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The Arab world’s freedom crisis

European states made a mistake when they turned a blind eye and tolerated extremists

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

We live in a period where conscience and words are being chased, and restrictions are being imposed on those who are peaceful. What happened in France is only a part of a long series of crimes by those who believe that the world must think like them, write like them and believe like them.

Europe made a mistake the day it tolerated extremists and turned a blind eye to the terrorism of regimes and groups that sought to impose their opinions forcibly based on history, religion and politics.

Regional interference

The Charlie Hebdo attack is just an incident preceded by many similar others. It all began when the Iranian regime, under political and economic siege, instigated a battle against Salman Rushdie over his 1988 novel in Britain, threatening to kill him and support any terrorism operation targeting him. The UK defied the Iranian regime and did not ban the novel. It even provided Rushdie with protection. But the idea of chasing and threatening novelists, cartoonists and journalists became appealing to terrorists. It became part of a bargaining policy for those regime that differ with the West as a form of blackmail.

European states made a mistake when they turned a blind eye and tolerated extremists

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

For example, those who led the campaign against the Danish newspaper in recent years were the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and allies such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the media affiliated to them. In 2006, the besieged Syrian regime was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after its involvement in the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. The Syrian regime fabricated a huge demonstration in Damascus against the Danish cartoons, cartoonists and against the West despite that it generally does not allow except pro-regime demonstrations. This was followed by another demonstration in Beirut prearranged by Hezbollah, and in Cairo by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arabs walked behind the herd, although they did not read or know anything except what they were told, and consequently, many companies and supermarkets were involved in the boycott calls. No one said that Iran, which revolted against Rushdie's novel, had allowed thousands of books that insult the Prophet's companions.
No one asked why Assad and Hassan Nasrallah conducted a joint campaign with the extremists, while their markets were full of publications with worse than what was published in Denmark. And here we are again, witnessing a campaign that polishes the image of ISIS with justifications for the assault on the French magazine.

Of course, today is not like yesterday, and the events of 2006 are not like what is happening now. The people sympathizing with murderers and terrorists are fewer, and this time, there were no demonstrations in the Arab world. Some of those who are silent this time were perhaps afraid of the security services, some others were probably aware that extremists and corrupt regimes have a different agenda than what they aspire for and how they see the world around them. There are also those who play double standards, condemning terrorism in Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco, while justifying the murder of journalists and cartoonists in France. These are "ISIS" people on the terrorism camp, but they do not want to upset the securities in their own countries. They rely on history and sayings to justify their double standards.

Since the end of the 17th Century, more than three hundred years ago, the West has considered freedom of expression a main pillar of its culture. It is a freedom that was won with bloodshed and political battles. Those who refuse this culture do not have to live within it. They can search for a single-minded community that would give them the intellectual environment they are searching for. They cannot impose restrictions on the freedoms of thought in a world that was not created for them. They want to live in the West but do not want to coexist with its culture.

The irony is that the victims of terrorism are often those who sympathize with minority groups, such as those who were killed in Paris. They were liberals, anti-fascist and opposed to the far-right, defending the rights of minorities. France is the biggest European supporter of the Syrian revolution against Iranian regime. Those who want to please extremists will find themselves burned to death by extremism’s own flames.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on January 10, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.