|Charlie Hebdo post attack cover|
Nearly a week on from this tragedy, as the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo are about to release a defiant new issue with an unprecedented three million copy print run expected to be in demand worldwide, the mainstream media are still grappling with how to deal with the “problem” of reporting the story without re-publishing the images which sparked the attack. But I see no moral dilemma here. In any news story I would expect a newspaper or website to publish relevant illustrative photographs or images. Short of graphic depictions of bloody slaughter or gross obscenity pertinent images would normally accompany the narrative and there is no doubt in my mind that should be the case with this story. I understand that newspapers may not want to endanger themselves or their staff but if ever there was a case for holding a journalistic line, even if that meant rival publications colluding to gain safety in numbers, this was it.
In the event if the Jihadists aim was to suppress caricatures of Mohammed being circulated they were obviously unaware of the Streisand effect since Charlie Hebdo’s images of the prophet have now become ubiquitous on social media and will also appear prominently in the next edition.
I have no sympathy with the idea that re-publishing such images will further alienate and offend mainstream Muslim opinion: Muslims are not the intended target. However, the ideology that underpins attempts to suppress our freedom of expression is fair game and it is difficult to imagine how this could be effectively satirised without using the speech or images it aims to censor. Satire entails mockery and defiance of power; Islamism aims to be powerful so it is the islamist’s fault their shibboleths are in the firing line.
Very few people would want to gratuitously give offence to a section of our community, most of us aim to be polite and at least tolerant of the foibles of our neighbours. But tolerance is a two way street and in a pluralistic society it is beholden on mainstream Islam not to go looking for offense where it is not intended or to attempt to inflict its taboos on other worldviews. If, as Anjem Choudary says, “Muslims don’t believe in the concept of freedom of expression” they are at liberty to live their lives that way but must accept that liberal democracies do believe in it passionately and so will sometimes be exposed to views that conflict with their beliefs. Although, while it may be a theological truth I suspect that most Muslims in the west are much happier with freedom of expression than Choudary suggests. Islam is not the monolith of consistent belief and practice it is sometimes assumed to be and my hope now is that liberal minded Muslims will use this opportunity to seize their religion back from the fundamentalists and the fascism of the Islamists