Unlike the Fatwa against author Salmon [sic] Rushdie in 1989, or the murder of Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam in 2004, the attack on Charlie Hebdo has received an avalanche of publicity and outcry from the public at large. The majority of this outcry has been leveled at the violence carried out by Muslims against the secular publication, and a wonderfully large portion of that anger coming from the Islamic community itself. But there is another outcry aimed against the satirical editorial; the cartoons, this group says, incite the violence.
Among the latter group, I’m unsurprised to see The Watchdog staff in their editorial from January 27th. They are a professional group of media students, after all, and the media has placed itself mostly in the company of the censors, refusing—in this age of visual journalism—to show exactly which cartoons were causing this crises, all the while publically pondering if they had “gone too far this time.” Exactly like the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon riots and murders from a decade ago, and exactly like the Salmon Rushdie affair.
I am pleasantly surprised to see that Ghina Mubin personally opposes shooting people (a view not shared by Mohammed, who himself had many poets like Abu Afak and others who mocked him killed). But the issue at hand is not the moral quandaries of murder, nor is this letter addressed to Ms. Mubin. It has rather to do with the subject of freedom of speech, which Ghina correctly points out sometimes includes “freedom to hate.” How else could a tolerant, liberal school like Bellevue College permit, let alone support, an ideology that preaches that homosexuals are transgressors and abominations? Or that unbelievers are to be fought until they willingly submit to a peaceful, second-class citizenship? I am no theologian, but I have read the Quran. For myself, the explicit calls to hatred, condemnation, and violence towards unbelievers should be a far greater outrage against our finely tuned moral sensitivities than any cartoon imaginable.
The experience of being hated, for gays, Muslims, atheists like myself, or anyone else, is a subjective one. Two years ago, for example, BC’s own Yoshiko Harden talked to students about how calling a black person “articulate” was actually a racial micro-aggression, regardless of the intent of the speaker or the most obvious meaning of the sentence. In a world where a simple compliment can be racist, a cartoon can be “Islamophobic,” and—one can’t ignore the corollary—a religious text can be homophobic and sexist, freedom of speech and freedom of religion both necessarily imply a freedom to hate. And why shouldn’t it? I happen to hate rapists and murderers myself, and reserve the right to say so.
As Ghina’s failure to research reminds us, Nazi-style censorship—not free speech—is the first step towards tyranny. To the Watchdog staff, I wish to remind you that freedom of speech and of the press is the platform on which you stand. Tread carefully when undermining yourself.