Home / Special / Charlie Hebdo / We are not Charlie

We are not Charlie

Following the horrific murders of police and journalists in Paris on Wednesday, Muslim communities in Europe are facing the inevitable consequences. Mosques in France have been attacked and Muslims in Europe are feeling further reverberations, evident in criticisms of their supposed contention with freedom of speech, whilst governments continue to justify tightening measures that will ironically restrict freedom of speech amongst Muslims who condemn foreign policy.

The dominant voices in the mainstream media are focusing on perpetuating myths about a clash of civilisations: the Western ideals of freedom of speech vs the barbaric repression of the (Muslim) Other. Social media is abound with calls to ‪#‎KillAllMuslims, whilst all Muslims are expected to apologise, yet again, for the individual evil actions of murderers, and call out loudly ‪#‎NotInMyName, else their silence will be subject to scrutiny and suspicion and branded as complicity. At such times it is the Muslims who are always expected to apologise, a point frequently argued by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Reactions to Charlie Hebdo

The Charlie Hebdo shootings have provoked a storm of sensationalist reactions from opportunists across the spectrum. At Islam21c we have been working hard to sift through the rhetoric and find reasoned analysis from all quarters – links are available below to read. Don’t forget to like, comment and share! To keep up with the latest articles on Islam21c.com subscribe to our mailing list here

We also direct your attention to the seminal report written by Prof. Arun Kundnani since empirically-refuted connections are being made left, right and centre, between these shootings and the shooters’ incidental ideology – read the ground-breaking report that shows that Extremism does NOT cause terrorismA Decade Lost; Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism

a decade lost

Also read:

charlie hebdo banner

Visit our dedicated page to #CharlieHebdo with all our hand-picked content here

Whilst the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo have been elevated as martyrs, there are a minority of voices passionately challenging the mainstream media’s self-interested fixation with promoting outrage at the censorship of “free speech”. Yet the well-known adage comes to mind: with freedom of speech comes responsibility. The satirists at Charle Hebdo were irresponsible and ruthless in exploiting already marginalised communities, and did not recognise that satire is supposed to hurt the powerful and not the powerless. Fortunately there are some minority voices countering the mainstream media’s narrative of “anti-censorship at all costs”, voices like Jacob Canfield who argues:

“…the editorial staff of Hebdo consistently aimed to provoke Muslims. They ascribe to the same edgy-white-guy mentality that many American cartoonists do: nothing is sacred, sacred targets are funnier, lighten up, criticism is censorship. And just like American cartoonists, they and their supporters are wrong. White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire, and needs to be called out. People getting upset does not prove that the satire was good. And, this is the hardest part, the murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good. Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist, and remains racist.”

Anti-censorship bloggers are even highlighting the complexities of uncritically declaring ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie when the magazine was infamous for inciting hatred against Muslims:

“…I understand why a culture that is being systematically and individually mistreated and ignored by the privileged in power may eventually spawn some folks who resort to violence doesn’t mean I condone that violence! It means I can see why decades of hurt, fear, and institutionalized abuse may lead to a violent reaction. Understanding is not supporting, it simply means I can connect the dots. Can you not?!?

What I find incredibly disappointing is that on my social media, I see a bunch of white people “standing up” for the “bravery” of a racist magazine to incite hatred against people of colour. I have seen next to nothing about the bombing of the NAACP by a white man on our own soil. I see anti-Muslim protests being started in Europe, and people calling for the genocide of Muslims on Twitter, but very little attention to the number of Muslims who condemned the violence.”

Thus ideas about free speech and satire are impacted upon by who has the power to profess when free speech is acceptable and when it becomes offensive, and there will always be those who are powerless to fight back against what they deem to be offensive.

Some are highlighting how it is troubling to elevate Charlie Hebdo as a magazine representing European freedom of speech when the themes involve Islamophobic and xenophobic ideas of Muslims in cartoons. Where are the boundaries between grossly mocking the tragedies impacting upon people’s lives and freedom of speech? One example is the disturbing depiction of the girls kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram as happy recipients of welfare benefit. How would the families of the girls who are kidnapped respond to this “humour”? Another example discussed on social media questioning what is sacrosanct is the cartoon about the protestors murdered in Rabaa Square in Egypt. Again, how would those impacted by the massacre in Rabaa Square feel about this “humour”? Would it be humorous to create satirical representations, and have a sense of humour, about the evil massacre that took place at the Charlie Hebdo offices? Would Muslim writers be allowed to satirise the tragedy of journalists and cartoonists murdered as they went about their daily lives?

