Texas police shot dead two gunmen who opened fire on Sunday outside an event on cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad organized by a notorious anti-Islamic hate group lead by Pamela Geller.
The gunmen in the shooting have been identified as Nadir Soofi, 34, and Elton Simpson, 30. The two were roommates who lived in Phoenix. They arrived at the event's entrance armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor. The pair exited their vehicle and then were confronted by a police officer, who shot and killed the suspects. The shooting is widely being called a reprisal attack by Islamists. Consequently, it has sparked a heated debate over free speech and collective condemnation from Muslims – not five months after a similar discussion followed the Paris terror attacks in January.
Keeping the frequency of such incidents in mind, one can’t help but wonder if something can be done to at least avoid similar violence in the future.
It is about time this cycle of “heated debate” and “collective condemnation” went beyond words to come up with practical solutions to put an end to all the hate and bloodshed, for good.
Despite being disgusted by the idea of offering $10,000 for people to draw offensive caricatures of Muhammad – which is almost similar to rewarding Nazis for depicting Jews with hooked noses – prominent Muslim-American figures “universally defended Geller's right to draw cartoons,” according to The Daily Beast’'s Dean Obeidallah.
It was undoubtedly an excellent response because first, it supports free speech and second, it is less likely to prompt similar attempts to further ridicule Muhammad.
While the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the attack in a press release today, noting that "bigoted speech can never be an excuse for violence," CAIR did emphasize how this cycle of hatred and extremism continues to play out because of anti-Muslim bigotry and stereotyping.
"Unfortunately, human history shows us that hatred breeds more hatred and extremism leads to more extremism.
"Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders and the perpetrators of yesterday's attack all seek to provoke a downward spiral of mutual hostility and mistrust in America and around the world.
As it has been proven, time and again, violence only causes more damage. The attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine claimed the lives of 12 innocent people, however, its long term effects included a rise in Islamophobia across Europe as well as counter-terrorism measures that were equally xenophobic.
The massacre angered people – and rightfully so – into drawing more caricatures, some even vowing to draw Muhammad every single day of the year.
What could’ve easily gotten lost within the pages of the satirical magazine, was exacerbated due to the actions of a bunch of elements who can give up their lives to watch the world burn.
Therefore, the correct approach by Muslims to deal with such provocative acts of hate speech should be either utter disregard or intelligent exchange of ideas.
Read More: I am Charlie vs. I am not Charlie
Meanwhile, it’s high time the international community did something substantial to help put an end to the hateful provocation of Muslims’ religious sentiments.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that images of a certain prophet are more precious than the innocent lives taken by terrorists. However, if “free speech” has the tendency to incite hatred against an already hated and misunderstood community, then it’s definitely something the world needs to rethink.
While we can’t censor publications like Charlie Hebdo – and we shouldn’t – we can’t also disregard non-Eurocentric religious beliefs as unimportant and irrelevant.
These caricatures, no matter how thought-provoking, have the same effect on (a lot of) people that censorship has on free speech: It’s suffocating and humiliating.
Plus, they do not seem to serve any purpose other than giving terrorists an excuse to fulfill their agenda of creating discord.
See Also: What Would Muhammad Do?
In several countries, including France, Germany and Belgium, Holocaust denial is legally prosecuted under hate speech and racial vilification.
Why can’t similar laws be put in place for Muslims and for other religions? Why can’t the international community provide their religious sentiments equal legal protection?
Dismissing the legitimate concerns of billions of Muslims by saying if they’re getting offended it’s their problem is actually an act of hate in itself.
There should be a barometer – some space for dialogue.
An Interesting Question: Is The Silent, Peaceful Majority Among Muslims Responsible For Terrorism?
Let’s end this article with this video, which is an important scene from Freedom Writers, a 2007 movie starring Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell, an American teacher known for her inspiring and unique teaching methods.
In this particular scene, a misguided student named Tito draws an offensive caricature of his African-American classmate. After having a look at the drawing, Erin explains her class how caricatures, like the one drawn by Tito, paved the way for the Holocaust.
This, in no way, establishes a connection between journalists/cartoonists and the Nazis.
However, this can help understand how certain caricatures – even if embodying powerful ideas, like in the case of Charlie Hebdo – can have a devastating affect on a community already misunderstood by the world.