Why the Charlie Hebdo attack is not about images or free speech (COMMENTARY)

HR-headshot-577x640By HUSSEIN RASHID
c. 2015 Religion News Service

(RNS) Ostensibly, the horrific attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris was because of the publication’s satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad.

But to view the assault as simply about images of Muhammad is to accept a long-standing narrative about Muslim sensitivity to portrayals of Muhammad, which plays into conceptions of Muslims as superstitious savages.

Just as important, arguing that this attack is about free speech misses what may be the attackers’ true motivation, which is to wreak havoc and destruction.

Regarding images: Muhammad is a powerful symbol for Muslims. The Quran calls him a “beautiful role model,” and he is considered to be the most perfect Muslim.

It is generally accepted by Muslims that images of Muhammad, or any other person, do not appear in mosques.

However, this ban does not extend outside the mosque. Various Muslim cultures show a comfort with painting and figural representation. Images of Muhammad, his family, prophets and other holy figures exist. They are on display in museums throughout the world. In some, the faces are obscured, but in many, the faces are on full display.

While more common among Shiite communities, some of the most well-known depictions of Muhammad come from Sunni Turkey. In nonliturgical spaces, images of holy figures abound, including Muhammad.

The tradition of representation is very much alive throughout the Muslim communities, and books such as Sufi Comics demonstrate a desire for learning through the image.

Still, there is a strong belief that any depiction of Muhammad is a problem. In part, this is due to a lack of religious literacy, and in part to a puritanical, nihilistic vision of Islam supported by Saudi Arabia.

The result is that Muhammad is actually turned into an idol. He is turned into the God, which Muslims do not believe can be depicted at all.

Then there’s the free-speech argument.

Charlie Hebdo has a right to publish whatever it wants. At the same time, the material was racist. It did not matter if the images were going after Muslims, blacks or Jews; it was always about reinforcing racial and religious hierarchies. In a country where women’s headgear is legislated, religious expression is curtailed and a former prime minister calls minorities “scum,” what Hebdo does seems like bullying.

In no way is there any justification for violence against the paper. However, this is a community that sees itself as besieged. What the attackers are attempting to do is capitalize on that feeling. They provided a sense of revenge and power.

It would not be surprising to find out that they hope to create an overreaction against Muslims, both at official and popular levels. This type of response would allow the extremists to create a larger pool for recruiting members and drive the larger Muslim community to feeling even more alienated. We now understand that the attackers were nonreligious thugs, who became thugs using the name of religion.

Muslims do cherish Muhammad, and are hurt by those who ridicule him. However, most respond by focusing on how to honor him, not destroy others. That means that the Paris attacks cannot be seen as just a “typical Muslim response.” To do so would ignore history and misread what we know about religion in general, particularly about blasphemy.

Blasphemy is usually understood to be about God, and Muhammad is not God. Instead, we have to think about what it is the attackers want, which I suspect is more terror, and how they are going to get it, by making such attacks more common.

(Hussein Rashid is a professor of religion at Hofstra University, a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Truman National Security Fellow. He works at the intersection of religion, art and national identity.)

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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37 Comments on "Why the Charlie Hebdo attack is not about images or free speech (COMMENTARY)"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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George Nixon Shuler
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Mark wrote, “This author could be taken more seriously if he would deal forthrightly with the reasons why some Muslims engage in violent, murderous acts in the name of religion while other religious believers do not (certainly not to this degree). Clearly there is something some Muslims see IN ISLAM ITSELF that prompts these actions….I would like to see writers like Mr. Rasheed deal with that fact instead of engaging in diversion and deflection.” Now, with equal validity, after Breivik’s massacre atht e Norwegian Labor Youth Camp, someone could have written, “This author could be taken more seriously if he… Read more »
Mark
Guest

George Shuler, your comment is based in ignorance and, yet again, draws a false equivalence. Breivik was psychotic, diagnosed by one psychiatrist as a paranoid schizophrenic. At various times Breivik referred to himself as either agnostic or atheist. While he had been associated with Christianity it became clear he did not embrace Christianity as some of the initial reports were proven to be in error.

George Nixon shuler
Guest
Mark, I never said there was “equivalence” – I said one could easily make the same overgeneralizations you did about Islam about Christianity because of actions such as Breivik’s. Whatever you say about his particular religious affiliation, he targeted the youth of the progressive movement on purpose with the same sort of bullying rhetoric by those who attack progressives with such hyperbole here. All I’m asking you to do is think before shooting your mouth off. You and the rest of the right-wing commenters here are not experts on Islam and you attack innocent people with your vitriol. I realize… Read more »
Mark
Guest

George, it would have been appropriate, particularly if you have any interest in credibility among informed people, for you to acknowledge the inaccuracies and vitriol in YOUR OWN comments, not just in this case but in many others; sadly, based on your history here, that is beyond your capacity. You clearly have a psycho-revulsion toward facts that don’t support your prejudicial opinions.

