Extremism fever

Ahmed Mahmoud
Thursday 15 Jan 2015

Freedom of expression does not encompass oppressing, ridiculing or interferring with the beliefs of others

Undoubtedly there is no way to justify the despicable terrorist attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people, including a Muslim policeman called Ahmed.

“Extremism fever” has infected the world. It is true there are religious currents that have taken a sharp and radical turn, to the extent of picking up arms and justifying killing and destruction in the name of a holy war for the victory of religion. They have forgotten that religion came to regulate the lives of people with directives and principles, foremost among them, "Thou shalt not kill."

However, it is also true that this extremism is not particular to any one faith. Radical groups are found in all known and lesser known religions. The death toll at the hands of radical religious groups everywhere is in the millions, including victims of ethnic cleansing in many hotspots where conflicts were triggered by ethnicity or faith.

If we want to truly end extremism, we must not ignore the radical thinking behind radical groups. When extremist thought becomes ridiculing, interferring with the beliefs of others, it is no longer freedom of speech but can also be described as extremist or terrorist, even though it does not use a firearm.

The weapon does not have to be a firearm, because the weapon of intellect is often more potent than bombs. Someone can influence his followers and direct them to kill and destroy in the name of a holy quest, just as terrorists do. Equally extremist thought can act upon others without weapons.

The world must realise that freedom of expression does not mean oppressing the other or ridiculing their beliefs and sanctities, or that insulting deities and prophets would promote the author to the ranks of intellectuals and innovators. The true assessment of a profane person who insults and mocks others is no more than an insolent being who is shameless.

Those who attacked Charlie Hebdo are undoubtedly murderous criminals in the eyes of any sane person. However, the editor of Charlie Hebdo is also an intellectual extremist who provoked people’s feelings by ridiculing sanctities that others believe in, even if it was in the context of freedom of speech and thought, as some believe. He could not possibly be viewed as an intellectual, or what he does as freedom of expression.

I wholly believe in freedom of opinion, thought and criticism of anything and everything in search of truth. However, like any rational, civilised, peaceful and tolerant person, I strongly object to freedom of opinion founded on offending others and mocking their beliefs. I also believe that murder is a crime that is unacceptable and unforgivable, no matter what the reasons and motives.

The world must seek to spread the values of love and tolerance among people, and that everyone understands that killing in the name of God — especialy for the killer who already believes that God is capable of defending himself — is a heinous crime. Also, that anyone’s freedom of opinion ends at the boundaries of another person, just as Sartre said, and that ridiculing the beliefs of anyone is an offence no less criminal than murder, because it is in fact moral assassination without a tangible weapon.

People must try to restore their humanity by spreading the values of love, fraternity and equality. In such a circumstance, no rational being would commit a violent crime or murder, no matter what the motives, without feeling ashamed of extremism fever.

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