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MEMO – MIDDLE EAST MONITOR: Tariq Ramadan condemns Charlie Hebdo massacre but criticises ‘inconsistency’ of political reaction

Nothing justifies the killing of innocent civilians, but Western governments must be more consistent in their treatment of human life, says Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme earlier this morning, Prof Ramadan condemned the attack on the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying that, “these are very difficult times and a very sad situation” and expressing his “deepest sympathy for the victims’ families.”

“We must start by condemning what happened and what was done in the name of Islam… what they did in fact was to betray our principles, our values and the overall message of Islam,” he stated.

Whilst vocal in his criticism of the perpetrators, Prof Ramadan highlighted the importance of a calm and coordinated response to the attack, and to not allow ordinary Muslims to bear the brunt of the actions of a few violent extremists.

“What is important for us on this day of mourning, in France but also in the West, is to understand that what is happening now and what will come afterwards is not only a Muslim business; it’s our responsibility to come together to know who are our enemies when it comes to violent extremism and not to go to…confusion in our discourse… and politicians, journalists and intellectuals are responsible and there is a shared responsibility,” he stressed.

Prof Ramadan also outlined the need for a more nuanced reaction to the atrocities, and for there to be a real attempt to understand the grievances that might lead such people to commit such extreme acts of violence. In particular, he emphasised that the divergent responses to the deaths of Westerners and those of other individuals around the globe may be partly to blame for the growing appeal of extremist ideology.

“We need to have an overall vision of what is happening around the world, and for us – you as a British citizen and me as a Swiss citizen, and as European citizens – we have to come together and to say [that] as much as we are condemning what is happening here, the value of lives in Iraq or in Syria or around the world, in Palestine or wherever, in Africa, have the same value as our lives. And we have to ask our governments for consistency, and then to come to social policy when it comes to equal citizenship to act against racism and anti-Semitism and anti-Islam… I think there is a lack of consistency even in our emotional reactions to the death of people.”

The Today Programme presenter, James Naughtie, responded that such an emphasis on equality of life might in fact be a slippery slope towards justifying the behaviour of such radicals.

“When you talk about looking at individual lives being of equal value, from whatever culture, religion, or whichever country they come from, the difficulty is that for some people – including those who perpetrated the dreadful attacks in Paris yesterday – that inevitably leads to a comparison: If there is an atrocity committed by the West in Iraq or in Syria, then it justifies what happened in the streets of Paris, or in a magazine office in Paris yesterday. And the difficulty of avoiding those comparisons with bloody conclusions is very great,” Naughtie stated.

Prof Ramadan responded that this should not be the case, and that upholding the equal value of all human life should not lead to any form of justification or absolution for those who believe they have the authority to judge who should live and who should die.

“I think we have to avoid going to such comparisons and ending with justification,” said Ramadan, adding that, “nothing can justify the killing of innocent people.”

“Every day we have between 100 and 150 people being killed, and they are the victims of Daesh and violent extremist Muslims… I think that this is where together we should understand that you and me, as Europeans, we are on the same side acting against violent extremism and asking for consistency [from] our governments when it comes to the dignity of people and the dignity of life,” he added.

Ramadan’s comments on the BBC came in the wake of a wave of protests in Paris against the killing of 12 people by masked gunman thought to be linked to Al-Qaeda yesterday afternoon. News of the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo offices has been met by sorrow and outrage worldwide, and Muslim community leaders have been quick to distance themselves and their religion from the incident.


3 commentaires - “MEMO – MIDDLE EAST MONITOR: Tariq Ramadan condemns Charlie Hebdo massacre but criticises ‘inconsistency’ of political reaction”

  1. The best tribute to the dead of Charlie Hebdo is the debate on freedom of speech that has now opened up.

    The shocking killing of the cartoonists and staff of the Charlie Hebdo weekly in Paris has turned out to be a watershed event in that it has put the spotlight on the fundamental right to free speech and divided global opinion in ways which are perhaps unprecedented. The resurrection of the debate on the freedom of speech – its ideology and its practice in the world today – is perhaps the best tribute that can be paid to those who were shot for their writings and drawings.

    A small publication with dwindling readership in France, Charlie Hebdo was practically unknown outside the country and definitely outside the Francophone world until the shootings. Along with the news of the killings, images of the cartoons, which were a staple of the magazine, started circulating; images that led the terrorists to kill the cartoonists. Most people who had never heard of or read Charlie Hebdo reacted with disbelief at these cartoons as these were, where they pertained to Islam and Muslims, clearly provocative and meant to lampoon. While the condemnations of the killings were forthright, many started asking questions whether these cartoons were appropriate and could be defended. In the global spread of the “I am Charlie” slogan where people identified themselves with the magazine and its right to publish these cartoons, a voice emerged that a condemnation of the killings could not lead to a defence of Charlie Hebdo and its contents. These cartoons were seen to be racist, Islamophobic and sexist.

    There is a disagreement over this characterisation of the weekly with many of its readers pointing out that it was anti-religious, anti-right wing, pro-immigration and anti-colonial, with its editor and some other staffers long-time associates of the French Communist Party; that it poked fun at the Pope and Christian religious images far more than it did Islam or Muslims. However, those who criticise Charlie Hebdo’s humour and contents point out that laughing at a group of people who are discriminated and marginalised is very distinct from lampooning those in power. There are also questions about the politics of its aesthetics and the manner in which the caricatures reinforce racist prejudices against an already stigmatised minority.