It goes without saying that such distasteful and consistent ridicule in the form of satire does not justify murder. Murder as a result of an individual vendetta is not acceptable in any society. The law should never be taken into your own hands. No one is born with the God-given right to take lives even if you are offended or oppressed. One cannot be judge, jury and executioner. Yasir Qadhi argues: “At the same time, it is also idiotic to continue provoking a group of people who have a long list of their own internal and external political and social grievances that stretch back for many decades (here I mean the N. African Muslim population of France), and then expect that nothing will happen.” Muslims should nevertheless deal with insults by drawing on their religion which teaches patience and defence in non-violent forms in such a scenario.

Surely this sad episode of the taking of lives should help us realise that “Freedom of Speech” cannot equate to uncensored “Freedom to offend”. This notion of free speech would never work out between two individuals let alone a cultural norm affecting millions of people. A more appropriate, more human manifestation of freedom would have been ‘the right to be offended’. As one Islamic Preacher, Ustadh Shams Adduha Muhammad states: “I express my ‘freedom to be offended’ at the very idea that humanity could defy its intelligence and come up with something as stupid as ‘the freedom to insult’”.

Double standards and hypocrisy is at play when it is seen as anti-semitic to create cartoons that affect the Jewish communities, and the mainstream media is made to apologise. However, cartoons about Muslims, against Muslims and attacking Muslims are socially acceptable and quite the norm. In August 2014, the Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald was made to apologise for showing a cartoon of a Jewish man with a hooked nose watching Gaza bombed as he sat in the comfort of his armchair, for the cartoon was deemed as “anti-semitic”. And yet the cartoon was based on the many social media photographs about a real-life episode that had gone viral showing Israelis sitting on a hilltop snacking and watching the bombing of Gazans. Even Charlie Hebdo itself, in 2009, fired a cartoonist who offended Jewish communities with a cartoon about the engagement of Nicholas Sarkozy’s son to a Jewish woman that was deemed “anti-semitic”.

Some are arguing that religious teachings should not be immune from criticism. As Muslims, we would agree, but there is a world of difference between criticism and outright offensive mocking, ridicules and insults. As Muslims, we are taught to accept critique. It is something that Muslims have faced for over 1400 years, just a cursory look into the works of Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah, Imām al-Ghazāli, Imām Abū Hanīfa, Ibn Khaldun and other great scholars demonstrates how Muslims have dealt with criticism in a positive and intellectual way. Muslims are definitely not a people who have a problem with critique. Critique is what drives us forward and helps us to progress as a civilisation. The neo-Cons and the far left liberals should not be disingenuous by conflating this point.

Freedom of speech is not an unrestricted privilege. The existence of laws covering defamation, treason, public disorder, holocaust denial, and race hate is further proof of the flawed concept of unrestricted freedom of speech and the right to offend. Such laws clearly demonstrate that Freedom of speech should not be abused and should not be used as a smokescreen to incite hatred against any particular racial or religious group. This is precisely what occurs whenever you embark on a sustained campaign of mocking and ridiculing. We should recognise it for what it is – the relentless demonisation of a specific religious minority. The Nazis used a similar tactic through the propaganda in their media and through the arts to demonise and dehumanise the Jews, eventually these “humorous” caricatures led to atrocious genocide of a people.

Similar tactics of demonising and dehumanising a community are currently prevalent through the way the media represent Muslims in news programmes and even “fictional” television programmes, for example Homeland or 24, which characterise Islām and Muslims as either violent, bloodthirsty and primitive others, if they are not the “good” Muslims who have abandoned their identity and values.

Constant demonisation leads to conditions where people accept as the norm a different standard for the others. We are currently seeing this around the world in the hatred spewing against the Muslim communities: the blood of a Muslim is insignificant due to the constant virulent Islamophobic narrative which subsequently directly translates to the justification of violence against Muslims, be it a Western (or Israeli) army against a civilian Muslim nation or thuggish far-right groups in countries around the world where Muslims are a minority. The inevitable consequence of such actions is a violent blowback from those who take the law into their own hands. No religious teachings will stop this minority who hold grievances of desperation and devastation.

The mainstream media is exploiting the discourse on “freedom of speech”, whilst I would argue, alongside others, this is not about satire and freedom of speech. This made evident with one of the alleged attackers’ previous conviction where he cited he had been traumatised by the abuse of Iraqis by US personnel at Abū Ghraib. Action is urgently needed to stop the causes of this cycle of violence and subsequent violent responses by openly addressing the Islamophobic narratives at play, instead of dismissing these brutal encounters as the “civilised” Occident encountering the “barbaric” Orient.

