Freedom Can Be Reckless Without Fear of Poisonous Mushrooms (Charlie Hebdo From a Muslim Perspective)
Did the cartoons of Nazi antisemitic propaganda before the Second World War really contribute to a change of German perception about Jews and other groups? The death of millions of minorities in the Nazi holocaust is often said to have resulted from a gradual but systematic process of constant pillorying, mocking, stereotyping, and of caricaturing multiple groups as subhuman or worthless. The Nazi propagandists largely achieved what they planned inside Germany by robbing minorities of their humanity dignity, and ultimately people reacted the propaganda intended.
In 1930s the world saw how powerful propaganda can have a terrible effect of reinforcing seemingly built-in racial, ethnic and religious misconceptions. 75 years after this organized campaign of hate, many minority groups are still are dealing with the aftermath of the demeaning caricatures.
The landmark Nuremberg Trials of postwar Europe executed the notorious cartoonist Julius Streicher by hanging. He had never killed someone directly in his entire life, his crimes were of a different sort. The jury ruled that Streicher had helped to create an atmosphere in which Jews were doomed to get killed enmass. Streicher was convicted of “crimes against humanity” even though he never physically harmed anyone. As Streicher’s case shows, cartoons can create an existential threat to certain community if conducted irresponsibly and in the right pretext.
Rising Islamophobia and Charlie Hebdo
Six decades after Streicher’s conviction, many Muslims worry that the lessons may be forgotten behind claims of advancing the unfettered freedom of “European’s mores”. The murders of Charlie Hebdo staff inside in their offices was a horrific tragedy. The victims have justly received sympathy from across the religious divide including both the Presidents of Palestine and Israel, Abbas and Netanyahu respectively. It now seems however that the terror wrought by those twelve deaths in Paris will lead into a second tragedy: a deepening backlash against Muslims in Europe and beyond.
Before the most recent violence, an outcry in the Muslim world over the controversial cartoons in Charlie Hebdo was unable to bring any condemnation from international human rights organizations or even European governments, most of whom found little problem with them.
Backsliding on European support for Palestinian recognition has clearly taken place. After Sweden announced its recognition of the Palestinian state in defiance of European norms in October of 2014, popular opinion against the move has halted any further such action in Europe. There are no European Union MPs that dare suggest following following Sweden anymore. At the same time, talk of the possible relabeling of Hamas on the EU terror list has been tabled for the moment. At the same time, the rise of far right wing extremists in Europe is causing concern for minority groups.
Muslims increasingly face a dilemma of whether to stay in paradoxically “pluralistic” Europe while compromising some of their fundamental values and beliefs. Led by the success of the firebrand Fox News Channel in the United States, major international media outlets compete with each other to get foothold in the booming Islamophobic market. While not all are necessarily hate-driven, they feed a narrative that drives fear of Muslim people.
The wider Muslim community has been susceptible to a simplistic overreaction when prominent Western cartoonists depict their religious symbols. It is clear from the Charlie Hebdo violence that this generalized world trend is increasingly problematic. But the view of many across the Muslim world of 1.6 billion people is that Charlie Hebdo’s latest cartoons have compounded Europe’s struggle to live with its Muslim citizens and added to popularized stereotypes. The horrific and condemnable violent attack on Charlie Hebdo for a mere sketch shocked all the Abrahamic faiths alike. It is another day of useless violence and hatred that is adding to a growing toll on all sides. Through it all, European Muslims must go ahead knowing that the unrelenting media bias against their community is set to continue without a successful refocus on unity rather than division across the world.