    For those who argue that Charlie Hebdo is in the long tradition of a particular form of eviscerating French humour, located in the historical ground of “Laïcité” and particularly sharp on religion and tradition, there is the counterargument that this historical ground also includes French colonialism and the racism that Muslims, particularly Algerians, face in France. The differential treatment of Jews and Judaism, who are not caricatured in the same manner as are Muslims and Islam, is used as an example to buttress the argument that Charlie Hebdo is racist.

    What has been quite unprecedented is how quickly this has become a global debate, a conversation over time zones and political, cultural and legal divides. It is not the first time that there has been such a global conversation but this may be the first time that it has happened in a world connected through social media. The ramifications – that a rapidly growing number of people in the world are in something akin to direct conversation with each other – are enormous and will take time for us, its participants, to fully understand and appreciate. Is there a reconfiguration of the mental architecture, the mentalité, of people at a global scale? Are these the first signs of the emergence of a global public?

    To return to Charlie Hebdo, the question that has emerged at the centre of this global conversation is whether the right to free speech is absolute or whether it is inherently contextual and conditioned by its genealogies stretching through capitalism and colonialism. There is clearly no agreement on this and there is unlikely to be one. But reading even a small selection of the mass of articles, blog posts, speeches and cartoons that have been expressed in response to Charlie Hebdo, the attack and the debate around the event, it is clear that both sides to the argument need to rethink and rework their positions. Just when the established middle ground of the old debates between rights and responsibilities, and between the rights to equality and liberty were beginning to get clarified into their two pole positions, new ways of looking at these old debates have begun to emerge.

    The larger, long-term implications of this debate are still unclear to us, caught up as we are in the heat and dust of the present intellectual and political skirmishes. Yet it does seem that the debate will only flourish in the days to come, opening up new ways of understanding our world and of building solidarities, despite, it must be added, all the cynical attempts to appropriate the slogan of freedom of speech by those with blood on their hands.

    What the attack on Charlie Hebdo and its global response suggests is that we now inhabit a world where the langueand parole of fundamental rights, like the freedom of thought and expression, can only be engaged with on a global scale. The revenge of the East is to force the West to engage in a truly universal conversation.

  2. “he emphasised that the divergent responses to the deaths of Westerners and those of other individuals around the globe may be partly to blame for the growing appeal of extremist ideology…understand the grievances that might lead such people to commit such extreme acts of violence..”
    Mr Ramadan, You always seem to make excuses for your radical terrorists- even when attempting to condemn Islamist terror atrocities- blaming the West for `making them do it’- they are victims of the West, therefore, their grievances and consequent terror actions should be understood with sympathy. Notice your double talk! it would help you to become aware of it because you appear puzzled when it is noticed by others and seem to feel enraged when it is pointed out to you.
    “The divergent responses to the deaths..” You mean Muslim grievances that the West doesn’t care about the killing of Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and West Africa? but who is responsible for these killings? ISIS, Boko Haram? the Same Jihadists that are faithfully carrying out instructions from their terror manuals, the Quran and hadith, which the majority of Muslims refuse to address. By refusing to ‘touch’ these scriptures that incite violence against whoever is perceived as ‘infidel’, wouldn’t it be logical to make Muslims indirectly accountable for the actions of fellow Muslims who do act on these scriptures? No wonder that “Al-Azhar” refused to label ISIS as heretics because it is very well aware, they are merely acting faithfully on scriptures it sees as “untouchable, unchangeable”
    You might be blaming the West for not sending military force to Syria to remove Assad and stop the killing of your fellow Muslims? But be honest, remember Muslims’ endless grievances against the West for sending it’s army to Iraq to remove the dictator Saddam and freeing the Kurds and the Shia from his clutches. Muslims accused the Crusader West of occupying, colonizing Muslim land. The West has managed to learn from its Iraq involvement, not to intervene in Syria. So what choice has the West left in order to avoid accusations of `colonization’. When it intervenes, it is accused of being aggressive occupier. If it doesn’t, then it does not care about Muslim lives. Think about it. After all, Why do you think the West should be held responsible for the war between Islamic sects who are killing each other in the Middle East, the Sunni and shia? You can not possibly, in your sane mind, be holding the West responsible for a 1400 year old ideological religious conflict between the two main Islamic sections.
    Why are the majority of Muslims trapped in this delusional paranoid schizophrenic belief that they are forever victims of the `evil other’, the West, who either is either colonizing their land or does not show care about their lives. The evil West who is always plotting to control them, steal their resources, fight their religion, contaminate their mind with un- Islamic sexual decadence, turn their pure women into Western influenced prostitutes and import countless other impure vices to their pure Islamic society?

    When a sick society projects all its evils outside onto the `other’, in order to see itself as the good, pure race/religion, it will never take any responsibility for its evil deeds, since it is always `the other’ doing the evil, even when caught red handed ” the evil other made us do the terrorist acts-we are not responsible”. Mr Ramadan, you must admit, if you were to develop interest in acquiring some awareness and insight into your ‘double talk’, that you do participate- all be it unknowingly- in this unconscious defense mechanism which, in the language of Psychotherapy, is called `projection’.

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