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‘Je suis Charlie’

/ 04:51 AM January 29, 2015

The dastardly attack in Paris was not done by Muslims. It was done by deranged individuals whose distorted interpretation of the Koran is anathema to anyone of sensibility. It’s a misinterpretation some have made of the Bible, too, as the Crusades in the 11th century showed.

Islam is not a religion of intolerance, as has been most wonderfully shown in Sierra Leone. There, buses with signs “Trust in Allah” jostle (do buses jostle?) with others that praise Christ. There’s one (according to The Economist) that proclaims, “God loves Allah,” and I presume vice versa.

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Many Sierra Leoneans take it further and believe in both faiths as being the same. As one bracelet says, “All of us say it’s the same God we’re worshipping.” And surely there can’t be two, presumably antagonistic, gods who created the universe. In Sierra Leone, Muslims pray not only in their mosques but also in Christian churches, and Christians go to mosques, too, because they believe in one god whose truths were relayed to them by two prophets (Christians, of course, believe their prophet was the son of God, but a prophet nonetheless). Why can’t the world be like that?

The intolerance forced by extremists is not the teaching of Islam, or of Christianity. Acceptance and understanding are, as Pope Francis demonstrated in Sri Lanka and in the meeting with leaders of other faiths here. And, as he said, “Violence in the name of God is an aberration.”

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What the magazine Charlie Hebdo did may have been offensive to many Muslims in its characterization of Mohammad, but it was equally caustic about leaders of other religions. It is the style—even the theme, if you will—of the magazine.

You may not agree with it—and certainly, I think it is a bit tasteless—but Charlie Hebdo had every right to publish the offending cartoons. And no one had a right to stop it, certainly not by a gun. You don’t kill people because you don’t like what they say; you rebut them with stronger arguments of your own by the pen (or a keyboard). The millions who came out in anger were absolutely right: Democracy is founded on freedoms, and free speech is a fundamental one of those, and can only be restricted in the most exceptional and fewest of circumstances.

So I was pleased to see the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) come out with a public statement denouncing this senseless violence. “Such violent intolerance contravenes the precepts of Islam, which values the sanctity of life,” it said. Would that Boko Haram, Isis, etc. believed similarly.

The PCID statement expounded further: “There are other venues to vent our vehement disgust or raging fury over the pointed mockery of our beliefs or the cavalier treatment of our spiritual icons. After all, we are living in the age of reason. We no longer take umbrage through the strength of our fists and the edge of our swords. Rather, our level of civility mandates our claiming redress of our grievances through democratic processes which we have long struggled to establish with our blood, sweat and tears. The peaceful resolution of conflict is a core principle of Islam. While we remain steadfast in our faith, we cannot abide the willful disregard of the precepts that both Muslims and Christians hold dear—liberty, equality, brotherhood.”

This augurs well for the success of the Bangsamoro peace agreement; we need to become “a Sierra Leone” here. So I hope Congress and the Supreme Court will agree. Congress will, I feel sure. The Supreme Court, I’m less sure. It has not shown sufficient ability to go beyond its legal nose and think of the greater good to society in making its decisions. The justices need to remember that technicalities do not rule law, that society does.

Let’s hope that this time, they will.

Related to this, and what does not sit at all well with me, is what’s happening to Carlos Celdran. He didn’t lampoon or challenge Christianity, he protested the bishops’ political involvement in a country whose state and church are constitutionally separate. Fortunately, some benighted Christians didn’t murder him, but the Philippines’ Court of Appeals in effect did. It declared his protest of Church involvement in state affairs wrong because he “offended the feelings” of some Church leaders.

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But as Oscar Franklin Tan mentioned in a recent column, the crime imputed to Celdran is so subjective that even the Pope could be jailed if he scolded the bishops in church. It is against free speech to define offending someone as a crime. Celdran has every right to. It was offensive to the sensibilities of those in church? Well, so were Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. And as the world, or at least the civilized parts of it, has demonstrated in the millions, free speech must be protected completely. There can be no judgments on it as to whether it offends someone, or not. As The Economist said “Only when it is likely to cause serious harm—not including the emotional kind,” should there be any kind of control.

Maybe it was discourteous of Celdran to interrupt a church meeting. But he got attention. Would standing outside at the door do the same? I doubt it, and the courts may have had some case here as a church is private property where entrance and conduct may be set. But they didn’t; they decided on what was said. That’s dangerous censorship, and sets a very worrying precedent that can’t be allowed.

You mustn’t be allowed to take someone to court because you don’t like what they said, unless it’s libelous. And this was the principal and essential issue: freedom of speech. It offended feelings, it was intended to, and there’s every constitutional right to do so. Free speech is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.

The Church has forgiven Celdran, the courts must throw out the case. Or be in violation of the very constitution they are sworn to uphold.

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TAGS: Carlos Celdran, Charlie Hebdo, Christianity, freedom of expression, muslims, PCID, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, Pope Francis, Sierra Leone
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