Source: www.islam21c.com

An early version of this article was published on The Sociological Imagination on Thursday 8 January 2015 citing more examples of the counter-narratives regarding #JeSuisCharlie. See http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16665

About Sadia Habib

Sadia Habib taught English at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. She is a PhD candidate in Educational Studies at Goldsmiths University of London. She is also an editor for The Sociological Imagination. You can follow Sadia on Twitter @educ_research


  1. We are muslims we are not terrorist.

  2. One more observation.

    I am 99% sure that most of not all the authors on this forum are members of Hizb-ul-Tahreer, judging from their literary style and their unique brand of politically charged verbiage.

    Feel free to delete or block this post, it will only confirm my hunch on this one.
    If I am wrong, then I make Istighfaar – no one likes to be accused of belonging to the HT (seeing as how pathetic they are) but if I am right, let me know and I will retire from this forum altogether.

    99% sure these authors are Hizb-ul Tahreer members. “Neo-Cons” and “Drconian” these are their buzzwords, its time they started using less outdated and pretencious junked out jargon.

    • I’m somewhat bemused by your comments. On one hand you seem to accuse the contributors of this website of being biased in their journalistic approach (that’s the impression I get from your comments below anyway) and on the other, you make sweeping generalisations that show a similar level of unsophistication and bias.

      Surely you can recognise that buzzwords that may have been used by a particular group in the past can be adopted and used by others. I think your accusation of the website’s contributors being HT is on pretty flimsy ground if it’s based on the vocabulary (or even the general approach)!

      Some advice for myself, you and all others on here is to be conservative in how you comment. There’s really no need to accuse or insult others. If you want to criticise the content of an article, stick to that and avoid personal attacks please! If we can’t even have those basic manners, then what hope do we have in receiving Allah’s mercy?

      • Thank you brother, your naseeha is taken in good faith. Perhaps I have been too harsh and hasty in my judgement

        JazakallAhu Khayran

    • Assalamalaikum Ibrahim, if you’ve had chance to meet or read any of the other work done by authors of this website or Sheikh Haitham you’ll find that they’re certainly not HT and speak candidly against HT’s key principles.

      That said, in times of duress then it seems wiser to work together for common aims and personally I’ve been very happy to see disparate groups doing events together (even with groups like HT) for the sake of unity when the cause at hand has been more pressing than the differences. For example when Moazzam Begg had been arrested recently and there were protests arranged at the home office.

      Continually highlighting differences between groups just paralyses progress at a time when the ummah is desperate for us all to be involved and doing what we can in whatever way to make a difference.

      The term ‘neo conservative’ has been used a lot to describe political movements in the west over the last 30-40 years. Draconian is commonly used when talking about laws that are extreme in their nature.

      Hope that helps bro.

      • Wa Aleikum Salaam brother,

        Point taken – it was uncalled for from my part. I apologise to the team, you are perfectly correct, we need unity and not to split the ranks.

        May Allah unite the Muslimeen and help us overcome he towering hurdles ahead of us, personally I do not speak or object based on group bias or hatred for the authors, it is out of deep concern and anxiety – I would like to see more direct challenges and counter-criticism in the face of the overwhelming attacks from the other side – my observations are limited to my experience and understanding but we are all different

        May Allah reward your intentions and cover our errors

        JazakumullAhu Khayran

  3. I speak french and I advise you to search what happened to a french comedian called Dieudonné and make sure to verify the sources.

  4. Racism is attack or prejudice against a race, or a member of a race, something we all belong to one or other of without choice. Racism is therefore wrong. Period.
    Ridiculing a religious belief is completely different. We all have a choice as to whether to belong to a particular set of beliefs, religious, political or otherwise. That’s what a free society is all about. As such it is perfectly reasonable to question, criticise or ridicule any of them. Questioning, satiring or even blatantly insulting any particular religion is NOT racism.

    • Ghulam Esposito Haydar

      So a friend of mine doing a masters in Sociology: Migration, Segration, Racism under the umbrella of Postcolonial Studies and Critical Race Studies in Sweden had the following to say regarding Racism in the context of Islamophobia:

      “Racism = Racial Prejudice + misuse of institutions of power. Race as a concept was first created to distinguish Jews and Muslims from White Christians. People today are seen as secular individuals, but previously religion was a racial property. Race is not biological but a social and poltical construction. Muslims are racialized and seen as a race. Therefore Islamophobia is a form of racism.”

