By Mishal Khan
French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments regarding Islam have created tension between the country and Muslims worldwide. These comments come after the killing of a French teacher by a Chechen Muslim teenager. Macron’s comments have been regarded as Islamophobic, and many believe that it may lead to a rise in hate crimes against Muslims. Macron has defended himself by stating that his comments reflect the free speech ideals present in French society. Free speech is indeed essential, but where do we cross the line between free speech and hate speech.
Clashes between France and the Muslim world were reignited on October 16 when French teacher Samuel Paty was killed in broad daylight in front of his school. French officials linked the crime to Islam as Paty had shown caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his students. It is important to note that any art form depicting Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) is forbidden in Islam. Earlier in the month, President Macron was also quoted as saying that Islam is “in crisis” worldwide. Macron’s comments were regarding a French bill asking for a separation between the state and the church. However, his remarks were considered by many in the Islamic community as stoking the flames of Islamophobia. Supporters of Macron claim that his comments highlight the importance of free speech in European cultures and society. This is where the issue becomes complicated as there are two vastly different ideologies in battle with each other.
This incident is one of many where France and Muslims have clashed. In 2015, the Charlie Hebdo headquarters was shot up by two Al-Qaeda gunmen. The incident injured 12 people and left 11 dead. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical political magazine that has often pushed the envelope when it comes to political cartoons. However, they have also published cartoons of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), which many Muslims had complained about. The incident set off the debate on freedom of speech and freedom of religion we see in France today.
Freedom of speech is a very important tool that helps regulates society. Journalists understand the importance of freedom of speech as it’s at the core of our discipline. Freedom of speech allows us to protest and hold those in power accountable, but there needs to be a line drawn between freedom of speech and hate speech. Macron’s comments held the entire religion of Islam and the Muslim community responsible for one individual’s actions. It is absolutely true that the person responsible for the crime should be condemned for his actions, but Macron’s words have put a target on the Muslim community. It is challenging to enforce freedom of speech when your speech persecutes a religious minority who have already dealt with attacks based on their beliefs. Freedom of speech is such an abstract concept that it can be difficult to know how to regulate it. However, it is important to understand that words carry weight; therefore, you can’t just say anything. Speech is a double-edged sword where it can be an incredibly powerful tool capable of significant change and yet be just as hurtful.