In France, it is not just about freedom of speech

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

It is time the issue relating to the West and Islam is seen and analysed in a more balanced and comprehensive manner, Ronald Benjamin writes.

I was quite puzzled to read an article by Dr Chandra Muzaffar published by an online portal titled “A feeling of déjà vu about Islam in France”.

In his article he stated some provocation or other targeting Prophet Muhammad, initiated by a non-Muslim group or institution. Predictably, Muslims react.

In the midst of demonstrations and rallies, an act of violence occurs, perpetrated by an offended Muslim or his co-religionists. The violent act leads to further demonisation of Muslims in the media, which by this time is in a frenzy.

Feeling targeted, some Muslim groups escalate their emotional response, sometimes causing more deaths to occur – both Muslims and non-Muslims – even in countries far away from the place where the provocation first occurred. One also hears of calls to boycott goods produced in the country where it all started.

While Chandra is objective with his analysis, his narrative appears to be a standard description without mentioning who the real victims are and the background of the victims in the terrorist attack in France, and his usual argument that is rightly stated about the contentious colonial historical relationship between the West and Muslim countries.

Even though the whole issue of violence in France was started by the cartoon portrayal of Prophet Muhammad, which is offensive to Muslims, the victim of the terrorist attack as seen in France and Austria have been church attendees, a priest and a nun. In 2016, an 84-year-old French Catholic priest was killed by two Islamic State militants.

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This shows the issue is not merely about cartoons, but targeting anything that symbolises Christianity, which also can be regarded as Christianophobia. It is not the French secular elites targeted by the extremists. The discourse among many countries in Muslim world seems to ignore this fact.

Quite some time ago, in a UK commission report on the Middle East and North Africa, it stated forms of persecution ranging from routine discrimination in education, employment and social life up to genocidal attacks against Christian communities have led to a significant exodus of Christian believers from this region since the turn of the century.

“In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, the situation with Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage. In Saudi Arabia, there are strict limitations on all forms of expression of including public acts of worship. There have been regular crackdowns on private Christian services.”

All this is happening in a context where religion is use to acquire and cement power, and this invites a reaction that is sometimes understood as Islamophobia. The inability to separate religion from the politics of power as one critical cause of Islamophobia, is seldom analysed and written by Malaysian public intellectuals.

Therefore, it is time the issue relating to the West and Islam is seen and analysed in a more balanced and comprehensive manner. What happened in France is not merely about freedom of speech that is overboard, and its response, but a myriad of issues that seem to be swept away in standard discourse, where issues are very complex in nature and where there is a reluctance to address the blend of religion with the politics of power.

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Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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