Ergo, YOU saying “think before shooting your mouth off” is, as they say, rather RICH!

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

And here is Wes again with the irrational, ungrammatical, and illogical confirmation of his desire that the comments here be limited to politically correct right-wing extremists only.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Mark, your very sound and respectful comments are just throwing pearls… there is no interest in any kind of objectivity or civility from the other in your conversation. There is just skewed anger emoting in the form of rhetoric. Great effort though!

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Well, my friend, if you believe I have erred by posting something which is not factual, if your purpose is to be constructive, then you will need to specify what it was and why you say it’s not factual. Otherwise all you have there is a conclusion lacking evidence.

Mark
Guest

This author could be taken more seriously if he would deal forthrightly with the reasons why some Muslims engage in violent, murderous acts in the name of religion while other religious believers do not (certainly not to this degree). Clearly there is something some Muslims see IN ISLAM ITSELF that prompts these actions….I would like to see writers like Mr. Rasheed deal with that fact instead of engaging in diversion and deflection.

James Ballard
Guest
As usual George, you are always redirecting the discussion. My opinion is that there are no extremist Muslims. There are only Muslims. Taking revenge for the prophet is in the Koran. These “extremist Muslims” are only doing what is taught in Koran. What is the fate of all “infidels”? How are Muslims assured heaven? What does the Koran say about the desired fate of all Christians and Jews? There are no moderate Muslims, there are only Muslims in different stages of “jihad” in there interaction with “infidels”. What is the goal of “Islam”? The problem with most Christian leaders (pastors)… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
My friend, read the thread again: it was another poster, not me, who saw an opportunity to segue into his pet issue. As for Muslims, there are just as many kinds as there are of Christians. We have a friend who is retired from the Air Force. When posted to Turkey, she married a Turk. He said, “Of course, I am a Muslim, because I an a Turk.” He never went to mosque, never fasted during Ramadan, and never intended to do the pilgrimage to Mecca. We have many Christians with a similar relationship with official Christendom. The stock clerk… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

BTW, I only thumbed through a Koran twice, one which belonged to a Baptist preacher’s kid a worked with and the other belonging to an Army Captain who was my boss for a time. It’d have to work hard to match the bloodthirstiness throughout the Old Testament – The Lord commanded Israelites to massacre the men of conquered conquered tribes and take their women and children as slaves.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Wes, again with the vicious, categorical statements about “progressives” that could have been lifted from the manifesto of Anders Breivik. read this fellow’s last statement, my friends, and you will see right-wing agitprop at its’ best. What better attack can there be than the false claim to be a “victim” not unlike business people who wish to discriminate against others and then claim victimhood when told they cannot?

James Ballard
Guest
George. the “conquered people” were worshippers of “Baal”. There are many detestable deeds that these “demons” called upon the people to do as worship to them. Their first born children were placed on fire alters as worship. Women were given into temple prostitution. Moral code was about “the meanest person wins.” At some point the cries of children and women come to a point where God steps in. This kind of horrific living had to be dealt with. You are right, the Israelites were supposed to totally eliminate them, but they didn’t and caused major problems for them. We, as… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

The “meanest”, those who betray covenants, those who believe the ends justify the means, the pro-death solution folk, the soft on terrorists folk, those who rarely if ever provide meaningful justification for destroying the UMC are progressives. Those who trust in the authority of Scripture are not cruel, they actually have shown compassion even in our discussions here on the UMR site.

