We Join the Paris Unity Rally but We Embrace a Different Kind of Freedom - © Image: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images - Over 40 world leaders participated in the Paris rally including several from Arab countries
© Image: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images – Over 40 world leaders participated in the Paris rally including several from Arab countries

Muslims’ controversy is overwhelming. It is neither Islam nor Muslims responsible for the terrorist attacks in Paris; it is rather beyond. Freedom of speech and journalism is dearly embraced in this part of the world demonstrated by the unity rally in Paris, but what’s about the Muslim-majority world, from which several political leaders joined the rally?

A spectrum of Muslim, Christian and Jewish dignitaries and world political leaders joined thousands of people in the unity rally in Paris on Sunday, 11th January 2015. The rally aims at supporting freedom of speech and solidarity against terrorism.

Many Muslims marched in the rally demonstrating their disproval of violence and terrorism on one hand, and their support of the freedom of journalism on the other. Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the great mosque of Paris and president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith was at the front of the rally.

Among the world leaders joined the rally are several Arab and Muslim leaders such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra, Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Bin Zayed, Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Salah Al-Deen Mizwar and the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shukri.

The participation of the Arab and Muslim leaders comes after castigating responses across the Arab and Islamic world against the terrorist attack in Paris. The League of Arab States strongly decried the attack, while Al-Azhar Mosque and University described it as terrorist and declared that Islam refuses any acts of violence.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation decried the violent act and emphasised that terrorism is the enemy of Islam and a terrorist attack does not represent anyone else other than those who did it.

Saudi Arabia condemned the attack in a statement to the governmental Saudi Press Agency “The kingdom strongly condemns and deplores this cowardly terrorist act, which the Islamic religion as well as all other religions and faiths refuse, and [the kingdom] offer their condolences to the families of the victims and the government and people of the friendly republic of France, and wish the injured a fast recovery.”

The committee at the Council of Islamic Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia (Majlis Hay’at Kibar al-‘Ulama) described the attack against Charlie Hebdo newspaper as terrorist. The secretary general of the council, Fahd Bin Majed said: “The council condemns this terrorist attack, which is not acceptable under any circumstances, and which is refused by the Islamic religion.”

The unity rally, which brought over 40 world leaders together, should make us feel proud. Leaders from all walks of life join hands to defy terrorism. Muslim and Arab leaders seem to support freedom of speech in this part of the world, while a different kind of freedom is allowed in the Middle East and North Africa.

Speaking about the freedom allowed, the Egyptian Islamic cleric Mostafa Al-Adwy said just a day after the attack: “The prophets of Allah were mocked but the mockers were punished by Allah for their mockery. It is just like what happened now [in France], Allah be praised. Those who mocked our prophet Muhammad, even though the whole world is crying about what happened to them; I swear by the name of Allah, we are happy. We are happy that Allah could take revenge against the mockers of our prophet Muhammad. Those who ridiculed our prophet have met their deaths.”

“Even blind people avenged for their prophet.” the Tunisian Islamic cleric Bechir Bin Hasen said in a released video by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “Therefore, the punishment for anyone who curses the prophet Muhammad is to be killed. His killing is sanctioned by a number of Quranic verses, by the Sunna, and by the consensus of the scholars of the past,” Bin Hasen said.

Right after Paris terrorist spree, cleric Bin Hasen condemned the attack and described it as terrorist.

At the time Arab leaders are marching in the streets of Paris and looking good for their support of freedom, the Saudi liberal blogger and activist Raif Badawi is serving a ten-year-sentence in prison and 1,000 lashes, 50 every Friday for 20 weeks, for insulting Islam. Badawi started the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, an online forum for public debate, and was arrested in June 2012 for it. Badawi was accused of apostasy, insulting Islam after his website had been shut down.

The severe and rather inhumane sentence of Badawi in Saudi Arabia, the “freedom of speech” for Islamic clerics to inject poisonous ideas in the minds of their people, the governmental restrictions on the freedom of expression in all Arab and Muslim majority countries turn the words and participation of the Arab leaders in the rally into emptiness.

The problem is neither Islam, nor Muslims; it is rather the governance of political and religious institutions.

The radical religious discourse accompanied with injustice and corruption produce terrorism. Fighting terrorism starts when western and Muslim-majority countries acknowledge the fact that the problem is rather religious and political governance and not the people or their religion.

On a level of denial, some Islamic clerics incite violence, and then the same clerics condemn those who carry out violent acts. On a different level of denial, Arab leaders support freedom of speech defying terrorism and extremism in the West but they choose not to do so in their own countries such as in the case of Badawi in Saudi Arabia.

Recently, Egyptian president, Abdulfattah Al-Sisi, has launched an initiative to revolutionise religious thinking to fight against extremism. “I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralised over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonising the entire world,” Al-Sisi said in a speech celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, which coincided with New Year’s Day. “You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it [religion] and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective,” he added.

Reformation of religious thinking might be a necessity for the Arab world and there should be a collective action to encounter extremism by several governments and religious institutions in the Arab and Muslim-majority world. Any form of religious instrumentalisation, extremism or fundamentalism should be forbidden.

By Hakim Charles

Hakim Charles studied political science of the Middle East, European Studies, journalism and linguistics. He has been lecturing at different German universities since 2011 on issues related to ideology and the interplay of power thereof in socio-political life, and religion and its relationship to contemporary politics in the regions of West Asia and North Africa, especially Egypt and Syria. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Mashreq Politics & Culture Journal (MPC Journal) since 2014 and has published over 100 articles in different languages, academic and otherwise, in a wide spectrum of on-line and printed newspapers, journals and think tanks. His current research focuses on Islam-inspired political ideologies such as Islamist extremism and Salafism, radicalisation, de-radicalisation processes in Germany as well as peace and conflict in the Middle East.

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