      Amanj Aziz

  5. This article is right, you can’t keep offending is muslims and targeting us whilst targeting those who offend jews, got basically choosing who to offend and who not to. I think the guys that took the steps they did – did so in a way out of desperation. It would be nice to know what the grand mufti of saudia has to say about the attacks on this cursed magazine Charlie Hebdo- mocking the prophet of islam will never be acceptable.

  6. A great article pointing out the blatant islamophobia that is going on in the media

    • You know what they say about pointing fingers at others – sadly, we are happy with articles that point out mistakes and stop there. A Great article does not point out injustices, it analyses, evaluates and suggests actions and effective means to ensure that such injustices are not perpetuated again in the near or distant future

      Then again, from the articles and comments being plastered all over this forum, I am beginning to think that we are simply looking for a chance to lash out and play the blame game

      Nothing constructive in terms of directives and viable alternatives for the “oppressed and brutalised” Muslim community have been published on this forum (with the exception on one very well written piece)as of yet.

      So nothing to be proud of or to rejoice over here. We are just being served the same doom and gloom that can be read on from major news agency – I would have expected a little more from our own intelligentsia but alas…

  7. Ever read a copy of Charlie Hebdo? I think I’m pretty safe in guessing that you haven’t, and indeed had never heard of it until last week.

    • I doubt you have either! And likewise to the millions of sheep who are chanting Je Suis Charlie. And any Muslim who apologises for the actions of others, there is something fundamently wrong. I apologise for my actions, no one elses. My biggest pride is my religion and our Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa salaam

      • Ya Ukhty, its not about apologising, it is about distancing ourselves from the act carried out in the name of our religion. That is necessary, the Prophet Muhammad who you say you Love and follow dearly, He (Aleihi SalawaatullAhi wa RahmatuHu) distanced himself from the act of certain companions when they were in the wrong (as in the famous case of Ameer Khalid bin Waleed)

        RasulullAhi was not arrogant or angry, he was Just and Balanced. We cannot pretend to be outraged and so offended when it is WE who are expected to act upon the Sunnah, not the Kuffar – whether it is hypocritical of them or not, the right thing to do as a true follower of Prophet Muhammad (SalallAhu ‘Aleihi wa Sallama) is to distance oneself from the apparent and blatant act of wickedness carried out in the name of Al-Islam, whether the murderers were Muslimeen or not, none of our business – but we cannot refuse to condemn the act and expect not to be blamed and judged for it

        It is arrogance at best and stupidity at its very worse.

        May Allah guard us from arrogance and injustice

  8. Imam of Al-Aqua

    i have not read it yet but Charlie was looking to provoke and he got a reaction…. Now he is dead the world can relax and rejoice a evil has been extinguished. I thank Allah he is no longer here and pray may his kind have the same fate

    • Looks like you dont read much of anything Ya Imaam.

      Au-Contraire, the killings have not “extinguished” anything, they have kindled and fuelled more anti-Islamic publications, for your information “Chalie-Asbo” intended to print 200,000 copies of the pathetic cartoon, but thanks to our knights in shining armour, they have now gained so much support from other publishers that the circulation reached over 1m copies and plans are being made to re-print the same disgusting images all over the world.

      So if you are one of those imbeciles who thinks killing people will solve all of our problems, I am sorry to tell you that the world (at least the one you live in) will not be enjoying any rest soon.

      Also, 2 Muslims were killed in cold blood – perhaps their lives mean nothing to people like you.

  9. thank you for this article. I agree, well done. I could only wish there would be more these kind of articles seen around in mainstream media.

  10. Haneef Ibn Ahmad

    Masha Allah, a well researched & thoughtful article covering another angle of this problem!

  11. This article is way too partisan to be taken seriously. Until you do an empirical, corpus-based study and discourse analysis of Charlie Hebdo articles demonstrating how many satirised Islam compared with other religions or other groups, then you don’t really have any basis for your “arguments”. Would it be fair to assume that you notice the criticism of Islam in Charlie Hebdo but not the criticism of other groups? It’s certainly all you refer to in the article, which reads as if you have started with the conclusion “Islam is the victim.” I hope your PhD thesis is better than this because this reads like a thin high school essay.

    • The article doesn’t claim to offer any statistics (nor is it AT ALL relevant to the actual points being made) so unless your comment was sarcastic I wouldn’t make any attempts at anyone else’s intelligence if i were you.

      • Rich – are you employed to attack anyone who makes a valid objection to the articles on this site?

        What the commenter said is very reasonable – in order to categorically and conclusively say that the magazine is specifically picking on us we would need to assess how other religious groups have been treated or mis-treated by the same publication and then higlight the exceptions when it comes to Islam.

