About helplessness, about frustration
If criticism is made of patriarchal structures or behaviour, of discrimination (vulgo “racism“), or of despotism, it is sometimes not unimportant how this criticism is formulated, and especially who is voicing it.
THE STORY’S ONE PART
In a speech given by the Norwegian Deeyah Khan, daughter of a Pakistani and an Afghan woman, in 2016 as part of the TEDx Talks series of events (see also the TED-website), she first tells of her childhood and youth in Norway in a Muslim, not particularly religious family. These are experiences that are not limited to a specific country or cultural sphere, experiences that are similarly everywhere.
How she was urged by her father, no, ruthlessly forced to learn a musical instrument and singing, to make music and perform in public;
… being spat on and insulted by a “white” Norwegian only because of her South Asian descent (as if she had done something wrong with it);
… was hostile, attacked and faced with death threats by people from “her” Islamic influenced culture – she speaks of “brown people” – because of her public appearances in a music group.
How she therefore received no sympathy or help from “her” Islamic influenced environment;
… during her later work in aid organisations realised that her personal experiences in “her” Islamic-influenced environment, where the “honour” and reputation of the family or group are determining factors for living together, are not an exception but the rule;
… during this work came across with disoriented young people – especially young men – who had not built up their own personalities in the field of conflict between authoritarian education based on intimidation on the one hand and experiences of discrimination on the other, and who passed on their personal experiences of violence to others.
She tells of young people who, on their way to adulthood, are looking for role models or guides, orientation, group membership and support, and how this is only apparently given to them by “brown men with beards”, by “cynical old men who want to use blood for their own profit”, as Deeyah Khan calls them.
Deeyah Khan points out how not self-exclusion in parallel societies, not hatred, not the permanent role of victim, but acceptance of the values of a free democratic constitutional state and the individual right of self-determination that leads out of the spiral of violence.
Deeyah Khan addresses the question to Muslim parents:
“Can you decide for them (for your children) instead of for your honour?”
She quotes an apt African proverb:
If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.
* * *
THE STORY’S OTHER PART
- Freedom of expression does not harm anyone.
- Drawing or publishing a caricature does not harm anyone.
- Cutting off someone’s head harms the person whose head is cut off.
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On 16 October 2020, the teacher Samuel Paty was murdered in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine near Paris in France. Paty had been teaching a lesson on freedom of opinion and expression, a legal right which is a fundamental constitutional right in France and in many other countries.
During the lesson, he used a caricature from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and showed it to the pupils, after warning them that they could leave the classroom beforehand if they did not want to see the caricature. According to the picture description, the caricature depicted the inventor and prophet of Islam, Mohammed.
Wikipedia and other public media widely covered the crime, its background and the international reactions to it (see the article Murder of Samuel Paty in Wikipedia).
~ ~ ~
First, a few brief comments on the three points at the top of the second part of this paper.
- Freedom of expression does not harm anyone:
The right to freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right guaranteed to all people in this country, is different from a single expression of opinion — that is, an act by a person –, which can of course harm someone if, for example, the expression contains defamation (slander) or libel. In such cases the expression of opinion is a criminal offence – see §§ 185 to 189 StGB (Penal Code in Germany). However, the mere guarantee of fundamental rights does not cause any damage, does not oblige or force anyone to express their opinion, but does not prevent anyone from doing so.
- Drawing or publishing a caricature does not harm anyone:
Drawing a caricature is a graphical representation of a cartoonist’s idea, a drawing tool’s stroke on a piece of paper, which causes no harm to anyone (unless they want to see harm in the fact that the cartoonist has to buy a new drawing tool at some time).
If the cartoon is published, a living person depicted in the cartoon may recognise himself or herself in spite of a distorted physiognomy. Some caricaturists succeed in translating character traits attributed to a person into drawings. This is particularly evident in caricatures of well-known public figures such as the 45th President of the USA, Donald Trump.
Cartooned persons may or may not like such depictions, but if they believe that they have suffered actual harm from the publication of such depictions, they have the right to take legal action. The same applies if they feel insulted or their rights have been infringed in any other way by the distorted representation.
- Cutting someone’s head off causes damage to the person whose head is cut off:
The infliction of bodily injury resulting in death. Manslaughter or murder is, as far as I know, punishable as a criminal offence or crime in all countries of the world. The victim of such a crime is dead after committing the crime, and the act is prosecuted as an official offence.
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After the murder of the teacher Samuel Paty (see above), there were demonstrations in some countries and protests were heard in the (social) media. In a few cases, the demonstrations were directed against the murder of the teacher, but in many other cases they were directed against the fact that he had talked about freedom of expression during a lesson and had shown a caricature as a vivid example of this.
Pictorial representations of the inventor and prophet of Islam, Mohammed, especially when they are caricatures – in contrast to comparable representations of other people – regularly lead to pressure for a (worldwide !) restriction of the right to freedom of expression. It is often enough that someone has only heard – or even rumoured – about such representations or caricatures instead of having seen the pictures themselves. The reason why the inventor and prophet of Islam, Mohammed, is caricatured or why a caricature of him is shown is irrelevant then, contexts seem irrelevant or are not reflected upon.
A reader’s comment posted on a Facebook entry (see the anonymised screenshot below), which you can encounter very often with similar wording, reflects on the motivation behind some of the pronouncements:
[…] Our Prophet Mohamed sws was NOT an Islamist or terrorist. The cartoons insult our prophet, who is very important to us Muslims. For non-believers this is difficult to understand, I understand that because I myself once belonged to these people. But believing Christians or Jews are more likely to understand it. The love for our prophet is therefore very great and difficult to describe. […]
How to insult someone who has been dead for almost 1400 years is not clear to me, because the allegedly insulted person has no possibility to feel insulted or to react to the insult with legal action.
The words “The love for our Prophet is therefore very great and difficult to describe” in the above commentary expresses an idealisation and transfiguration, but also an identification with the inventor and prophet of Islam, Mohammed. And they show a helplessness, at least a helplessness in argumentation.
Idealisation and transfiguration can go as far as kitsch, as can be observed in some cases where wishful thinking overlays or distorts the generally perceived reality. Every criticism may then be interpreted as a personal attack.
Identifying with another person expresses the fact that the development of an independent personality has been (severely) damaged, as Deeyah Khan explains in the video discussed above, in the first part of this article. Peer pressure, which hinders or even prevents the development of one’s own personality, does the rest.
The protest against so-called Mohammed cartoons is then merely a substitute action. The actual aim of the protest is despotism, is the patriarchal structures of rule, society and power – not only inherent in Islam – a protest like the one that was unleashed in several Islamic countries during the “Arab Spring”.
AT THE END
Islam – or other religions and other ideologies that restrict or suppress people’s will for freedom -, or right-wing reactionary, fascistoid actors such as Salafists and other very conservative representatives, supporters and defenders or sympathisers and solidarians of despotism and intimidation, as well as right-wing extremists who often take the opportunity to demand respect for Islam and its inventor, but who are not always prepared to do the same, to show respect for the values of the free democratic constitutional state and for general human rights to the same extent, let alone to recognise the primacy of even the most basic rights over all religious rules and commandments, those basic rights which apply equally to all people because of the principle of equality before the law (in Germany Article 3 sentence 1 of the Basic Law), are not the solution in this structure, but rather the problem which it is to solve with the means and possibilities of the free democratic constitutional state, such as the rule of law, e.g. the right to freedom of expression.
For the German version of this post, please refer to
Die seelisch Verletzten — Eine Geschichte in zwei Teilen.