I will recommit to my principle of not throwing pearls, because the discussion is a dead end.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
James writes: “George. the “conquered people” were worshippers of “Baal”. There are many detestable deeds that these “demons” called upon the people to do as worship to them. Their first born children were placed on fire alters as worship. Women were given into temple prostitution. Moral code was about “the meanest person wins.” At some point the cries of children and women come to a point where God steps in. This kind of horrific living had to be dealt with. You are right, the Israelites were supposed to totally eliminate them, but they didn’t and caused major problems for them.”… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest
Seriously, George, have you actually read the Bible other than to pick passages out of context to try to denigrate it? Your continued attack on the Scriptures is shockingly misleading and serves only as a scatter-shot attempt to cast aspersions on the reliability of Scripture, in which is great danger (cf. Matt 18:6). Why do you identify as a Christian, assuming that you do, if you find the basis of our faith so thoroughly offensive and wrong? If you truly don’t understand the Old Testament, the Law, and the Prophets, rather than jumping to the a priori conclusion that the… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest
This is my last response to you George. As far as I can perceive, you appear to have no fear of God (cf., Prov. 9:10), and, based on your many and repeated screeds against theologically conservative (i.e., Bible-believing) Christians, your refusal to discuss details of your religious beliefs, your continued intense denigration of Scripture (e.g., referring to God’s “bloodthirstiness” throughout the OT), and your disingenuous claims that those posting here are operating in bad faith when they rightly criticize you, I am left with no choice but to proceed under the assumption that your only religion is some flavor of… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Paul W has accused me of doing something which I did not do. Was it bearing of false witness against me? Only he knows, among present company. Some might notice the fellow also appears to imply I am a “newbie” when it comes to theology. I assure you that is not the case. Perhaps it is he who is in need of further study. To state scripture says what it does in no way “attacks” it except to those engaged in prevarication and deception. Another textbook example of arguing in bad faith here: accuse someone of doing something which he… Read more »
Kevin
Guest
On the contrary, many of these fetal homicide laws are quite recent. They deal with domestic violence and assault, DUI. and a host of other violent actions that result in the death of the unborn child. In some of these codes legal abortion is specifically exempted. These are not antiquated laws. Take Kansas for example; Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-5419 “Alexa’s Law” defines “unborn child” as a living individual organism of the species Homo sapiens, in utero, at any stage of gestation from fertilization to birth. The law specifies that “person” and “human being” shall also mean an unborn child… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Kevin, you are correct fetal homicide laws are new, but that is not “on the contrary” to anything I said. I will stipulate to my knowledge the earliest date from the 1980s if not later than that. However, none of those laws address abortion whatsoever except as you said those which specifically exempt it. As I said these laws were added to give prosecutors an additional tool for plea bargaining. BTW, the fact such laws did not exist in 1850 or 1795 or and so forth is significant evidence that except in rather esoteric Catholic thought hardly known outside seminairies,… Read more »
Kevin
Guest
And how did this article lead into a discussion on abortion? Our BoD uses the phrases “the sanctity of unborn life” and the “conflict of life with life” which clearly indicate that our denomination recognizes that life begins before birth. And in the secular arena 38 states have laws that provide for prosecution for fetal manslaughter. Why these same states allow abortion is a legal conundrum I do not understand. And why our BoD after describing the unborn as life then goes on to allow that abortion is a woman’s choice is another puzzle. To get back to the original… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Kevin, it appears to me you are operating under the assumtion laws which prohibited abortion which existed in various states from the 1840s or so until the 1950s or so were predicated on a belief a fetus was a person entitled to legal rights which superceded the woman’s. While under the relentless propaganda it might seem reasonable that you arrived at that assumption, it is erroneous. The abortion laws were enacted to put the “wise women” or midwives, who also performed abortions, out of business, and advance the power of the Medical Doctors. Doctors still had the discretion to perform… Read more »
Cully
Guest
Many years ago I was on a team for a women’s retreat. One of the speakers at a team meeting was denied the opportunity to speak about the abortion that had such a negative effect on her life. The reason: it might offend women who were on the retreat for the first time and who had made a similar decision. Political correctness has made us all unlikely to speak to or about a circumstance that may make others uncomfortable. How very unfortunate that is. One wonders how the “Charlie Hebdo attack” has evolved into discussion in regard to abortion. Perhaps… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Hmm…and yet there have been instances of such things as so-called “Christians” using placement of Haitian immigrant children in their homes as the addition of an abused house servant, made to sleep in a closet or basement or such. The callousness is there, My Friend, but it is not found in women’s clinics. It is right there in the movements to close those clinics. Doctors and nurses risk their own lives to save those of their patients. Some pay dearly, as the assassinations of doctors clearly show. It’s interesting how even in states like Mississippi and South Dakota, so-called personhood… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest

A better title for this article would have been, “Arguments Liberals and Muslims Use to Excuse Islamic Terrorism”. Read the Koran for yourself — if you are a Muslim who takes his religion seriously, jihad is not optional, and does not mean an inner struggle. The most outrageous line in the article: “We now understand that the attackers were nonreligious thugs, who became thugs using the name of religion.” Given the topic, either the photo of the smiling author is a simply a horrid editorial choice or, then again, perhaps not.

dave werner
Guest

i think the author expresses a reasonable opinion. Your response, Paul W, strikes me as off target. The word i’ve settled on to characterize your response is “innuendo.” Regarding the picture of the author, it appears to be the photo he uses. See http://www.husseinrashid.com/ . Since you do not identify yourself or offer your scholarly credentials, i’m inclined to think that Prof. Rashid offers a more reasonable opinion on this tragic matter.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I concur with Dave there. No one is making any excuses. The fellow’s expression in the picture certainly communicates nothing untoward. It is delicate balance to maintain free speech sometimes. Here in the U.S. we have plenty of domestic home-grown terrorists With the recent assassinations of two Christians at Jewish facilities in the Kansas City suburbs by Klansman Frazier Glenn Miller, the number of Americans murdered by homegrown far right terrorists who say they are “Christians” exceeds any murdered by Islamacist terrorists since 9-11. No one says this taints the Christian faith.

