On Tuesday 13 January the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo released to the media its first issue after the murderous attack at its offices, which left 12 of its staff dead and 11 injured. The surviving employees of Charlie Hebdo swore to uphold its tradition of lampooning all religions, politicians, celebrities and news events. The magazine’s lawyer, Richard Malka, told French radio that: “In each edition for the past 22 years there has not been one where there have not been caricatures of the pope, Jesus, priests, rabbis, imams or Muhammad,” he said, stressing that Charlie Hebdo saw itself as “not a violent paper but an irreverent one”.
The cover of the new edition carried a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad crying and holding a sign that said “Je suis Charlie” under the words “All is forgiven’. But this rankled Islamic scholars at Egypt’s Dar al-Iftaa’, the body in charge of issuing fatwa (Islamic edicts), who were quick to note that the depiction of the Prophet was a ‘racist act’ that was sure to spark ‘unjustified provocation’ among millions of Muslims.
So much for Muslims and Westerners seeing eye to eye. While the Western World was swamped with sympathy towards the Charlie Hebdo, and full support of freedom of expression, the Muslim World displayed mixed response.
Egyptians from different social and cultural backgrounds reacted differently to the recent attack on the French satirical newspaper. Some agree with the western point of view and consider the attack a horrendous act of terrorism; while others, despite condemning terrorism, believe that this cannot be the work of Muslims and that it is part of a carefully designed conspiracy by Jews. Still many other Egyptians believe that the caricaturists got what they deserved for offending Islam and its Prophet.
Watani interviewed people on the streets of Cairo and captured the opinion of Internet users on Facebook and news sites.
On a round of Cairo streets, Watani’s Milad Zaky sounded the opinion of passersby on the issue. It turned out most of street vendors had never heard of Charlie Hebdo, what their staff did or what happened to them. The middle-aged Umm Zeinab who sells bread said she had heard there were demonstrations in France against terrorism, but she didn’t understand why. A nearby kiosk keeper who heard what she said was quick to retort: “They ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad and got what they deserved. Anyone who offends the Prophet should be put to death.”
But Muhammad, a taxi driver in his forties, expressed a mellower opinion. “If we don’t like what the Charlie Hebdo does, we should combat it in the same way by printing in our papers why we don’t agree with it. We shouldn’t offend anyone, because this is what tolerant Islam is about.”
Reaping what they sowed
The Internet, naturally, was the venue informed bloggers used to publish their views. Michael Girgis wrote sarcastically on his Facebook page “Egypt advises against travel to France”. However, Nesrine Ali took the matter more seriously saying “Call me a terrorist if you like but I believe that anyone who ridicules the Prophet deserves to die.”
Milad Hanna, a 29 year old journalist, believes that France is now reaping what it sowed. “France used to indirectly support Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) whom it refused to label as a terrorist group,” he said. “However, I strongly condemn responding to cartoons and writings by means of violence. If we choose to reply to freedom of opinion by killing we will be no better than the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. Even if we disagree with one’s ideas we should reply to opinions with counter opinions.”
“It is clear that IS is trying to convey the message to the Western World that it is capable of attacking them at home,” said accountant Sameh Magdy, 34. “Al-Qaeda and IS are using their fundamentalist supporters to create chaos and fear in European societies and to prove they exist in the heart of Europe.”
Teresa Shenouda, 23, graduate of the Faculty of Pedagogy, condemns the attack and believes the entire world must stand up against terrorism. “Terrorism is now targeting Europe and I find it unjustified to resort to this bloody revenge over a newspaper’s editorial policy,” she said.
Egypt’s most widely visited news site www.youm7.com also held many opinions. A reader who goes by the name Masry (Egyptian) wrote “The blasphemous cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad date back to 2006. Where were you since then? May all those who manipulate facts in the name of religion be cursed!”
“We all know that IS is American-made, that is Jewish-made,” commented a reader called Shadi, “I believe the terrorist attack in France is nothing but a Zionist reply to France’s vote in favour of a Palestinian State at the UN Security Council last December.”
A reader called Samira agrees with the Zionist conspiracy theory. “It is as clear as the sun,” she said. “These are Jews who want to defame Islam and Muslims and create an anti-Islam fitna (sedition). But they are mistaken because they have not and will not succeed in their plan; Islam is and will always be steadfast. O Allah, make their plots against us a cause for their destruction, Amen.”
