I yield to no one in my attachment to, and defense of, free speech principles. But it is worth noting that if a publication in the United States mocked Jews or black people in the way Charlie Hebdo satirized Islam, it would be roundly condemned and boycotted. But because Charlie Hebdo targeted a vulnerable, unpopular group that is widely considered fair game in the West, it has been lauded for its courage and its commitment to cherished democratic values.
Now, in an act that is hypocritical and ironic, French police have arrested scores of Muslims on hate-speech charges.
It is easy to claim to promote and stand for freedom of expression and to wrap oneself in the mantle of righteousness at the expense of those who are already beleaguered, downtrodden, marginalized and oppressed. But it is a gross abuse of a worthy principle, and there is nothing admirable or praiseworthy about it.
John S. Koppel, Bethesda
Post Executive Editor Martin Baron was quoted as saying that The Post’s policy is to avoid publishing something “pointedly, deliberately or needlessly offensive.” In The Post’s judgment, then, a caricature of the prophet of Islam is none of those things to Muslims.
If one of the flagship newspapers of the United States can display such ignorance, what hope is there for those who would like to promote cultural understanding? With thinking such as this, it’s not if but when a “clash of civilizations” will occur.
Abdul Kadir Hussain, Dubai
French Muslims are missing the point [“French Muslim community argues: We are not Charlie,” front page, Jan. 14]. The attack on Charlie Hebdo would be universally condemned regardless of the content.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is commonly attributed to French philosopher Voltaire and epitomizes the concept of free speech. Several heads of state of Muslim-majority countries marched in Paris, not to defend the content of Charlie Hebdo but to support the right to say it.
Robert Burney, Washington
Yasmine Bahrani’s Jan. 15 op-ed, “Paris’s other casualty,” said, “Among the casualties of France’s 9/11 may be the relationship between Muslims and the West.”
She cited the depiction of the prophet Muhammad on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the gathering of world leaders in Paris to mourn 17 dead while ignoring the thousands killed in the Middle East and Nigeria and the lack of Western demonstrations protesting the 132 schoolchildren slaughtered in Pakistan.
Muslims who have chosen to live in France and who are protesting over (and, in the case of Charlie Hebdo, killing over) cartoons of Muhammad expect the French to discard the Western tradition of secularism. To many Muslims, the separation of the secular from the sacred is hard to comprehend, as the distinction does not exist in Islam. Nevertheless, Muslims who choose to live in the West are obliged to respect Western cultural values, just as Westerners who choose to live in Islamic-majority countries are obliged to respect the cultural traditions and values in those countries.
Muslims should discard the comfortable myth that they are victims of the West. They can begin by accepting the fundamental Western values of pluralism and freedom of expression.
William H. Barkell, Arlington