Sunday, January 18, 2015

Iranian Newspaper Shut Down for "Je Suis Charlie"

Mardom-e Emrooz (People of Today) Banned

By: Jabbar Fazeli, MD

Yesterday, the Iranian government ordered the shut down of an Iranian newspaper for quoting George Clooney saying "Je Suis Charlie". This is closest any Iranian newspaper came to showing support for their fellow journalist at Charlie Hebdo. A solidarity gathering of Iranian journalists on Jan 8th was reportedly blocked by the authorities.

There is political complexity in Iran, even in the Charlie Hebdo issue. The newspapers could not come out in solidarity with the French journalists killed in the terrorist attack and say "Je Suis Charlie", as many Iranians overseas have. The president and the foreign ministry were only allowed to condom "any violence" against "anyone", "anywhere". To his credit, the president did say that he condemns violence committed in the name of Islam, but these remarks were for foreign consumption.
Mardom-e Emrooz tested the boundaries and proved that Iranian newspapers can not even report on someone else saying "Je Suis Charlie". 

The English language Tehran Times also tested the Iranian censorship yesterday by printing the front page of the banned paper in the course of reporting on the banning. They were NOT banned for that. Conclusion, as of today,  three levels of separation are required for "Je Suis Charlie" to be kosher for the Iranian censors. It also helps if the paper is not printed in Farsi.

The Iranian sensitivity on this issue is understandable as in 1990 the supreme leader Khamenei did reaffirm his predecessor, Khomaini's, Fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie, the author of satanic versus. To come out in support of Charlie Hebdo now would be at odds with their general principle of condoning and advocating other killings for violators of blasphemy laws, such as the case with Salman Rushdie. Even when Khatami, Iranian president in 1998 sought to distance Iran from the $2.5 million bounty on the authors head, in order to normalize relations with the UK and Europe, the parliament, and others close to the supreme leader, managed to say the exact opposite to please their hardliners on the inside. 
Original farsi text of Khomeini Fatwa to kill Rushdie in 1989

Incidentally, a hardline daily, the 'Ya-Lesart-al-Hussein', celebrated the murder of the French journalist by publishing a poem on their front page celebrating, according to the paper, the sending of those who insulted the prophet to hell. No word on whether or not the Tehran prosecutor intends to shut down that newspaper for supporting terrorist acts. There was also no mention of the French Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet, who was also killed during the terrorist attack. I guess it didn't fit the narrative of "infidels killed to avenge the prophet". 
Another reason for Iran's reluctance to support freedom of speech for the French journalists, is its own suppression of freedom of speech. More than two hundred Iranian journalists are languishing in prison today, and at least four journalist were killed in the past decade or so. 

There were journalist in jail during the tenure of every Iranian president, including the "reformist" president  Khatami, as the internal security apparatus is under the control of the supreme leader and the IRGC, and they are not subject to elections, not even rigged elections.

On the bright side, Iran is off the hook, somewhat, as it is being eclipsed by the Saudis this week, who managed to send their representatives to march in Paris in solidarity with freedom of speech and Charlie Hebdo, and at the same time flogged the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi for "insulting Islam", Saudi euphemism for "Insulting the government". The blogger received 50 lashes last week, which are to be repeated every Friday for 20 weeks, for a total of 1000 lashes. The Saudis, despite their expertise in flogging and torture, have underestimated the time it takes for their victim's wounds to heal, so they are postponing this week's flogging on doctors orders. A humane gesture, by Saudi standards, in a barbaric affair.
Photo source: TV footage WP,
Does religion need protection, and from whom?

I am guessing that if God and Mohammad had a choice between "protection by fundamentalists" or "protection from fundamentalists" they would chose the later. The Catholic Church learned the hard way to stop complaining about Charlie Hebdo, and simply accept their right to poke fun of them and criticize their religious figures, including Jesus. They limited the damage from any critical cartoons by not complaining about them.

Here are a couple of consequences of the unwanted aid from fundamentalists and terrorists in defense of Mohammad and God.

-Charlie Hebdo sold more than 3 million copies this week instead of their usual 60K.  

-The latest Charlie Hebdo cartoon appeared normal and mainstream to many, even to many Muslims, given the sympathy generated by the terrorist attack. I personally found it sympathetic to Muslims, as the title of the cartoon was "all is forgiven", a gesture of reconciliation and tolerance I thought.

-Many Muslim journalists and newspapers expressed sympathy with the cartoonists accused of insulting their religion. That is an important milestone for the Middle East and the Islamic world, which still has blasphemy laws similar to those of the dark ages in Europe.

-Salman Rushdie made millions of dollars and sold more copies of his book, thanks to the 1989 Khomeini Fatwa. He went on to become "sir" Salman Rushdie, and enjoyed a life of fame and fortune. His obscure critique of Islam became mainstream even as many still ban his book. 

If the violent silencing of critics of religion and religious figures is bad for Islam and Muslims, then why would governments in Islamic countries hesitate in condemning it?

Imagine if people in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two theocracies in the Middle East, were allowed to insult God and the prophet. 
If one could freely insult the religion or "God", then what argument would the government have to silence critics of the king or the supreme leader? None what so ever. They are not above God or the prophet, and so they would be fair game. 
Ironically, God and the prophet shouldn't need protection, but kings and dictators do need protection from the power of the pen and the word.