Reader Ramzi Ahmed Askar attacked Nagi al-Ghatrifi, former Assistant Foreign Minister, who had stated that the shooting at Charlie Hebdo was a normal response to the weekly’s—and the West’s— continuous attack against Islam’s sacred matters. “Dear Sir, I don’t understand how anyone who held a distinguished position at the Foreign Ministry would make such a statement?” Dr Askar wondered. “The newspaper used to make fun of all religions; why are Muslims the only ones who kill those who ridicule their faith or their prophet? Radical Muslims believe they are God and his Prophet’s bodyguards as if God is unable to protect His religion and His prophet. Killing these journalists will never stop satire but will raise the antagonism of the whole world against Islam. These extremists may think they have won the battle but I am sure the only thing they achieved is that they lost their cause. Nobody sympathises with Muslims anymore; they are labelled all around the world as lawless terrorists who resort to the law of the jungle to achieve their purposes.”
When infidels die
Many Arab opinions were expressed on the Algerian news site www.alkhabar.com. “You have sown thorns and, in the name of freedom of expression, conspired against Palestine,” wrote Ain Yacoub Mosteghnam addressing the West. “In the name of freedom of expression you have destroyed Iraq, defamed prophets, committed atrocious manslaughter in Afghanistan, conspired against Syria, bombarded innocents in Libya, blessed the blockade of Gaza and caused sedition in Lebanon. Now you are reaping what you have sown.”
“This is the result of insulting our Prophet,” said a reader from South Africa. “Although our religion does not incite us to kill, we believe that every person must be held accountable for his or her deeds.”
“I strongly condemn the terrorist attack that was committed in France and I can’t find the words to describe how I feel about it,” commented Khilaf Saidi from France. “What these criminals have committed has no relation whatsoever to Islam, the religion of peace, mercy and coexistence.”
“The imprints of the Mossad are very clear in this operation… Hey Muslims, please wake up,” wrote Abbas al-Gazaeri.
Another reader who identified himself as Bashir said “Hundreds of Muslims die every day and it goes unnoticed but when 12 infidels die, the world is on high alert. I condemn such terrorist attacks but I am also against giving them more than their due.”
“What ‘crime’ is everyone talking about?” wondered Khalid. “Isn’t what the Charlie Hebdo did a crime too? Ridiculing the Prophet and insulting him isn’t crime enough? Isn’t this a provocation to Muslims? Where have the real Muslims who are zealous about their Prophet and their faith gone? Shame on you, you only care about the increase in wages and in the price of commodities.”
Ahmed Muhammad Sabet wondered why the attack on Charlie Hebdo occurred at this particular time; especially that the first blasphemous cartoons were posted way back in 2006. “The Jihadis or the members of IS that we saw on TV raising their guns and shouting that they avenged the Prophet did more damage to Islam than the cartoonists. I wonder why they committed their crime shortly after France voted in the Security Council in favour of a Palestinian State. This raises questions as to whether there were any other motives behind the attack,” Sabet said.
Judge Ihab Wahbi, leader with Nidaa’ Misr Tahya Misr coalition and spokesman of al-Surh al-Misry al-Hurr Party, agrees with Sabet. In a statement which he made on 10 January, he said that the series of attacks that hit France including the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the hostage crises that followed were planned by a Zionist lobby which does its best to create animosity between the Muslims and the West and to make France refrain from supporting the Arabs’ just causes. “The recent French vote at the UN and President Sisi’s visit to France and his attempt to create an Arab-European economic partnership makes us understand very clearly who will benefit from these attacks,” he said.
“Using Arabs to do the shooting and holding hostages at a Jewish supermarket is a trick to place the Jews above suspicion,” Wahbi said. “But if we look for who really benefits from these acts, it will be crystal clear who the real masterminds are.”
Sisi: Condolences, and call for religious reform
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was quick to condemn the terrorist act, pledged Cairo’s support to fight terrorism, and offered condolences to the French and the families of the victims.
President Sisi, however, had already repeatedly warned against terrorism and its escalation worldwide, and had called for religious reform. The first day of 2015 saw him make a call for reform of the Islamic religious address as he participated in a celebration held in Cairo by the [Islamic] Endowments Ministry to mark the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
The President gave a speech in which he said that we need to see a change in the religious address in order to change misleading Islamic concepts that produce division and destruction. The question, he said, is not about religion but about erroneous concepts, so it is necessary to reform religious discourse. He said that interpretations developed over centuries have made the Muslim World a “source of worry, danger, killing and destruction to the whole world”. He called for a “religious revolution” and urged al-Azhar to promptly develop a religious address of moderate teachings that forbid violence and extremism.
Endowments Minister Mukhtar Gomaa, and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb were both present. Dr Gomaa pledged that 2015 would be the year of renewing the religious discourse with a plan to face extremist ideologies. He announced the establishment of a library that would include the writings of moderate lslamic and Christian writers and intellectuals. Copies of such books, he said, will be given to libraries of youth centres, schools and cultural palaces.
The ministry, Dr Gomaa said, has set a programme to train imams and preachers to spread values of peace, tolerance, and non-discrimination. The programme will be executed in 10 languages, he said.
14 January 2015