most likely to become debauched? Is there anyone you find eloquent enough to decide for you what you could read? You would give the job to decide for you? To relieve you from the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear? Does anyone have a nominee? Hands up?”

He then continues:

“Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view. In more modern times this has been put, I think, best by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxembourg, who said freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently. My great friend John O. Sullivan former editor of the National Review, and I think probably my most conservative and reactionary Catholic friend, once said — it’s a tiny thought experiment — if you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope’s just doing his job again today. If you hear the Pope saying he’s begun to doubt the existence of God, you think he might be on to something.”

In a secular society, it is not just our privilege to be able to claim that we are Charlie; it is our duty. We are faced with powers who wish to take away from us what we must find most valuable and, if you insist, sacred. Today, we are allowing them to make grounds in their frontal attack on these principles without even putting up a fight. It is now that we must show, as one unified voice, that no one, regardless of their beliefs, background or creed, can tell us what we can print or draw or say, regardless of how they might feel about it.

These powers constitutes of people who find more outraging the mere drawing of their cartoons than the rape and murder of children. These people will, on Sunday the 8th February, be involved in a mass demonstration to show where they stand. I plead to all readers, but especially my Muslim brothers and sisters, to show them where we stand;

For freedom. For speech. For expression. For Charlie.

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