The Blog

Charlie Hebdo: The Rallying Cry for Free Speech Is Noble, but Hypocritical

I would invite those who are invoking the sanctity of free speech and freedom of self expression in response to the shootings in Paris to consider a few things...

I would invite those who are invoking the sanctity of free speech and freedom of self expression in response to the shootings in Paris to consider a few things.

In France, if you are a Muslim female teenager and you decide to express your identity by wearing a headscarf - not covering the face, just a headscarf - you will be kicked out of school. Permanently - until you agree not to wear it again. If a grown woman decides to wear the Niqab, French law renders her a prisoner of her own home, subject to arrest and hefty fines for simply walking down the street.

If you thought it was oppressive to only see a woman's eyes, imagine her vanishing completely because she isn't free to leave her house. If a different woman does not want to wear the niqab but does choose a headscarf, she's not allowed to become a teacher - for fear her Islamic identity might some how damage the children she works with.

This past summer, when hundreds upon hundreds of Muslim civilians were slaughtered in Gaza by American weapons in the hands of Israeli troops, we protested the massacre in the streets. Lucky us. In France, they banned pro-Palestinian protest entirely. You weren't allowed to tell your government that sitting on the fence while Israel pulverises a Muslim population that is mostly children is unacceptable.

The message from the French authority was loud and clear: the loss of Muslim life is not an outrage. Even here in the UK, the media played down the protests as much as they could. The BBC all but blacked it out entirely. In the following months, legislation was introduced that makes any large-scale protest anywhere near Parliament Square practically impossible.

And we talk of free speech. The truth is, you are free to express your identity as long as it's *our* identity. As long as you aren't one of *them*. We don't want *them*. We don't care when *they* die. We don't like their religion or their culture, and when it tries to sit beside ours, fear-mongering newspapers burst into flames of indignation. When they commit crimes, we call them 'terrorist', because there are laws to protect criminals, but you can do anything you like to a terrorist. The recent CIA torture report made that crystal clear. Cherif Kouachi, one of the Paris shooters, told authorities when he was imprisoned for terrorist activity in 2008 that he joined to protest the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. And we all know what we did to those prisoners.

These shootings were horrific murders and should be treated as such, but any self-righteous Voltaire quotation about 'our' defence of free speech, and 'their' despicable culture of censorship is deeply, deeply hypocritical.

Unlike so many people around me, I am not Charlie Hebdo. I love to draw, but I wouldn't draw the prophet Mohammed, because when I learned about Islam, I learned that it is considered deeply offensive to do so. It's not just offensive to 'crazy' extremists, but to normal Muslims. It's the same reason why I wouldn't go in to a Catholic cathedral in a bikini because I have 'a right to'. And, although I love to swear, I would do my best not to in front of your granny, or small child. I am not censored, I am acting with respect.

When you draw a political cartoon satirising someone in power, your attack is specific to an individual that you have decided deserves it. When your drawing is of something that offends not one powerful individual but an entire religion, which is already suffering from ignorant vilification in the West, you're no hero of free speech to me. I am reading, right now in fact, a graphic novel which depicts historic political relations between Judaism and Islam, and the story of the prophet Mohammed, all without drawing him. In fact, it's far more creative for doing so.

It is enough to say that murder is a terrible crime for which the perpetrators should be punished. We needn't whip ourselves into a self-righteous fury we haven't earned. I have a feeling that some people on high horses ought to look down and be sure they aren't riding an ass.