2015 started off as much of 2014 went on, with atrocities committed at the hands of extremists claiming to represent Islam. Only, these 'freedom fighters' are in fact attackers of freedom, not in favour it. Their belligerence in attempting to undermine free speech and expression in order to avenge the Prophet is not only shocking, it is in absolute contradiction to the moral guidance that Muhammad offered. While there can never be any justification for such abhorrent acts - as there isn't in the Qur'an - this article is not an apology for the actions of these Muslims nor of the perceived failings of Islam. Instead it is criticism of all parties that have a stake in this attack, and what the solutions may be.
Firstly, reiterating the horrific actions of these rogue gunmen is necessary. Moral outrage of such brutality can never be overstated, especially in a global climate where such bloodshed seems endemic. Furthermore, free press as an institution is sacred to the democratic process and must not be compromised in the face of such callousness. While I may take offence to cartoons depicting the Prophet due to my religion, the retaliation is something I find far more disturbing, due to my humanity. Religion, like any other ideological concept must be open to criticism, and no one group can claim to be exempt from this. Moreover, such a barbaric reaction suggests a deep sense of insecurity and lack of faith, as an entire religion is surely stronger than a cartoon.
Freedom of speech however is a principle that should be cherished, not one that should be abused. Islamophobic rhetoric in both the mainstream media and society hides behind the veil of free speech and the right to offend. Offence is reserved almost exclusively for Muslims, who not only have their religious doctrine demonised like few other religious groups, but also their individual identity and morality called into question. I understand that wasn't the case with Charlie Hebdo, who were critical of all religious groups, but is still indicative of a wider issue. Purposefully insulting one of the core beliefs of Muslims seems unnecessary, and serves no purpose other than to chiefly provoke and create divisions, as it strikes the most sensitive nerve in a Muslim's heart.
Muslims would undoubtedly feel increasingly alienated from mainstream society when they see all they value sacred to be mocked and desecrated, all under the banner of 'free speech.' This fracturing of already tense relations between communities shouldn't be justified by the staple phrase 'oh you don't like it? Well tough, it's my freedom of speech.' Press freedom shouldn't be abused so carelessly, for it is a power that comes with responsibility: a responsibility to challenge the powerful and the unjust, not to ridicule an already marginalised minority. It seems we know all of our rights and none of our responsibilities. We know everything we can say, but not what we should.
This criticism of the abusers of free speech does not negate the horrific scenes witnessed in Paris. While there is more than legitimate grounds for Muslims to express grievance, the actions of these individuals has no explanation. The fact that Islamic extremism seems symptomatic of Islam as a whole indicates a clear problem in the practice of the religion, as followers seem to be losing its essence. Qualities such as tolerance and equality aren't superior Western values, but essential characteristics of Islam. The fact that these virtues seem lacking in Islamic countries should be a stain on the leaders of these countries, not the religion or its adherents. The progressive Islam that I know has been misappropriated by tribal warlords indoctrinated by neo-Wahabi fanaticism. The ideology that they espouse is not the one that I, nor hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world I know.
But this rejection of extremist elements in the Muslim world is not enough, and Muslims themselves must take charge in dispelling these elements, instead of blaming the West, a tendency which can be evident in certain Muslim circles. The West has been more than culpable is stirring up Muslim resentment, but ultimately the systemic radicalisation of young men and the creation of terrorist groups cannot be blamed solely on the West. Muslims must acknowledge this and take action themselves.
However, that dismissal of extremist Islam was not an apology, nor was my condemnation of the gunmen at Charlie Hebdo. It seems that all Muslims are expected to apologise for and explicitly denounce all crimes committed by a small section of so-called Muslims, and failure to do so suggests that Islam condones such actions. I, as I'm sure the majority of Muslims , see no need to quickly attempt to exonerate Islam from the cruel actions of a minority, as to step in to defend Islam in a tragedy like this is hugely disrespectful to the victims and their families. Not only that, but Islam is bigger and stronger than any individual, and will undoubtedly withstand attempts at both to smear it, or to misappropriate it.
It can be difficult to find hope in such dark times. Ultimately, we must remember that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. We have more to lose by regurgitating hate between communities than we do by standing in solidarity with one other. Our differences are not what define us, but rather, our similarities. The unanimous horror to which people have reacted to these events offer signs of optimism; that we can use this to break down the barriers the politicians and the media will place to separate us. Multiculturalism didn't cause a massacre. Neither did ordinary Muslims. Hatred did. The fringe elements that thrive off hatred will be hard to ignore, but they will be drowned out in our hymns for peace. For that I am sure.