        The problem is that this article is written by a Muslim so we cannot expect objectivity, obviously we are going to adopt a narrative that suites our views – isolated from the gamut of other cases

        Truly, if this is what she intends to present as a doctoral thesis – then its best to take an additional module or two on how to compile credible and balanced articles in general.

        If its just meant to be a rant – fair enough, but for a respectable publication, come again next year.

        On a serious note, before you come back and call me a murtad of munafiq, let me caviat this here – I have not been a regular reader on this site prior to this latest calamity in France, I am quiet dissapointed at the bias and general lack of professionalism and objectivity in some of the posts here, many of your contributors are still students, some of whom are not even known (nothing written about the authors in some articles). Such being the case, it is necessary to point out the defficiencies in the hope that the contributors and administrators may take is as an opportunity to raise the bar and not as an opportunity to raise their guard – I am an observant Muslim, I LOVE my Deen and I am proud to be Muslim but if this is the best e have to offer – then Im sorry, being Muslim does not mean being blind to blatant bias and lack of journalistic substance, just as I would object to a badly written and poorly research piece from an anti-Islamic publication – so too it must be expressed when aspiring journalists write in the name and on behalf of Islam – especially when it is lacking certain basic elements.

        WallAhu A’lam

        • “I have not been a regular reader on this site prior to this latest calamity in France but…”

          As a word of advice, when you see yourself saying something like this, and then proceed to make sweeping generalisations of the (literally-) thousands of articles, essays and theses on this site…don’t.

        • “The problem is that this article is written by a Muslim so we cannot expect objectivity, obviously we are going to adopt a narrative that suites our views – isolated from the gamut of other cases”

          Another cracking indication of something in your own worldview, not the author’s and certainly not Muslims in general. There are a good many articles on this site showing how one can adopt a sound, objective methodology, I’d suggest you have a read. That’s if the copious ad hominems against the authors haven’t put you off.

          • Wa Aleikum Salaam Abou Ibrahim

            “copious ad hominems” spare me – I dont know why our most intelligent and potentially gifted brothers/sisters insist on using complicated and pretentious language to express the most simple and straight forwards opinion – it is perhaps a hidden admiration and love for the same “neo-conservative” establishment they pretend to hate so much.

            You only had to say it in simple words – but I understand.

            Your point is clear, however I do not expect to read “thousands” of articles before making a single comment, thats just not how it works in the real world, my original comment was about the article above – not any other.

            Most of all brother, and I do respect your opinion I also admire the fact that you took the time to read and respond to my comment (even if they were pushing a few buttons on purpose) – my point is simple, if we are going to be able to respond and challenge the likes of Charlie Asbo, then we must at least be able to entertain critique from within our community – we are not doing any favours to these authors by simply agreeing and defending everything and anything they say – other will be more direct and brutal

            Out of respect and consideration for their next article, I feel it is necessary to point out areas of concern and to probe them for further clarification, at least it shows a critical eye and the fact that readers like myself are reading to understand not reading to agree

            Great minds do think alike but dull minds often differ

            I pray that you can accept my comment without of the need to come back with a personal rebuttal – your criticism is more than welcome but stick to the topic please

            Sadly, we expect perfect justice and accountability from lowlives such as Charlie Asbo et al, yet we persist on adopting apologetic and defensive when it comes to our own authors – doesnt help them in the long term

  12. ‘Religion’ is nonsense pack of lies peddled by people who seek to manipulate others &/ or subject themself.
    I’m offenced that people such as you promote and promulgate this guff.
    Will you please stop, and delete this post because you’re offending me and what I believe in?

  13. This was just so incisive and spot on. Thank you.

  14. You are completely missing the point. In every modern society, it is not acceptable to kill somebody for offending you. That is the only thing that should be being discussed here. I’m astounded that anyone can write an article about this incident and defer the focus away from the fact that civilians were slaughtered for producing a piece of media.

    • Pete of you read the article properly, it mention that people who are offended should look back to religious teach and be patience. Deal in non violent manner ie protesting, signing petition and raising awareness.

      Muslim community did respond in this manner but double stardard and negative media
      coverage the west did NOTHING ! Istead they
      further alienated the Muslim community.

      • I don’t agree. The vast majority of the news I’ve read has been quick to include the reaction of a number of Imams and Muslims. Similarly, the reaction of the brother of the murdered Muslim police office is consistently on top of the most read articles on many major news sites.

  15. Couldn’t agree more. You have put into words what we are all feeling.
    Well written, well sourced, well done!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend