Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
This week it’s Aamer Naeem, editor in chief of Wakefield-based British Muslim TV. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, he explains how he reconciles his repulsion at seeing Mohammed ridiculed with his belief in the value of freedom of speech.
Paris last week shocked the world and acted as a focal point around which millions have rallied to safeguard the principle of freedom of speech.
The fact that many Muslims are upset by satirical cartoons of Mohammed should not surprise. The emphasis on monotheism and anti-idolatry has led to a moratorium of such imagery, something recognised by the media also.
In fact, until last Friday the BBC’s guidelines stated that “Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form”, showing an understanding that drawing such images causes distress. Couple that with satirising him and there is no surprise that last September the White House criticised Charlie Hebdo as “lacking judgment”.
As a citizen of this nation and the Editor of a television channel, I too recognise the value of freedom of speech, but can this freedom be absolute? Of course not. This expression cannot be outside of the law for instance. However, what of decency and offence? Even here we have censorship, for example, film classifications, age limits on adult material and the use of profanities.
As such, the right to offend should not then necessarily lead to the necessity to offend. There is some responsibility with this freedom of expression, especially when dealing with vulnerable people or sensitive issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in the ultimate “responsibility of any response to be that of the responder”. In the words of Brigham Young, “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”
So how do I reconcile this freedom with my heartfelt repulsion of seeing the man that I, and all Muslims, hold so beloved, caricatured and ridiculed?
The answer, I believe, lies in the mission statement for British Muslim TV, to be Confidently Muslim and Comfortably British.
As a Muslim, I am heartbroken to see any Prophet depicted in a derogatory way. However, as Confidently Muslim, I let it brush over me as a benign representation that cannot reduce the sanctity of the one depicted.
As Confidently Muslim I can see clearly that the people that committed the murders last week in the name of Muhammad, did anything but represent him, his teaching or his cause.
As Confidently Muslim, I understand that if we want religion to be taken seriously and treated as a topic of every day conversation, it will inevitably be criticised and even ridiculed, as it was also at the time of the Mohammed also.
In the same vein, being Comfortably British allows me to respect the need and right for freedom of expression in our diverse society. Being Comfortably British affords me to be at peace with the freedom to offend and freedom to be offended. Being Comfortably British allows me to recognise that what is really on the line here is freedom per se, not just that of expression.
Confidently Muslim and Comfortably British gives me the insight that allows me to value pluralism, accept the complexity in identity, afford the space to express varied views and embrace diversity.
I share this confidence and comfort with the first victim in the tragedy last week. The Muslim police officer, Ahmed, who was killed outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Ahmed died protecting the magazine’s right to exist despite holding the same belief that would have repulsed him from its content. Ahmed paid the ultimate price carrying out his responsibility. We should consider ours. Je Suis Ahmed.
Aamer Naeem is editor in chief of British Muslim TV