January 23rd 2015
Two weeks ago, after the horrific murders in Paris, I posted my support of freedom of speech and my condemnation of terrorism. I proudly stated – “Je Suis Charlie”.
Two weeks later, and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has bravely continued to publish and has, on its latest cover, a picture of the Prophet. I support their right to publish that cover but, even more, I support the decision of the Toronto Star not to publish that cover or any pictures that defame the Islamic prophet.
France has a culture of state secularism who’s hero is Voltaire. It is a part of their culture that was forged in the blood of the French revolution when, briefly, all the churches were closed and all the priests were fired. This state secularism is echoed among French intellectuals in Quebec where the provincial government there tried to enact legislation prohibiting religious clothing, like the hijab, by public employees. Canadians across the country reacted according to our culture and our values which is one of respect for other’s traditions, cultures, religions, race and sexual orientation. We have a culture of tolerance and it is one I honour deeply. It is what makes Toronto, the biggest social experiment on the planet, one of the most interesting places to live ever.
And it is because I embrace a culture of tolerance and respect for “the other” that I say, “Je n’est pas Charlie”. I am concerned that the anger and disgust at the murderers in Paris, by men who align themselves with Islam, will spill over into anger and disgust at all Muslims. After all, are we not, as the Prime Minister says, “at war” with Islamic jihadists? Is not the most popular movie in our cinemas “American Sniper” which is about a man who killed Muslims and is quoted as saying he wished he killed more? Is it not easy to believe that Muslims have a culture of violence (despite the fact that “murder rates are substantially lower in Muslim-majority countries”¹)? Can we really distinguish the jihadists, who are condemned by Imams all over the world, from ordinary Muslims? In Toronto, I’m sure we can. That’s our culture. It’s what we teach our children. But c’mon. It is an inflammable situation. If I was a Muslim in Toronto, I would be nervous. The editors of the Toronto Star were smart to do what was right for our community.