Opinion: Should Images of the Prophet Mohammad (swt) Be Allowed in the Media?

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This ‘freedom of speech’ in mainstream media is specifically meant to vilify Islam, to belittle and mock the right to believe one’s religion. It also bizarrely treats terrorism lightly in a weird and sickening attempt to be humorous. 

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has republished cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (swt) that had initially resulted in a violent and deadly attack against the magazine in 2015. The cartoons were recently republished to mark the start of the terrorism trial of 14 people accused as accomplices in the attack when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi went on a gun rampage at the paper’s offices in Paris. But does this provocative act of defiance further fuel anti-Muslim sentiment?

Protestors in France, Chechnya, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen marched in streets against the cartoons. It is important to remember that the general conclusion from Islamic scholars is that any form of visual depiction of the Prophet is forbidden in Islam, and therefore blasphemous. But these cartoons are grossly disrespectful and not merely just a generic human representation.

In an editorial note, accompanying the new edition, Charlie Hebdo’s publishing director of Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau explained why the caricatures were being reprinted: “We will never give up. The hatred that struck us is still there and, since 2015, it has taken the time to mutate, to change its appearance, to go unnoticed and to quietly continue its ruthless crusade,” he wrote. But where does this hatred stem from and why is it justifiable for a prophet to be branded as a terrorist?

Charlie Hebdo is not the only publication to create derogatory cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (swt.) In 2005, the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten also published cartoons, which it then republished in 2008. And in 2010 Pakistani deputy attorney general Muhammad Azhar Siddique launched a criminal investigation after a ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest that was hosted on Facebook. 

There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to intentionally cause harm and death, with a misguided and warped belief that one is protecting the honour of Islam. True Islam does not condone terrorism. But this ‘freedom of speech’ in mainstream media is specifically meant to vilify Islam, to belittle and mock the right to believe one’s religion. It also bizarrely treats terrorism lightly in a weird and sickening attempt to be humorous. 

Originally when many new agencies and media outlets published the images within their news reportage, Associated Press was one of the only agencies that took the moral stance to not release the offensive images. “We made a determination that showing a caricature of God in this context was just as offensive as showing a caricature of a prophet and hence decided to not to use the cover image,” said Santiago Lyon, AP’s vice president and director of photography, in a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog.

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But French president Emmanuel Macron has said: “It’s never the place of a president of the Republic to pass judgment on the editorial choice of a journalist or newsroom, never. Because we have freedom of the press…There is in France a freedom to blaspheme which is attached to the freedom of conscience. I am here to protect all these freedoms. In France, one can criticize a president, governors, blaspheme,” he said.

But many have called out Macron’s hypocrisy after he ranted at Le Figaro’s reporter Georges Malbrunot, who published a story about how Macron wanted to work with Hezbollah despite considering the organisation’s armed wing as terrorist.

In an interview with TRT World, Yasser Louati, the head of the Justice and Liberties for all Committee (CJL) said, “Macron’s outburst towards George Malbrunot is the umpteenth sign of hypocrisy with regard to the former…He can support Charlie Hebdo when it publishes racist cartoons against ethnic minorities like Muslims and immigrants, he can support the likes of Eric Zemmour (a far-right columnist), he can give a special interview to a far-right magazine like Valeurs Actuelles, but he is offended when journalists publish news he wants to conceal or analysis he disagrees with.”

It’s important to remember in 1995, Charlie Hebdo led a movement to ban the racist and anti-Semitic National Rally. So why does this courtesy not extend to Islamophobic images? In French law, hate speech is defined as “public injury” based on “a person or group’s origin in or belonging to a particular ethnicity, nation, race, or religion.” But these images of Prophet Muhammad (swt) are considered as legitimate satire. Profaning the sacred shouldn’t be disguised as freedom of speech.

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