The blasphemy laws simply set the bar of what is not allowed then the dictators can decide on how far to draw the line to protect themselves. 

A word about images of Mohammad:

Recent events brought to the surface the fact that images of Mohammad were actually produced by Muslim artists throughout history and some are on display in bazaars today.

There is not a single reference or prohibition in the Quran when it comes to images of Mohammad, and even if there was, the world is under no obligation to comply with any religious text. There is only one principle that some fanatics draw from, and that is the avoidance of idol worship. 

In case of Iran, not only are images of Mohammad ok, one could also find images of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein in every Shiite religious establishment or hussaineyeh. Even Shiite mosques are full of such images.  Speaking of Idol worship, have you ever seen an Islamic republic event without pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei on display? 

Artist unknown
Artists unknown

The Charlie Hebdo cartoons often use the image of Mohammad as a symbol for the religious establishment, as they do with the pope as symbol for the Catholic Church. So most criticism conveyed in cartoons is actually directed at the establishment, not the person, or the people. Whether we would all find them to be in good taste, that's for every person to decide, hence the notion of democracy and free will.

The norms in the United States, for example, would make the publication of cartoons similar to those of Charlie Hebdo unlikely, as David Brooks wrote in his recent op-ed in the NY Times.

Not in my name:

It is time for average Muslims to say "not in my name". We can't expect religious figures to speak for us or our culture, or even our religion. Even the pope, who is considered nice by many, would like to see modest blasphemy constraints in place, as implied by his most recent statement. Muslim religious leaders represent the most religious in most cases, not the average Muslims who are most affected by the images of violence done in their name and without their consent or approval.

If moderate Muslims don't reclaim their religion from the fanatic cults and opportunistic political Islam then we will be left with the wrong people representing us. Like those depicted here:

The least reported Muslim reaction to Charlie Hebdo:  

Non-Iranian cartoonists in the Middle East did manage to produce some reaction to the Killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalist in the hands of terrorists. Here are a few examples of their work. It is important to make mention of these images to counter the message conveyed by the "Muslim" terrorists.

Caption in Arabic: Jailed Middle Eastern Journalists (freedom), Jailor (Je Suis Charlie), Road sign (paris)

Caption: Muslim world: Journalism is not a crime, and I'm not Charlie


Anonymous said...

Considering the events I think the reaction of Rouhani foreign ministry and Ahmad Khatami was measured and far more calculated than your article indicates. Charlie Hebdo was very likely to insult the prophet again therefore it was not feasible to jump on the "Je Suis Charlie" band wagon....their statements of condemnation set a clear distinction between Islamic republic position and the sunni terrorists which was enough and recognises the fact that the issues involved are complex and do not just relate to freedom of speech....
This is a very refreshing development particularly as it involves an issue which Islamic republic almost always gets wrong.....

B.M.A said...

as USUAL , you have over did yourself by going too far with your arguments inviting some serious questions and noble answers -

Salman sold many copies of his book , He became famous,made millions,became knighted !-He became 'Sir'

In the Koran there is no single verse that prohibits images of the Prophet and if there was, the world is under no obligation to abide by any religious text !.

reply one-

Rushdie has never been a great writer.A hopeless lair who mix issues in his book BUT what a blessing is salman Rushdie ! .by his little education His book invited many non Muslims to read the KORAN ,IN A QUEST to see the satanic verses ,only to see the opposite and as a result many Brothers converted to Islam after reading the Holy book.

reply two
Now who said that to be 'knighted' by a Lady becomes an issue in this world and the hereafter !!. And who said that this holy Lady does not love repressive regimes who commit horrendous crimes but vowed to protect the interest of GB , and that the human rights issues would be thrown out of the window while the Queen looks the other way as these kingdoms sit on the necks of their citizens !.

reply there-
you are wrong to say that the world has no obligation to abide by any religious text !!.JF you are living in a very delicate cocoon and you are even forgetting the power of a religion in the life of a believer. And why do you pin down Islam alone!, what about Hinduism or have a good time with the Bible ,indeed you will see it to yourself why the world must respect faiths if real peace is to be seen in this world.

Anonymous said...

B.S.M said........"And why do you pin down Islam alone!"

Because at present there are much more fanatics under the name of Islam than Hinduism or any other religion which like to ram airplanes into buildings and detonate themselves with suicide jackets and vehicles,as well as issue death threats to bloggers and writers voicing their personal opinions.

Anonymous said...

excellent post, Fazeli

thank you

Anonymous said...

Freedom of speech eh?,its funny that in a lot of these countries its quite alright to print cartoons that seem designed to deliberately offend millions of muslims but if you dared to print one questioning the holocaust you would be prosecuted,it sounds more like good old western hypocrisy to me

Anonymous said...

Well said B.M.A

Anonymous said...

Maybe if the west stopped meddling in the affairs of the islamic world then it would not have to worry about extremists attacking it or its interests,the irony of course is that its the wests own puppet state and good "ally" saudi arabia who is the number one funder and exporter of wahabism to the rest of the world yet the west does nothing about it preferring instead to sponsor terrorist insurgencies or wage outright wars of aggression against muslim nations who wont toe the line

Anonymous said...

what do holocaust cartoons have to do with offending religious sensibilities?

one thing is historical fact and the others are something quite different?

Anonymous said...

It shows you the clear double standard and hypocrisy when it comes to the west and "freedom of speech"