No, Charlie, free speech has its limits

Sorry, but non! Je ne suis pas Charlie. No, I am not Charlie. I pen this opening salvo in response to your front-page editorial, Assassins of Freedom.

I support free speech. I oppose all forms of censorship. I abhor the killings in Paris at the hands of deranged criminals or barbarians. Yes, I mourn the dead, but I am not Charlie.

I can put it no better than to paraphrase Voltaire: I do not have to agree with what you say or publish, but I am prepared to die to defend your right to say it.

When I purchased your newspaper with that searing front-page editorial and returned home, the debilitating power outage, courtesy of Eskom, was an hour in progress and I spent the next hour and a half ruminating on the news that those two barbarians were killed in a shoot-out and the timeline of events that led to that culmination.

I identify with the essence of your editorial, because nothing – no ifs or buts – mitigates the monstrosity your editorial and other articles lament. I cannot and I will not, however, subscribe to that hashtag Je suis Charlie that has gone viral, for I am no “Charlie” and to identify myself with that means I condone extremism in any form.

Under the guise of freedom of expression, extremists – aka cartoonists from [satirical magazine] Charlie Hebdo – sought to pour gunpowder over a simmering fire in racist France.

Je suis Charlie? If you are, good for you. I am not Charlie Hebdo, period. I will not legitimise what it stands for.

Just in case you misunderstand me, permit me to explain. Nothing – no one, no cartoon, no book and no editorial, column or op-ed piece – can ever justify the kind of brutality exemplified by the shooting rampage that happened in Paris.

I support, unequivocally, what the imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris, Hassen Chalghoumi, reportedly said – that those who perpetrated the foul deed were “criminals, barbarians” who had “sold their souls to hell”.

But, madam editor, let’s step away from tearing our hair from its roots and wringing our hands and let’s be honest. Would a highly esteemed media outlet such as the Mail & Guardian print a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad crouched on all fours with his genitals bared or, for that matter, one that shows the Father, Son and Holy Ghost sodomising each other? That, I submit, could have been the trigger that let loose those whom your editorial describes as “assassins of freedom”. Remember that the editor was under police guard because he had received death threats for such disparagement.

Most editors would balk at a cartoon like the one that online magazine the Onion put out a while ago, which, if I recall, showed Lord Ganesha, Jesus, Moses and Buddha all naked with erect phalluses, having an orgy in the clouds. It was sickening.

None of what was published by Charlie Hebdo can be classified as freedom of expression, surely? If you support that as a form of freedom of expression, I am truly speechless.

Therefore I can’t be, no one can be, Charlie.

My abomination and abhorrence of what went down can never be equated with becoming them. They were assassinated by modern-day Gavrilo Prinzips (whose assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand ignited World War I) and Nathuram Godses (Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin) who perhaps hoped to ignite a greater conflagration. They almost succeeded.

As Scott Long wrote in last week, the truth is that at the simplest level no one can occupy “someone else’s selfhood” or share “someone else’s death”.

So, Je suis Charlie? Really? I refuse to be as sanguine as you editorialise.

Those killed by the two barbarians, including a Muslim police officer, did not deserve their fate. What went down is not sanctioned anywhere in the Qur’an or the Hadith or, for that matter, in the comprehensive seerah (biography) of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

So, I must reiterate what I posted on my Facebook page. I am no Charlie and I will not validate insanity with any show of support such as you do in your editorial, for even freedom has limitations.

What motivated those “assassins” was their septic ideology against which even the Prophet (peace be upon him) would have expressed outrage and condemnation.

I repeat that nowhere in the Qur’an or Hadith did I find any reaction from him, even under the most extreme provocation, at various times such as when a Jewish merchant who purchased dates from him demanded earlier delivery than that contractually agreed upon and proceeded to verbally and physically abuse him. There is ample evidence that, if anything, he symbolised forbearance and tolerance throughout his tenure as the Prophet.

Saber Jazbhay is a Durban lawyer

• See The grim genesis of the Charlie attacks

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world