After decades of apathy we are finally seeing Muslims mobilizing and agitating against France for their continued anti-Muslim policies.
Something that many of us have been calling for years.
But these calls for boycott is not sitting well with some(or many) self-professed advocates of Laïcité(Secularism) and even some Muslims.
Here is a summary of the contentions against boycott making rounds online.
- The Prophet(ﷺ) tolerated blasphemy. Muslims who are protesting against blasphemy are radical extremists and terrorists. Or enabling them.
- Muslim nations should civilize themselves first before lecturing a Modern Nation like France which promotes Free Speech.
- Boycotting France is Hypocrisy. What about the Uyghurs?
- Boycotts are not effective.
- What about offensive verses in the Quran?
This two part series will address these contentions as comprehensively as possible.
In this first part we will discuss the following issues.
- Are Muslims unIslamic in their intolerance towards blasphemy?
- Does France really promote Free Speech?
Is tolerating blasphemy Sunnah?
Some Makkan era incidents are cited to prove that the Prophet(ﷺ) tolerated blasphemy. The non-legal crux of the argument is that if we do not promote freedom of speech or tolerance against blasphemy it will lead to extremism and vigilante violence.
The problem with this contention two fold.
For one it ignores the Post-Hijra incidents where there is proof that neither the Prophet(ﷺ) or his Sahabi(رضي الله عنهم) tolerated blasphemy. There was a Propaganda war and even executions.
So is this a contradiction or are Muslims being disingenuous?
The issue is simple. It depends on context. But as a general rule it was firmly established that blasphemy against the Prophet(ﷺ) is to be categorically opposed whenever and wherever possible. Advocates of tolerating blasphemy also ignore the legal aspect of the issue where some Fuqaha don’t even accept the repentance of the blasphemer.
Raḍī Uddīn al-Sarakhsī (d. before 616/1219) is reported to have said;
من شتم النبى صلى الله عليه وسلم وأهانه أو عابه فى أمور دينه أو شخصه أو فى وصف من أوصاف ذاته سواء كان الشاتم من أمته أو غيره, و سواء كان من أهل الكتاب أو غيره, ذمياً كان أو حربياً, سواء كان الشتم أو الأهانة والعيب صادرا عنه عمداً أو قصداً أو سهواً أو غفلة أو هزلاً فقد كفر خلوداً بحيث إن تاب لم يقبل توبته ابداً لا عند الله ولا عندالناس, وحكمه فى الشريعة المطهرة عند متأخرين المجتهدين اجماعاً وعند أكثر المتقدمين القتل قطعاً
The one who cursed the Prophet (ﷺ) or insulted him or slandered his personality, or criticised any of his attributes and whether this act is deliberate or otherwise and even if done jokingly the blasphemer, whether he is Muslim or non-Muslim, whether he is from the People of the Book or not, whether he is from the people of covenant (dhimmī) or a belligerent (ḥarbī), he has committed disbelief for good in a way that his repentance shall not be accepted either by Allah or by the people.In Shari’ah the punishment for such a person, according to majority of the early and consensus of the later scholars is clearly death. (1)
Here we have a Hanafi scholar arguing that a blasphemer is to be executed regardless of whether he is Muslim or not. And the Hanafi school is supposed to be the far more tolerant and rational school of thought than their imagined Wahhabi counterparts. While this opinion is debatable, it is within the grounds of legitimate Ijtihad. Fuqaha did not label one another Khariji or Wahhabi for simply holding these opinions. So why should we disparage one another for adhering to these Ijtihad?
To be clear, this is not an endorsement for vigilante crimes. These laws are to be executed within a judicial system. Not by Muslims on an individual level.
The concern regarding vigilante violence(or terrorism) as a response to blasphemy is a legitimate one. At least, on the surface it appears to be so.
Muslims should not take laws into their own hands and should follow due process no matter how the disbelievers act. We do not tolerate blasphemy, however we should not resort to vigilantism or terrorism no matter how deceitful and tyrannical disbelievers are.
But the idea that blasphemy should be unconditionally tolerated is a baseless notion.
Second it plays into the narrative of Good Muslim and Bad Muslim dichotomy. In this instance the “Good Muslims” are expected to unconditionally tolerate all kinds of insults against our beloved Prophet(ﷺ). Someone we revere more than our parents. Those of us that don’t are “Bad Muslims”. Or in some cases, we are not even Muslims according to French liberals who have mastered the Islamic Aqeedah overnight.
