“I refuse to reform”

Blogger Nishaat Ismail explains why she “refuses to reform” according to secular liberal values. 

The aftermath of the Paris attacks are still unfolding, yet we have seen enough to realize that the vilification and disparagement of Muslims and Islam has been amplified to a frightening and disturbing level.

The hysteria surrounding the “infringement” on “freedom of speech” has resulted in Charlie Hebdo publishing five million copies of its magazine with the front cover showing another “satirical” cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

This was the first issue published since the attacks last week and on the very same day that France arrested a Muslim comedian for his Facebook comments, showing the pretense of the West’s commemoration of “free speech”.

Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish the cartoon of the Prophet was not bravery and neither will it send a message of boldness to the radicals.

Rather it was irresponsible, inflammatory and it shows a lack of sensitivity to the thousands of Muslims who were present at the march on Sunday.

Instead, Charlie Hebdo and their cohorts, which includes our esteemed Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, have played into the terrorists’ narrative, who are trying to promote their agenda by nourishing this animosity and visible divide that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.

Je suis Charlie

The #JeSuisCharlie hashtag has become synonymous with the concepts of liberalism and freedom of speech, just as much as the words “Muslim” and “terrorist” are.

To all the “Charlies” out there I hope you know and realize that you are bolstering the racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic foundation that Charlie Hebdo rests upon.

As most people across the world, I am saddened and aggrieved by what these violent and savage criminals did in Paris, in the name of Islam. However, I will not show solidarity with an organization whose main aim is to cause offense and provoke individuals, in particular the Muslims.

Their publications are not satire and neither is it “free speech”, if it was then Charlie Hebdo would not have sacked one of their “satirists” for an anti-Semitic article he had written.

Sympathizing with the victims of this attack does not mean you have to support perpetrators of bigotry and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Free speech crusaders

It would have been easier to take these “free speech” crusaders seriously if the same principal was applied to people from all backgrounds.

I’d like to ask, where was this outcry and outrage when the IDF deliberately targeted and attacked the press during Operation Protective Edge in 2014?

Muslims are under scrutiny after the Charlie Hebdo attacks
Muslims are under scrutiny after the Charlie Hebdo attacks

The same “free speech” champions were silent when NBC pulled war correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza, a day after he live-tweeted an Israeli airstrike that killed four children on a Gazan beach.

Let’s get one thing clear, those running to defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish derogatory content even if it demonizes or offends 1.6 billion adherents of the Islamic faith, are really just jumping on the anti-Islamic bandwagon under the guise of “freedom of speech”.

The so-called “unity rally” in Paris was supposedly intended to unite French citizens from all walks of life and to send a message of defiance to the terrorists, however I felt it was a paragon of hypocrisy that sent Charlie Hebdo’s staff a green signal to continue to insult and degrade Islam, its revered religious figure and its followers.

Furthermore, the presence of oppressive and despotic world leaders who kill and imprison journalists in their own countries gave the march a sardonic tinge.

Muslim victims

Whilst the world is fixated on proclaiming “Je Suis Charlie” Muslims have yet again become victims of terrorist activity.

Twenty-six mosques around France have been subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades as Muslims are targeted with violence in the wake of the Paris attacks. Worryingly, but not surprisingly, this type of aggression and intimidation towards Muslims goes largely unreported.

Prime Minister David Cameron feels the Muslim community in the UK have a “special burden” to help tackle terrorism. By making such statements our Prime Minister is further isolating the Muslim community and pushing them to society’s periphery. It also legitimizes the idea of guilty by association and creates an “us” and “them divisive mentality within communities.

The ongoing media frenzy following the attacks has sensationalized terrorism, however this isn’t a new phenomenon as this has been the norm since the War on Terror was declared fourteen years ago.

As many already know, the BBC and Islam have a somewhat precarious relationship. The Panorama show, aired on 12th January, revealed the UK Government’s ambition to “reform” Islam and create a “British” version.

Again, this isn’t a novel concept, as the West has been trying to do so, since the colonial era. The likes of historian David Starkey would clearly be in favor of this, he voiced his nonsensical opinion on BBC’s Question Time about how he felt Islam was already on the “verge of reformation”. This clearly showed he knows as much about Islam as he knew Mehdi Hasan’s name (the Political Editor of Huffington Post UK)

panoramaThe desire to reform and establish a “British” version of Islam completely undermines and disregards the verse of the holy Quran that states: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.” (5:3)

I refuse to be told by antagonizing journalists like John Ware, who has taken many shots at Muslims during his career, that I need to re-evaluate my beliefs so that those like himself and his esteemed guests on the show can feel comfortable calling me “British”

This edition of Panorama was senseless and designed to create more scaremongering and used as an endorsement for the government’s proposed Counter Terrorism and Security (CTS) bill. It completely omitted the fact that foreign policy is principally to blame for the acts of terrorism we have seen in Paris and elsewhere in the Western world.

My Islam, is perfectly fine as it is, it is the Islam that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 1,400 years ago, it is a faith of compassion, kindness and humility. These characteristics of Islam are disregarded, due to the vicious actions of a few.

Terrorism is never justified and violence against other human beings is a crime, but it will not subside by a blanket surveillance of all citizens or by maligning Muslims. Once our representatives in Parliament and other world leaders start realizing their errors of launching military campaigns in large parts of the Muslim world and curtail their support for tyrannical regimes in the Middle East, the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda will have much less motivation.

Nishaat Ismail has just completed a post-graduate degree from Birkbeck University in Middle East in Global Politics: Islam, Conflict and Development (MSc). She has a BA in history from SOAS and specialises in the history and politics of the near and Middle East. She is also a blogger and contributing editor for The Moroccan Times.

You can follow Nishaat on Twitter @NishIsmail

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