Charlie Hebdo: On free speech, tragedy and anti-Muslim hate

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The world lies in shock, fear and sadness over the killings at Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Since January 7 the attack has rightly been condemned in the strongest possible terms across the world by people of all nationalities, faiths and beliefs.

Charlie Hebdo is a magazine that creates controversial content. Freedom of speech of must be pushed to show that journalists and others should hold this right without fear of being killed.

The anger, impulse and ignorance of some has led some to post offensive imagery, potentially inciting religious hatred on social media under the name of freedom of speech in light of the heartache caused. This is not the way to show support for victims, it only creates more victims.

The murder of Charlie Hebdo staff can never be justified. The cartoons, regardless of offensive should not be taken as a legitimate justification for the attack. Promoting religious hatred is not a legitimate response to the attack. The strongest support we can give to the freedom of speech is to speak out against all injustice.

Terrorism in the name of religion creates an online backlash against ordinary Muslims. #KillAllMuslims became a popular online Twitter trend. Granted the cause of the trend was a majority of tweets criticising the hashtag’s existence, there were still unacceptable posts containing offensive imagery and messages of hate. This cannot be ignored.

In France, there have been scores of physical attacks on Muslims following the terrorism in Paris, including vandalism, gunshots and test grenades targeting mosques and 33 threats against Muslims and Islamic institutions.

Even prior to the tragic events in Paris, Muslims in Britain suffered prejudice. Targeted religious hate crimes in London are up by over 20% alone from last year. In spite of this rise, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime state that many hate crimes still go unreported.

What I’m trying to say can be depicted perfectly in Carlos Latuff’s cartoon: 1.6 billion Muslims in the world who had nothing to do with the attack will pay the price for it because the perpetrators use the name of Islam. The conductors of hate hide behind free speech and the lost lives at Charlie Hebdo to exploit tensions.

To dismiss hatred online is irresponsible. I recently created a petition for social media platforms to take a firmer stance on it. If we are serious about tackling violence we need to be strong and challenge it. Fighting hatred with hatred will never bring peace.

Part of me wonders how the family of the murdered Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet at Charlie Hebdo must feel – having lost someone so close killed in such a violent way whilst having their own faith attacked too. His brother, Malik Merabet powerfully stated: “One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion. I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring back our dead and it won’t appease our families

We must speak out against hate speech. No-one would try to use freedom of speech to justify homophobia or racism. So why is the world so reluctant to openly challenge anti-Muslim content too? Tackling hate and the freedom of speech should never be pitted against one another.

My thoughts and prayers lie with the victims of the Paris terrorism and the subsequent hatred brought into the world.

Rima Amin is a London based freelance journalist and campaigner particularly interested in social justice and international affairs and writes in a personal capacity.. Her website is sliceofsimplicity.com

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