Humor aside, the fact of the matter is Muslims do tolerate blasphemy and polemics against their religion and do not resort to violence. There are over 1.6 billion of us. If even 10 percent of us were really that sensitive to blasphemy, the vigilante attacks would be a weekly occurrence.
The overwhelming majority of us condemn vigilantism, violence and terrorism. Our sister Heraa Hashmi from Traversing Tradition compiled a 712 page document which should be more than enough to prove that Muslims by default do not endorse terrorism. (2)
But even then that is not enough to prove that Muslims don’t condone terrorism.
It should be obvious that online hate mobs and trolls do not define or represent the collective Muslim opinion. If you are going to argue that the Western Nations as a whole cannot be held accountable for the violence of the “lone-wolves” and the extremist rhetoric of the Right Wing Forums and Platforms, then why should Muslims be held accountable for the extremism of the few?
Every flock has their own black sheep. If someone goes to any right wing rally in any Western country and they keep insulting figures or symbols that are revered by them, would it be tolerated?
If someone publicly promotes Anti-Semitic cartoons, will it be tolerated?
Do even civilized Westerners tolerate blasphemy?
Does France itself really tolerate blasphemy against symbols it holds sacred?
Does France really promote Freedom of Speech and Expression?
A lot has been said about France’s obsession with the headscarves of Muslim women. The entire argument for banning religious garb is that religious garbs apparently threaten the country’s secular identity and thus religious expression should remain private. (3)
That’s a subjective argument that can’t be empirically verified. If anything it impedes individual expression and freedom which France claims to uphold.
And it’s not just the government. The infamous Charlie Hebdo—who has on occasions mocked dead immigrant children—also has red lines. They fired an artist over antisemitism. (4)
On the whole France also doesn’t tolerate any kind of desecration of its own symbols either. Take for example the desecration of flags. A July 2010 law makes it a crime to desecrate the French national flag in a public place, but also to distribute images of a flag desecration, even when done in a private setting. And the first person to be convicted of this law was—conveniently—an Algerian. (5) (6)
France is also not unique in terms of criminalizing desecration of flags. UK, Germany, Spain and Greece also criminalizes desecration of flags. (7)
So how does France have a laissez-faire approach to Free Speech?
The French government is very particular about regulating hate speech. Or what it perceives to be hate speech.
“And how hypocritical was it of the French government to claim it defends free speech! In France, you can go to jail if you publicly express hatred for a group whose members may be defined generally by characteristics of birth, such as gender, age, race, place of origin or religion.
You can also go to jail for using speech to defy the government. This past weekend, millions of folks in France wore buttons and headbands that proclaimed in French: “I am Charlie Hebdo.” Those whose buttons proclaimed “I am not Charlie Hebdo” were asked by the police to remove them. Those who wore buttons that proclaimed, either satirically or hatefully, “I am Kouachi” were arrested. Arrested for speech at a march in support of free speech? Yes.” (8)
Despite its claims defending Free Speech no matter what, the French Government has been trying to regulate hate speech against the LGBT. Though the French Court remains consistent in maintaining freedom of speech as a constitutional right it shows that absolute “Freedom of Speech” does have negative implications and the French government is actively trying to address it. (9) (10)
Macron himself doesn’t tolerate insults or disrespectful behavior. In response to Erdoğan questioning Macron’s mental health, France has recalled their ambassador and there are reports of the French embassy in Mauritania terminating the contract of a French Cartoonist for insulting Macron. (11) (12) (13)
So factually speaking the French government does try to regulate speech and expressions. Every sane individual and institution should. Because the fact of the matter is speech has consequences. Most of the times they are harmless. But sometimes it can contribute to greater prejudice and even violence.
As a matter of principle the argument for absolute Free Speech is not logically coherent or compatible with good ethics and morality. But that’s another discussion.
The French government is being deceitful by masking their hateful policies by purporting to defend Free Speech and Democratic Values.
It simply refuses to regulate hate speech against Muslims because it continues to appeal to Majoritarian prejudice and hatred against Muslims.
