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Yes, Words Can Hurt You: They Just Did! An Essay on Freedom of Expression

By Kam Zarrabi

It is a pity that the entire world doesn’t subscribe to some unified code of conduct or civilizational values - some code of conduct such as the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you’d have done unto you. To be even more specific; wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world subscribed to OUR codes of conduct in order to avoid disagreements and confrontations? Unfortunately that’s not the way our species has evolved!

In the more ancient times civilizations with greater military power dominated their world and imposed their values on the subjugated populations. In more recent times, in addition to the military power, economic supremacy determines who rules over whom and whose standards and values determine what is acceptable and what is not.

The West’s Industrial Revolution began the age of European colonialism in earnest. The Western industries and societies needed resources that were abundantly available, whether ready or as yet untapped, for exploitation elsewhere in the world. The sea going Portuguese and Spaniard extended their colonial ambitions in name of Christianity, the British in the guise of spreading their civilized values, and the French quite blatantly and with no apologies.

As we approached the twentieth century, the colonial age was gradually giving way to more subtle methods of predatory dominance and exploitive control.

Today we are engaged in seemingly endless military and non-military campaigns, principally in the Islamic lands, supposedly to promote freedom and democracy and to tackle the evil of terrorism.

Whether the Spaniards were truly convinced that their Catholic ideology would bring salvation to the non-Christian world, or whether the British honestly believed that their version of civilized ways would actually “enlighten” the less fortunate in India or elsewhere, is irrelevant. The Westerners were comfortable, as are the majority populations right here in the United States, that what our regimes are doing globally is for a righteous, noble cause, for which our nations are paying a high price in blood and money.

But this is not how we or our Western European partners are perceived by those we claim to be trying to shepherd toward a better life! It is no longer the nineteenth or the twentieth century; people throughout the globe now have access to cellphones and connect to the internet and they are generally much more in touch and aware of the geopolitical dynamics that affect their lives and their futures.

The perception, particularly in the Islamic world, is that the West, led by the power and global dominance of the United States, and often in detriment to America’s own national interests, is engaged in an anti-Islamic crusade. Client despots and tyrants and military juntas are supported and protected, while any hint of independence or non-compliance is discouraged and targeted for regime change. The more savvy political observers among them put a lot, if not most, of the blame on Israel’s influence, directly or indirectly, on the politicians and law makers in the American Congress who have long been under the command of America’s Zionist enterprises.

The reason for highlighting the foregoing should be clear: In order to understand the dynamics, motivations and the rationale behind actions such as the terror attack of 9/11 or what happened in Paris during the past few days, we must break through the fog of long prevailing conventional wisdom which is based on decades of misinformation and self-redeeming mythical narratives.

* No, those responsible for the tragedy of 9/11 were not motivated by some genetic, ideological or religious hatred of freedom, democracy and a good life. The perpetrators hailed exclusively from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two American supported, unpopular puppet regimes. The “freedom” they objected to was not our freedom of speech, voting rights or which god to worship or reject; they perhaps objected to our freedom to exercise our authority and impose our will upon their lands. 

* No, militant Muslims who choose “martyrdom” do not welcome violent death in order to ascend to heaven and enjoy sex with “72 maidens”. What they are willing to give their lives for deserves more credit than ascribing it to such mythological motivations aimed at diminishing the value of their self-sacrifice. Obviously we cannot agree with the legitimacy of our enemy’s motivations for such acts, but we do nonetheless decorate our own fallen heroes when they give up their lives in the pursuit of our noble cause, regardless of whether our cause is truly noble or not.

* Osama Bin Laden’s original objective was to overthrow the Saud clan and establish what he believed to be a true Islamic Caliphate. He saw the presence of American and Israeli military bases in Islam’s holiest land, sanctioned by the Saud regime in exchange for protection and support by the United States, as an insult on Islam. He, therefore, put the blame directly on the United States for the House of Saud’s very existence. This perception or belief continues to motivate the Islamic militants who are finding the perpetuation of onslaught on Islam in the name of war on terror a justifiable reason to retaliate in every way at their disposal.

* The terror attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was not an attack on the principle of freedom, free speech or free expression. In an unacceptable and criminal way, the terrorists were also exercising their right to free expression by violating the law of the land. These immigrants or children of immigrants to France from France’s former colony in North Africa come from a different cultural background with different standards of value and ethics. Underprivileged, unemployed and regarded as second-rate citizens who are not integrated with the rest of the population, they do however take great pride in the one thing that cannot be taken away, their religion and religious values. When their right to dress according to their traditional cultural habits is even challenged by the authorities, the only thing left, their religious values, looms ever larger in their minds.

So, a brazen, some call him brave, I would call him lunatic, cartoonist decides to exercise his right to free expression by ridiculing Islam’s prophet with impunity and under the protection of the laws of his land. Well, he paid for his bravery, didn’t he!

The leaders of most Islamic states and Islamic authorities have condemned this blatant terrorist act, as they had also condemned the publications of cartoons by the likes of Charlie Hebdo.

Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion.He has conducted lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues. Zarrabi's latest book is Iran, Back in Context.

Now we have to await the inevitable escalation of hostilities between the understandably intolerant European majorities and the downtrodden Islamic minorities who are also becoming less and less tolerant!

A final note: I just wonder what would happen if Charlie Hebdo were to publish cartoons depicting, say, the starving, emaciated and near death victims of the Holocaust in a funny, sarcastic way. There are approximately 600,000 Jewish people in France, but over 6,000,000 Muslims in a total population of about 66 million. Are the Muslims regarded as less sensitive than the Jews?

So, what happened to the principles of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité"?

Related Cartoon:

Joe Sacco: On Satire -- a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks

The acclaimed graphic artist and journalist Joe Sacco on the limits of satire -- and what it means if Muslims don’t find it funny

see high resolution

In fact when we draw a line, we are often crossing one too. Because lines on paper are a weapon, and satire is meant to cut to the bone. But whose bone? What exactly is the target?

And why?”

For that is going to be far easier than sorting out how we fit in each other's world.


... Payvand News - 01/11/15 ... --

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