As far as we can see, it is safe to say that Western views on Islam in the last few decades have been particularly unfavorable, and this is perhaps the main issue for Muslim immigrant communities since it directly harms and affects their daily lives and the relationships they build within the country that has become their new home.
This animosity poses a real challenge for Western Muslims especially in terms of explaining to their children the shocking violence they are witnessing.
Whether these Muslim communities have immigrated by choice or they were forcibly displaced, there is no denying that in both cases they are citizens with the same rights and duties as any other non-Muslim citizen.
The closest comparison, in this case, is the Jewish community and the African community; both have experienced hostility and discrimination and they have been victims of stereotyping just like Muslims.
Muslim immigrant communities have long faced aggression and their moral rights have been disrespected repeatedly. An example of this is the latest highly sensitive issue of the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon Him).
Iraqi protestors carry posters during a demonstration against French President Emmanuel Macron in front of the French embassy in Baghdad on October 26, 2020. (AFP)
Other communities have faced similar issues including anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and racial discrimination against Africans. Some of these issues were resolved after these groups exerted certain pressures on governments.
For instance, Jews remained consistent in their resistance of these acts until laws were instated criminalizing anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust, while Africans relied on consistent peaceful resistance and as a result, they received important gains that lead to further empowerment, thus reaching a point where laws have been instated to protect them.
It is evident that Muslim immigrants remain actively involved and loyal to the issues of their countries of origin, which is a reflection of their high sense of moral responsibility and integrity. While this may be tremendously commendable, the problem lies in the fact that these immigrants have failed to establish movements confronting the discrimination they constantly face in their host countries.
Jews and Africans have remained resolute against this discrimination and made sure their voices were heard by the entire world. These two models have paved a clear path for Muslims to follow. As admirable as it is for immigrants to stay devoted to the issues of their home country, they must also strive to address the issues they face in their host country.
This of course does not exempt the rest of the Islamic world from supporting immigrants on matters related to peace, security, and human rights, especially since these matters affect all Muslims and not just immigrants.
In fact, the latest infringement on sacred Muslim symbols should be seen as a humanitarian issue. True freedom is based on equality, cultural pluralism, as well as harmonious ethnic and religious diversity, which means that any infringement on Africans and Jews also harms Muslims.
Muslims, keeping a safe social distance, perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque after Saudi authorities ease the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
We have witnessed the world make an effort to avoid making racial slurs against Africans; we have also seen mindsets shifting away from using harmful language towards people with disabilities. Across all social mediums, political correctness is now highly celebrated and promoted especially when talking about Jews and women.
This trend has become part of our social consciousness internationally, and we have come to consider renouncing prejudices as part of our rights that deserve to be protected by law.
For this reason, it is no wonder that the recent derogatory rhetoric and the latest controversy that has been stirred as a result of the offensive cartoons of Prophet Mohammed have become a top priority for the Islamic world.
Such Islamophobic acts belittle the beliefs of millions of Muslims in every European country and in America as well. It is unreasonable for the West to continue to uphold this double standard and they must realize that just like any other minority, Muslims are legitimate citizens that deserve to have their rights respected.
In this case, repeating the term freedom of expression is unjustified and uncalled for due to many reasons, namely, because we haven’t seen this term being used when it comes to Jews, Africans, or even people with special needs. In fact, slurs and caricatures mocking these groups have been criminalized.
We must admit that unrestricted freedom of expression leads to the infringement on the rights of others. In my opinion, offending people’s beliefs should never be allowed to fall under freedom of expression. We must start emphasizing collective rights, which means that individual liberties are respected as long as they bring no harm to others.
According to philosopher Montesquieu, liberty is not the freedom to do whatever we want: if we have the freedom to harm others, others will also have the freedom to harm us. Let us consider this, if an individual believed he was free to run a red light, wouldn’t we consider this a violation of community rights and that he should be held legally accountable for this misdemeanor?
These offensive cartoons are not only an encroachment on others’ beliefs and rights, but they also incite violence, and the cartoonists themselves know very well in advance that their cartoons may elicit a violent reaction. Being aware of this fact, makes them an accomplice to the crimes perpetrated by the terrorists who committed these violent crimes as a direct response to those cartoons.
Iraqi people gather during a protest against the publications of a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad in France and French President Emmanuel Macron's comments, outside the French embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, October 26, 2020. (Reuters)
Both of these actions are a clear offense, even if one of them is a moral crime, and the other is a murder. We often hear people say that a moral crime is less harmful than a murder; however, this type of justification is repeated only by the aggressor or those who justify the aggressor’s actions and never by the victim.
Thereby, justifying the cartoonist’s actions would be the same as justifying the actions of the terrorist, because in both cases, we are ignoring the harm that befalls others.
Therefore, it is safe to say that this justification is never the result of sound and logical thought or a just conscience. The strange thing about this is that this type of justification would not be present in the conversation if the drawing had been about an African American or a Native American.
Therefore, drawing Prophet Muhammad with a turban in the form of a bomb with a fuse that is about to detonate is nothing less than a form of moral aggression and an insult to the religion of Islam by painting it as a religion that advocates for terrorism with a terrorist prophet and that terrorism is part of the Islamic ideology. These are extreme and unfair prejudices that cause varying reactions that may reach dangerous degrees of violence, as was the case in France.
Mocking other people’s beliefs is not a right, it is an immoral and inhumane insult that should be held legally accountable, and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammed does not fall under freedom of expression. All that remains now is to establish laws that hold the aggressors accountable in the same way as it does with anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, as this should be a right for all Muslim minorities residing in Europe and the United States of America.
Nothing will change without intervention from Muslim immigrant communities to push for instating the ruling of the European Court and establish it as a law that protects the civil rights of these Muslim communities which should be treated as equals to other communities that have established similar laws.
Finally, since we all agree on the importance of condemning terrorism and the need to confront it by all means, we should also agree that insulting Prophet Mohammed is an oppressive form of aggression, and it should go without saying, that associating the name and image of the Prophet Muhammad with the image of a terrorist is a great crime and violation of all human rights, and this must be made publicly clear in order to promote a peaceful awareness regarding the civil rights of Muslim immigrant communities.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Al-Ittihad.
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