Whilst freedom of speech is a fundamental human right that needs to be protected, there also needs to be an adherence to the responsibilities that accompany such freedom, according to the South African Muslim Network’s (SAMNET) Annisa Essack.
Her statements came in response to Wednesday’s first publication by French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, since last week’s deadly attack on its offices in Paris. The incident led to the deaths of 12 innocent French nationals, including several cartoonists.
The new cover features a comic of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) shedding a tear and holding up a sign reading ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie); the international slogan of solidarity for those who lost their lives in the incident.
The magazine has in the past come under fire for its controversial publications, including a previous series of cartoons depicting the Prophet of Islam. That, as well as a recent caricature of Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are believed to be the motivation behind last Wednesday’s attack.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, Essack stressed the importance of respecting the values and beliefs of religious minorities, particularly those generally misunderstood amongst the broader society.
“I feel that if we don’t protect the right to (religious) expression, even as Muslims, how are we going to be able to teach people about our beliefs and thoughts,” she said.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks come amidst a growing anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe, where ‘anti-islamization’ protests have become more and more frequent. In Germany, support continues to grow for the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) movement, whose weekly protests have seen a steady increase in support. But Essack suggested that sort of sentiment was stemming from a sense of fear, which in turn arose from ignorance.
She was also critical of the manner in which the Paris attacks were being reported by the global media, suggesting a fair bit of hypocrisy in this regard.
“If you look at some of the cartoons put out against Judaism, we get told that they can’t do that because it is against the beliefs of others. But when it comes to Islam, I feel that there is a lot of hypocrisy. People seem to view Islam as a punching bag,” she said.
She also attributed these negative perceptions to a constant ‘media bombardment’ on different platforms, which was bringing about a lack of tolerance towards the religious views and values of others.
“I think it has a lot do with acceptance, and only accepting what we’ve been taught is good and right. When it goes against what we see every day, we suddenly decide we can’t accept it,” she said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)