France is Hated for Honoring Its Free Speech Martyrs

Source: France24

Charlie Hebdo killings are back again. This time these killings cannot just be blamed on Islamist terrorists, as was the case in 2017 when I last wrote about it. Now, a broader behavior among the Muslim community has been brought to light in wake of the recent incidents.

These incidents involved otherwise good citizens and practicing Muslims randomly erupting into dangerous acts of violence, either seriously injuring or ending up killing their victims. Unfortunately, most people attacked in these attacks hardly had anything to do with the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. However, one person stood out and is hailed today as a Martyr for Free Speech, as titled by the French Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, much to the ire of the Muslim community in France and elsewhere.

Samuel Paty, the heroic teacher, who was simply killed for doing his job. Lecturing his history class on freedom of speech.

France honored this martyr of free speech, as well as the victims of a church attack in Nice. It was in honor of Samuel Paty that the French government projected the cartoon of the Prophet that he was killed for showing in the class on a municipal building. However, if you hear the criticism of France from the anti-Islamophobia Muslim critics, you might think that France routinely puts such pictures in public spaces to deliberately irritate the Muslim community, which is not the case.

Source: twitter/

Unfortunately, France is being hated today for honoring its free speech martyrs.

As a Pakistani, I could only wish that the Pakistani heads of state and government would have the sense to individually honor Mashaal Khan, our free speech martyr, like that. How is that possible in a country that only encourages its citizens to resort to violence in reaction to alleged blasphemies, and is now advocating such draconian blasphemy laws on an international level.

The brutal beheading of Samuel Paty shook the conscience of France as a nation. France reacted to this shocking threat promptly, but perhaps in the opinion of many, inadequately. Though in the opinion of many others, the Muslim citizens in France, who have been unnecessarily hounded by the French law enforcement.

Source: Reuters/ekathimerini

Considering the oppressive colonial history of France, especially targeting the Algerian and other Western African Muslims, this is a concern. However, Muslims from these communities are perhaps the most assimilated with the French Republican values. As evident by the recent stabbing and beheading attacks, most of the violence came from Muslim immigrants from other parts of the world such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Perhaps the most shocking of them all was a Pakistani Barelvi immigrant who was supposedly the follower of Khadim Hussain Rizvi of the extremist Tehreek Labaik Pakistan. This should have alarmed the Pakistani state establishment and the civil society, but instead of condemning the violence, Pakistan chose to double down on its rejection of French outrage on this onslaught of mindless violence.

The charge against France was led by the increasingly regressing European counterpart Turkey, which has been spiraling away from its secular democratic character of late. Turkey’s Islamist authoritarian President Erdogan insulted Macron to be in need of a mental checkup for his “anti-Muslim” policies, while Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan mimicked the “Caliph” by rejecting French reaction as Islamophobia.

There are two important pieces that have appeared in the Foreign Policy magazine. One by Benjamin Haddad that defended Macron’s policy from a liberal viewpoint, especially when the liberal and progressive criticism on his crackdown on Islamism has been the harshest, apart from the ones from the anti-Islamophobia bloc. The other by Mustafa Aykol, a Turkish scholar on Islam associated with the CATO Institute who primarily conceded Macron’s criticism that Islam , yet criticized French laïcité as “illiberal,” while endorsing the “Anglo-Saxon” secularism values as practiced in Britain and the United States. He argued that Macron’s France was not helping Muslims resolve that crisis.

Of course, I tend to agree more with Haddad’s assessment of the situation and the unjustified attacks that Macron is enduring for his rather brave reaction to the recent Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. However, Aykol’s argument is not without its merits. It is important to recognize though that both frankly deal with the French political reality very differently. Aykol’s review, like that of many liberals and progressives, is more superficial, no matter how much such analyses may claim to account for France’s historical injustices with its largest minority, particularly in the context of the brutal colonial rule in Algeria and Western Africa. Haddad’s article did not ignore the French shortcomings in that area, neither did it omit the mention of Macron’s admission of France’s failure to address it.