Wes Andrews
Guest
Shocking! I agree with much in the article. I’m no fan of Charlie Hebdo. They’re approach to life is cynical, harsh, cruel and in many of their characterizations hate filled. I also believe in free speech, and I believe that all human beings have a right to it even if that includes OFFENSIVE speech. Here in the U.S. we need to overcome our “tyranny of the offended.” It seems if anyone is offended, usually by traditional images or speech, those folks have a RIGHT to censorship. These are usually progressives, of course, offended by traditional ideas or speech. Another angle… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
This is all inaccurate. Less than 3% of Planned Parenthood’s revenue comes from abortion services. Aftercare is always available. As for women feeling bad afterward, who wouldn’t, when confronted by extremists calling them murderers, often members of their own families. Abortion providers are stalked and assassinated. These are not acts of love any more than the attack on Charlie Hebdo was. Services offered under auspices of fraudulent “crisis pregnancy” agencies (whose funding is often hidden under several layers) provide little or nothing of value and sell shame, gu,ilt, and browbeating. You cannot claim to support the woman by supporting politicians… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
George’s characterization of the unborn is truly brutal and completely graceless. The characterization regarding how pro-life people feel about women exploited by the abortion / death solution industry is highly inaccurate. Only you, George, seem comfortable referring to women in crisis in derogatory terms. I have only seen love, compassion and generosity from those who offer an alternative to death for women in crisis. Planned Parenthood made 1/2 a billion dollars in 2013 from tax payers alone doing a few good things while killing 350,000 children. You are so wrong about the LACK of personhood of the unborn. Any woman… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I suppose this is progress: you don’t hear much advocacy of censorship these days. Gone are the days when the feds under Ed Meese threatened National Lampoon with prosecution unless they stopped including “Son-o-God” comics lampooning popery via a superhero Jesus with a secret identity as Benny David, a nebbish Jewish teenager.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Oh, come on. The best science can offer as to when a preborn becomes a person is “we don’t know.” The law has it right where it says this occurs at birth. This is the only rational policy. People don’t celebrate their birthdays 12 months after conception. The notion a fetus is a person is a convenient fiction for those who enjoy slut-shaming. There are fewer abortions because the economy is going better. $1.87@gallon gas? Thanks, Obamacare! Planned Parenthood receives no government funding for abortion at all. Many pro-choice folks contribute to “second chance” funds to help the destitute obtain… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Medical Science doesn’t support your point. This is old rhetoric. Thank God that abortion is on the decline. Thank God the younger generations are more and more believing in the sanctity of life. Still Planned Parenthood in 2013 received 528 million dollars of our tax dollars ultimately supporting their organization to kill 327,653 babies and provide other services. With medical science as advanced as it is, and with all the resources of the church abortion is completely unnecessary. I’m amazing that progressives so easily get a way with promote death as a solution via abortion. It is one of the… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Rare? My friend, every day at most providers patients and staff have to walk through a gauntlet of racist, sexist, and heterosexist harranguers. Clinic staff are stalked. Their children are accosted at school. A network of fascist goons operates a website encouraging assasinations of doctors. All of this is excused by right-wing activists who claim against facts that a barely multicellular lump of protoplasm has “rights” which supercede the woman’s in a horrendous exercise of woman hatred straight out of 1984 A blastocyst is no more a human being than an egg is a chicken. That post is another good… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Dang, George….. the rare instance of violence at Abortions clinics has been universally (99+%) condemned by Christians. Just because abortion kills human beings, and exploits women to do so doesn’t give anyone a right to use violence to express their opposition to abortion.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
I agree with much of what Wes said, but I do take exception to the assertion that OKBOMB was condemned by the “entire” Christian community. Since none of know the “entire” Christian community none of us can make any such assertions without looking to be full of it. I mean, did Wang Khan’s house church which meets in his apartment behind his butcher shop in Ulan Bator condemn it and is it reflected in the business meeting minutes and signed by the church secretary? I didn’t think so. Also, OKBOMB is pretty low hanging fruit there. If you took a… Read more »
Michael Mitchell
Guest

This article was utter garbage. Basically what this is saying is that they didn’t deserve to die but they shouldn’t have done any articles about Mohammad.
I don’t see any Islamic Clerics on TV condeming this terrorist act because secretly they condone this…
This is about freedom of speech and those thugs that are trying to supress it

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