The Charlie Hebdo cartoon that was posted in the Dining Hall recently and the talk around campus has affected me on a personal level, and I know that it has also affected other Muslim students at Deerfield.
It’s one thing for Charlie Hebdo to publish a cartoon, which arose out of ignorance and hit at the very core of religious belief. But it is another thing for my own school to flaunt the same cartoon in the lobby of the Dining Hall.
Everyone knows that the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the cartoon is offensive to Muslims but not everyone may know why. The Prophet himself prohibited any portrayal of himself or of God because Islam was revealed at a time when there was wide spread practice of idolatry. In Islam, the notion of God or other sacred figures like Prophet Muhammad is beyond any depiction.
So soon after we applauded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a man who exercised his freedom of speech to promote the rights and protections of other human beings, peacefully—we defended Charlie Hebdo’s use of the same freedom to incite hate.
Let me be clear—I do not condone the acts of the terrorists. In fact, to me they are not Muslims: they are terrorists and that is all. These are severely deranged and cruel people who seek political gain and power through violence, and there are over a billion people who are living proof that that is not what it means to be a Muslim. So how can we defend people for exercising a right when it is detrimental to the beliefs and values of an entire religion—one that, in my perspective, does not even include the “Islamist” extremists, who are the only ones deserving of this humiliation?
While I believe strongly in the freedom of speech, I also believe it must be balanced with responsibility and a social conscience. As Mr. Flaska asserted at a sit-down lunch, “At Deerfield Academy. . . every single day we deny ourselves the rights to which we are entitled simply out of consideration for others in this community.” And he indicated, the fact that we do not say whatever we want, whenever we want, is what makes Deerfield such a great community.
Deerfield students are encouraged to build strong moral character through thoughtfulness, tolerance and respect. I think that the majority of students here understand that with freedom of speech comes responsibility. Just because we have the right to say things about and to others does not make it right to say those things.
In 2006, sacrilegious Danish cartoons were published that had a very similar effect on the global Muslim community as the Charlie Hebdo cartoons did.
In a speech addressing this issue, the Aga Khan explained, “Perhaps. . .it is ignorance which has allowed so many participants in this discussion to confuse liberty with license–implying that the sheer absence of restraint on human impulse can constitute a sufficient moral framework. This is not to say that governments should censor offensive speech. Nor does the answer lie in violent words or violent actions. But I am suggesting that freedom of expression is an incomplete value unless it is used honorably, and that the obligations of citizenship in any society should include a commitment to informed and responsible expression.”