However, acknowledging that an overwhelming, if not all French Muslims being peaceful and well-integrated with the Republican values is why Macron made the distinction between French Muslims and “Islamists.” His controversial proposals of policing school-going children, restricting homeschooling, have attracted new criticism, widely misreported by the anti-Islamophobia industry as discriminatory to Muslim children only. Frankly, such measures, which should include banning the Madrassah network, are more needed in Muslim majority countries such as Pakistan to curb radicalism.

We can dismiss France’s crackdown on Islamists or Muslims, depending on what you want to hear, as a political stunt for electoral survival of the third way liberals. But when will the intelligentsia of the Muslim community have a debate about the unacceptable and outrageous behavior of their fellow members of the faith in terms of not only endorsing but openly demanding beheading blasphemers and killing apostates? What is their view of defending curbing freedom of speech through intimidation when it is not discriminatory in the French culture at all.

What is more important here is the absence of liberal and progressive voices among Muslims to call for necessary reform. While they would disapprove of beliefs such as demands of beheading the blasphemers and killing the apostates in their private echo chambers, they are either too scared to or are simply disinterested in initiating a change or a reform. And when an external entity reacts to fill the void, they try their best to block those efforts in order to preserve the status quo of violent tantrums. They would indulge the victim complex of Western identity politics pursued by their representatives, but would not acknowledge preserving the secular, liberal, democratic values that allowed them the freedom to observe their faith without the fear of persecution and threat from the theological violence of their own faith.

Here, I must acknowledge that the onus of this reform does not lie as much on liberal and progressive Muslims in countries such as Pakistan, where they are themselves under constant threat from the very fundamentalism under discussion. As a matter of fact, many of the progressives and liberals, whose opinion in this regard is hard to separate from that of the position of Muslim Brotherhood, have little choice but to toe the line in order to dodge blasphemy allegations and attempts on their lives. The example of Mashaal Khan who was brutally murdered in his own university must be remembered to understand the gravity of the threat.

The biggest burden of responsibility lies on diaspora Muslim intellectuals who have not rejected their religious identity or even religiosity. Unfortunately, many former Muslims who denounce their religious identity in a Western democracy tend to react toward Islam in a hostile manner, perhaps as a reaction to the treatment they have received by the Muslim majority societies over the years. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, they become increasingly conservative and passionate advocates for individual freedom, at times ignoring the sensitivities of the realities of what Muslim minorities have to endure in the West. The diaspora liberal and enlightened Muslims, who are enjoying the religious freedom in Western democracies and might not have the same freedom to practice their faith differently in Muslim majority societies can dare to initiate reform movements in Islam without the fear of their lives, unlike those in countries like Pakistan. Even if these reform movements start as survival mechanisms to better assimilate in the West, it would offer Islam a path to reform similar to Reform Judaism that flourished among the Jewish diaspora in Europe. Perhaps 2,000 years of life in a state like Israel may not have made it possible.

It is crucial to mention Aykol here because he is perhaps the most prominent of the intellectuals from the Muslim community that recognizes that Islam is indeed in crisis with a special mention of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Apart from a history of writings advocating moderation in Islam, he recognizes the fact that it is important for Muslims to accept liberal values in a democracy and how an enlightened reform has been missing in Islam. He does not touch the Islamist terrorist threat issue in terms of French domestic security policy as much as and rightly so, because let’s face it, reactions to blasphemy against the Prophet brings a regressive reaction from most devoted Muslims, not just Islamist terrorists. He probably just does not see Muslims changing that reaction as a realistic path of reform. Though it must be recognized that the demands from the Western democracies to alter are also absurd and unacceptable.

Without this unaddressed crisis, the cycle of blasphemy and violent reaction will never stop.

If anything, Muslims globally should express their solidarity with France over #JeSuisSamuel and perhaps respect a gesture of tribute for once.

