"WE will always defend freedom of expression...But freedom of expression is not without limit...
We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Business Times, Oct 31).
This extract from Trudeau's statement was in reference to the Charlie Hebdo reproduction of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) drawings on Sept 2. Indeed everything has its limits. If expression has limits, so does the reaction to that expression.
The editorial of the Charlie Hebdo magazine wrote: "We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited... but because there was a need for a good reason to do it.
"To reproduce these cartoons in the week the trial begins over the January 2015 terrorist attacks seemed essential to us."
So, what was this "good reason"? Perhaps, it saw a benefit to be gained from violence. Yes, it indeed benefited from the violence that these provocative cartoons had instigated.
Below is an extract from Wikipedia supported by the New York Times and France 24.
"Charlie Hebdo had struggled financially since its establishment until 2015. As the magazine was facing a loss of €100,000 by end of 2014, it has sought donations from readers to no avail.
"The international attention to the magazine following the 2015 attack revived the publication, bringing some €4 million in donations from individuals, corporations and institutions, as well as a revenue of €15 million from subscriptions and newsstands between January and October 2015. According to figures confirmed by the magazine, it gained more than €60 million in 2015, which declined to €19.4 million in 2016. As of 2018, it spent €1 million to €1.5 million annually for security services."
The French freedom of expression is protected by "The 1789 Declaration of Human and Civic Rights" incorporated by reference into the French Constitution, according to Nicolas Boring, a foreign Law specialist.
But then, why was Charlie Hebdo (earlier known as Hara-Kiri Hebdo) banned in 1970? According to Time.com, Charlie Hebdo "was banned for mocking the death of former French president Charles de Gaulle".
Following the reprint and Emmanuel Macron's defence of the reprint rights of the magazine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Oct 24 suggested that Macron was "mentally unstable".
This prompted the French government to recall its ambassador to Turkey because the head of the state is protected under the Law of July 29, 1881 (Limits on Speech against Institutions and Office holders).
Boring explains: "Yet, while French law considers free speech to be an essential component of a democratic society, it is not seen as absolute."
French legislators and courts seek to balance freedom of speech with other imperatives, such as other freedoms and rights, and public order. Thus, freedom of expression may be limited for the sake of protecting privacy, protecting the presumption of innocence, and preventing defamation and insults.
Freedom of expression may also be limited for the sake of protecting public order. It is, therefore, illegal to incite others to commit a crime, even when no crime ends up being committed. I am indeed forced to wonder what should have been the appropriate action of Macron's government based on past experience.
And if an ambassador can be recalled, what should have been the reaction of countries that consider Prophet Muhammad as their head and guide?
Talking of prophets, Muslims of France and the globe have erred in their reaction. They reacted and protested selfishly. They reacted partially. They must let the world know that Muslims cannot accept any obscenity when it comes to religious figures in Islam and Christianity.
In fact, there are more than 12 cases filed by Christian organisations against Charlie Hebdo for blasphemy.
Muslim organisations in France must join hands with them and take the legal path.
The French, Dutch, Danes and the world must understand that permitting obscenity against the prophets revered by millions benefits no one except those who promote hate mongering and violence.
Published in: New Straits Times, Saturday 21 November 2020