Je Suis Ahmed Hebdo
By Mustapha Marrouchi
14 January, 2015
Like everyone else on the planet, I have been following the carnage that has been taking place in Paris; a carnage that has left nearly twenty people dead, including a black woman from Africa recently appointed a policewoman, a French policeman of Algerian descent, and three “terrorists,” also of African lineage. And while it is inhuman not to feel sympathy for all the victims who died in horrible conditions, we must remind ourselves of the stand that France has been taking vis-à-vis many issues concerning Muslims living inside its belly. For France, unlike the other colonial powers, has never faced up to its xenophobic past, especially when it has to do with those from The Maghreb.
France has banned the hijab by law, has barred the road to any form of political representation (foreigners forever yet not one of the five million French of Maghrebian descent hold a seat the French Parliament), has continued to play a game of hide and seek when it comes to the question of the Arab, who has been described as banlieusard (i.e. vermin, rat, locust). Think about it. To hear (and many French do) that Islam is a religion for idiots is not uncommon in France. If this sounds too extreme, all you need to do is to read France’s most celebrated writer, Michel Houellebecq and the case will be clear enough. This is a country that pries itself on being the only functioning democracy in the world yet gives no voice to those it considers lesser people except to pray in the streets of Paris, Marseille, Lyon, and elsewhere; a country that says it is the cradle of the Rights of Man yet does allow the dissemination of several abject cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, the sensibility par excellence for millions of Muslims, in the name of freedom of speech is to ask for trouble, to say the least. What else did these cartoonists expect? When you attack the last rampart, the terminus, the citadel of a religion that struggles on a daily basis to shield itself from all sorts of invasions coming from the West: Nike, CNN, BBC, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, you must take responsibility for your actions. Il faut assumer, as the French like to intone.
To degrade a man—namely, Muhammed, is to sally the very core of a cultural, social, economic, spiritual, and even metaphysical value that is so dear to so many people; people who may have nothing at all at home but who have plenty if they have a Qur’an they can cling to, a book that is held in some quarters dearer than life itself. In the West, on the other hand, we must call a spade and spade. This is done, we are told, in the name of saying it as it is in an enlightened West. Well, were the very same Charlie Hebdo to try and criticize Israel, or claim that the Shoah never existed, which it did, or that the Holocaust is a tall tale, which it is not, then we will see what happens to the so-called sacred freedom of expression. It will be savaged, taken off the shelves, eradicated tout court. To that effect, we still recall how the comedian Dieudonné and his quenelles were meted in a ruthless way simply because he was deemed to be un agent provocateur to public order (i.e. anti-Semitic and therefore undesirable). He was not only banned in France but in the rest of Europe as well thanks to the pressure brought to bear on him by a powerful Jewish lobby that stands as a chienne de garde for everything that is meant to harm Judaism/Israel and its image in the world. But to typecast Muslims and/or their Prophet, a man who stood for tolerance, equality, and modesty; a man who has been compared to Charlemagne and Jesus, is fair game because Muslims the world over are still thought of as the “small” people who understand only the language of force, who are barbaric and backward and stupid and deserve to be pissed on. But we, on the other hand, are civilized, advanced, and rational. Any representation of them (Muslims) is therefore fair game. After all, if you go after the source, the origin, the beginning as it is embodied in the Prophet, and get away with it, then the sky is the limit.
Here, one particular culprit comes to mind, someone who opened the Pandora Box for many to follow. That person is Salman Rushdie. Muslims have never had a break ever since The Satanic Verses came out in 1987. Oddly enough, I have a copy signed by Monsieur Rushdie himself. The team of cartoonists who were killed in Paris were marching in the footsteps of Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Anne Coulter, Niall Ferguson and Co. Their main objective is to insult in the most hideous way Muslims and what they hold dear, very dear. There is an irony worth mentioning here in that I have never heard a Muslim saying something negative about Jesus or Moses or David or Buddha any other prophet for that matter. In fact, they treat all prophets with reverence. One does expect the same to happen on the other side. For the West, though, nothing is sacred. Their argument is that we are here to debunk, satirize, and degrade everyone and everything that stands in our way of thinking. Well, the Prophet Muhammed is not everyone. Like Moses, Abraham, David, he is someone and ought therefore to be treated with respect and even veneration.
In the midst of the tragedy that took place in Paris, the West cannot accept the fact that it is unable to force so many of the earth’s people to embrace all of its ideals, to bow to all its ideas, and to sit aside and watch while they are defaced and disfigured. The time has come for such a West to reconsider its views about the rest of us, to rethink its ideas about not only freedom of expression but also about how far it can go to diminish those of us who believe and do not believe in another Supreme Being as Nietzsche once put it. The West should know better than sally a people and one person they hold high up there. That one person is the Prophet Muhammed. For many, including those alienated young men who killed the cartoonists in Paris, he is a reason for being, refuge, a tiny corner where they can run in times of desperation, reclaim their identity, and be who they truly are. It is funny, is it not, that the weapons the men used to kill their victims are made in the West, the virtuous West who intervenes in a Rambo-like fashion in Libya, Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria; a West that says very little when innocent civilians are killed in Palestine and elsewhere as if they were flies in the name of national security; a West that fathered the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, Zionism, colonialism, racism; a West that calls the Paris killers “barbarians” yet drops bombs on innocent civilians whom it deems “collateral damage.” It is a sad state of affairs.
In the end, do I feel sorry for those who were shot in Paris? Of course, I do. Any decent human being would feel terrible about what happened. But at the same time and until the West and the Rest speak the same language; until we are able to come to an understanding that the loss of human lives is the same the world over, that the spilling of blood of one life in Paris is no more, no less precious than another in Gaza; until we realize that there is enough room for all of us to live in harmony with each other without prejudice, only then can we claim to be decent and fair-minded and possibly even civilized. Otherwise, we are all barbarians avant la lettre, except that some of us are more astute at manicuring their barbarity that others.
An internationally renowned literary and cultural critic, Mustapha Marrouchi lives on borderline between the West and Rest. He is the author of half-a-dozen books, including The Fabric of Subcultures.
 Mustapha Ourrad who died in the assault was the copy-editor for Charlie Hebdo. The other victim of Maghrebian origin is the policeman who was shot at point blank and died instantly on the pavement in front of the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. Ironically, their names have hardly been mentioned in the Western media. They remain a non-entity.
 The following is a piece I wrote against orthodoxy and in favor of Rushdie’s right to freedom of expression. See Mustapha Marrouchi, “Salman Rushdie in Alphaville, at Cross-Purposes,” Brick (Summer 1989): 38-46.
Comments are moderated