Aurat March Exposes a Moral Crisis in Pakistani Men

The opening week of March was revolutionary in terms of gender politics in Pakistan in many ways. Women leaders and activists made a greater impact than ever before for rallying for the Women’s March, and men all over the internet were triggered.

Leading the response of social conservative misogynistic Pakistani men was their patron saint, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar. Presented by the Pakistani conservative media as an intellectual, it is their answer to the rhetoric of educated liberal and progressive women who have started pushing the narrative of feminism in public discourse.

A long time anti-intellectual, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar had recently caught attention with a hideous woman-hating interview, and many of his plays apparently depict women in the same light. Not to take away the artist’s license, but when you pose yourself as a philosopher of life and preach about puritanical sexuality, then surely it becomes hard to separate art from propaganda. Especially when your top client is the state propaganda machinery anyway.

On a television talk show, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar lost his temper and verbally abused and attacked feminist analyst and commentator Marvi Sirmed. All when they were discussing the Pakistani feminist slogan “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” or “My Body, My Choice.” Not only did he degraded Marvi but just like all conversations about Aurat March, he alluded to those women being sexually corrupt. Such comments were also widely made across the conservative media as well as the allegation of implementing a foreign-funded agenda.

Unfortunately, most of the people in socially conservative Pakistan believe that it is women talking about their right to have as much sex they want. While it should indeed be a part of their freedom, but it is not the only freedom indeed. Women particularly are talking about their right to be left alone, to not be harassed or raped, and yes, even to have their reproductive choice.

With the likes of Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, even otherwise seemingly liberal figures, and unfortunately encouraged by ignorant social conservative politicians such as Faisal Javed Khan, conservative men in Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to harass women for speaking up for their rights. They have been slut-shaming the organizers and the participants of the Women’s March, and furthermore, stooping as low as to block the public space they have been trying to occupy.

This mindset is evident from the coverage of gotcha conservative “journalist” Yasir Shami, trying to blackmail and shame a male ally at the Aurat March by invoking Islamic traditions.

It was inspired by the same anti-intellectualism and outright bigotry that the Lal Masjid goons, the same infamous mosque in the middle of Islamabad that had threatened armed rebellion against the state, that vandalized Aurat March artwork and posters. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, an otherwise democratic politician, also threatened violence if the Aurat March materialized.

And if you think that this is extreme behavior only exhibited by the orthodox religious conservatives, there is no shortage of their supposed moderate and liberal allies who are socially conservative at heart and still want to perpetuate regressive roles for women. A similar mindset was at work when a conservative lawyer filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court to block Aurat March on the charge that it was against Islamic values. Challenged by the Women Democratic Forum led by Ismat Shahjahan, the relatively liberal judge Athar Minallah threw the petition out.

It was an act of sheer courage itself that brave women political workers of the Women Democratic Front and the Awami Workers Party led by Tooba Syed went from street to street to put up posters for the March 8 event. This was probably unimaginable a few years back in the Islamic Republic but the courageous progressive women have made their presence felt on the ground in recent years.

This war of words between social conservatives and progressive women and their male allies have turned International Women’s Day into a battle of ideologies. However, the saddest bit is that in a country where vulnerable women and children have little protection from rape, the patriarchy is trying to suffocate and eliminate any dissent rebelling against their oppressive structure. At least, it had some immediate impact as Geo TV Network was forced to end their recently concluded contract with Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar.

However, none of the bullying and abuse has been able to stop these women to have their voices heard. The scenes in their press conferences chanting the slogan that has become the bane of the life of conservative men in Pakistan were surreal. The way women marched this March 8 under the banner of Women Democratic Front has probably never been seen ever since Zia-ul-Haq took power in Pakistan. Each moment of the March was revolutionary and we can hear and see the foundations of Pakistan.

At least, their morals have been laid bare for the whole world to see.

That’s why women say, “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi.”