We're all familiar today with the terrorist assassination of 12 workers at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in France. The magazine made a practice of satirizing religion and of using cartoons of the prophet Mohammed to represent Islam. It is against the Muslim faith to depict Mohammed in a drawing, and one satirizing him is blasphemy.
Charlie Hebdo, on the other hand, published a memorial edition with cartoons of the Prophet and sold 3 million copies. This caused Nasser Lajili, a Muslim city councillor in France, to comment as follows:
“My first reaction was angst, this does nothing to make things better. I want to make clear that I completely condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But I think freedom of speech needs to stop when it harms the dignity of someone else. The prophet for us is sacred.”
The comedian Dieudonne, whose anti-Semitic standup act has been banned in France, posted this:
“Whenever I speak, you do not try to understand what I’m trying to say, you do not want to listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to forbid me. You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly [one of the terrorists] when I am not any different from Charlie [Hebdo].”
He was arrested under the hate laws after he posted on Facebook that he feels like “Charlie Coulibaly.”
It doesn't help matters when the government bans a Muslim comedian like Dieudonne from making anti-Semitic jokes but does nothing about Charlie Hebdo's anti-Muslim satire.
France has an anti-Muslim prejudice problem. It has more Muslims than any other country in Western Europe. They comprise 10% of France's population. It doesn't help matters when the government bans a Muslim comedian like Dieudonne from making anti-Semitic jokes but does nothing about Charlie Hebdo's anti-Muslim satire.
In the U.S., our First Amendment wouldn't permit us to have anti-hate laws directed solely at cartoons. We have laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that punishes a person who "willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person's race, color, religion or national origin." But the such laws only apply to hate demonstrated by the use of force, not mere speech or a cartoon.
So we have even more of a problem than do the French with a Charlie Hebdo type of publication. France has the problem of mounting anti-Muslim sentiment and a failure to apply its own laws to prevent anti-Muslim hate speech when it applies those same laws to protect other religions. We have the problem of anti-Muslim sentiment in a society where the expression of hateful anti-Muslim speech cannot be prevented.
In our world there are terrorists of Muslim origin. Younger Muslims can be incited to participate in terrorist activity because of intolerance of Muslims in their own communities. In the U.S., Muslims are free to practice their religion and create their own communities. In that context, the need to educate and thereby eradicate prejudice against Muslims is critical.
We used to have prejudice against the Irish, Italians, and other Europeans. Those views have been largely eradicated. Prejudice against Jews and blacks still exists, but over the years the virulent, pervasive hatred has been largely erased. The same steps need to be taken with respect to our fellow citizens who are Muslim. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't prevent and combat terrorism at home, but without an active, open campaign against anti-Muslim prejudice the terrorism problem at home will fester for many more years to come.
Michael T. Hertz