Muslims in France face employment discrimination depending on how religious they appear. (14)
Islamophobia has been burgeoning(or has it ever abated?) in France over the last decades. The latest of which has been the stabbing attacks on Muslim women in Paris. (15) (16)(17) (18)
The French government does not really care about Free Speech. It is merely a sloganeering instrument for allaying the prejudiced anxiety of Islamophobes and validating their Islamophobia. French Far-Right politicians and the Xenophobic Discourse has continued to dominate French politics for years now.(19)(20)
Following the beheading of the teacher the French government has only fueled the virulent Islamophobic politics. The latest of which was the shutdown of the largest charity organization of France, BarakaCity. The French government claims that it only targets Radical Islam, but it continues to target mainstream Muslim organizations that have no links to Radicalism. (21)
On top of all this, their continued denial and downplaying of it’s very recent brutal past is evidence enough that France simply does not care for principles of justice. The Paris massacre of 1961 was only formally acknowledged in 2012. (22)
And there is virtually no real acknowledgment or discussions about of how France’s brutal occupation of Algeria, Morocco and Tunis where they raped, tortured and massacred Muslims and the imposition of French laws and French backed elites could play a role in Radicalization.
An ignorant might ask, why do historical events matter?
Because France’s status as a first world nation was not achieved through the merit of it’s ideas or any honest means. France’s wealth and prosperity was obtained through massacre and loot. (23)
The immigrants that reside in France today are from France’s former colonies. The very lands that France devastated and profited from.
So why does France evade discussing this issue in an honest and holistic matter?
Because it is simply not convenient politically. The French government and their intelligentsia are not interested in tackling these issues holistically because it means losing their Islamophobic constituencies.
This isn’t something novel. Convenience dictating politics is an age old French tradition. There was a time when the French went against their own “principles” of “Free Speech” to please Muslims.
In 1889 Henri de Bornier, a French poet and dramatist wrote an anti-Islamic play called Mahomet. Even though the Ottoman Caliphate was perceived as the ‘sick-man of Europe’, the French Prime Minister Charles de Freycinet banned the play in 1890 after objections from the Ottoman High Porte.
“Bornier himself was the victim of blind and unreasoning Muslim prejudice in regard to his Mahomet. The play was being rehearsed in 1889 when a Turkish newspaper reproduced from a French journal the news of its forthcoming production. The French Foreign Ministry assured the Turkish ambassador in Paris, Es’at Pasha, that the play did not constitute an attack on the Prophet and on the cherished beliefs of the Muslims. Bornier pointed out that the Persian ta’ziyas or passion plays regularly depicted the death of Muhammad as well as those of the Shi’ite martyrs, and he offered to accept prohibition of his work’s being played in Algeria and Tunisia. These arguments still failed to satisfy the Turkish authorities, and in 1890 the head of the government, Freycinet, banned the production of Mahomet in France, a prohibition which, it was reported, gave much pleasure to the Sultan Abd al-Hamid II. It must be admitted that Muslims would undeniably find offensive a play in which their Prophet killed himself because of a woman and because of inferiority feelings vis-a-vis Christianity, but there is no evidence that either the Turkish ambassador or the Sultan had seen the play, much less read it, when they first objected to it. The French government’s surrender to this Turkish pressure was plausibly attributed by Martino to the contemporary political situation, for in 1889 the German Emperor William II was beginning his journey to Istanbul and the Near East, and France feared to do anything which might drive Turkey further into Germany’s arms; the susceptibilities of France’s numerous Muslim subjects in North Africa must also have been a consideration. Not till 1896 were excerpts from Mahomet presented to the public in a special arrangement for theatrical declamation. Since Bornier’s time, no major European dramatist seems to have essayed a play on the life of the Prophet.” (24)
So the notion that the French government is driven by principles is an unfounded one. And it’s stance of defending Blasphemy in the name of Free Speech is simply another ploy at pleasing their Islamophobic constituents.
As I stated above the French Government seeks to maintain rapport with its majority constituents for the upcoming elections. Going against the Islamophobic trend will make them lose ground to the likes of Mary Le Pen and her National Rally. It isn’t unlike what happened in America or India in the recent years. Burgeoning Islamophobia(and other right wing prejudices) is what lead to the rise of Trump and Modi. France is no different.
So it should not be surprising to see an outpour of support for Macron from Indians. (25)
It is not Islam that is under crisis. Rather the “Free-World” is in crisis of being completely overtaken by fascism under the guise of tackling “Radical Islam”. The sooner people realize that, the better.
One can argue that—however misguided and ignorant the notion is—why boycott France and not let them manage their affairs they see fit? Is this not impeding their national sovereignty?
This contention has been partially answered above. The second part of this series will further elaborate on how France continues to maintain a Colonial Economy and continues to meddle in affairs of other nations by, again, exploiting Islamophobic politics—in this case—on an International Level.
The other contentions will also be addressed. So stay tuned, In sha Allah.