THERE is outrage sweeping across newsrooms throughout the world over the heinous murder of 12 people, 10 of whom were journalists, in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris on Wednesday.
The other two killed were policemen – one was the police guard of the editor Stephane Charbonnier, and the other, who was shot in the street during the getaway, was a Muslim officer of Moroccan descent.
Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical weekly newspaper that pokes fun at just about everything under the sun, including revered religious figures.
We may not agree with the mocking of religious and political figures by this magazine but it is hard to justify any act of terror in retaliation to the magazine’s work. It was just plain murder, but carried out in the name of religion.
These terrorists have done nothing to help non-Muslims have a better understanding and appreciation of Islam, which promotes peace and tolerance.
They have, in fact, caused serious damage and have given those who push the Islamophobia agenda an excuse to take their plans a step further.
The world’s media community shares the grief of the families of these journalists who were killed while performing editorial duties.
It is important to note that Muslim leaders including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak have come out quickly to condemn this horrendous act.
“Malaysia condemns in the strongest terms all acts of violence. We stand in unity with the French people. We must fight extremism with moderation,” he said in a Twitter posting on Thursday.
Likewise, our Foreign Ministry also said, “Nothing justifies taking innocent lives. Malaysia is united with the families of the victims, the Government of France, and the French people.”
But even as we condemn the killings, there is an important lesson for the world, especially the Western world, to learn from this tragedy.
There may be no sacred cows for the Western media because of their fervent belief in the freedom of expression. But the reality is that not everyone accepts nor appreciates such a principle.
And because we are so globally connected, it is no longer possible to operate just within a particular society that embraces such an approach. The media’s work, from whichever part of the world, has basically become freely available to everyone.
World political leaders and entertainment figures can be lampooned without any major consequences, but like it or not, religion remains an emotionally charged issue.
The demography of many European countries, especially France, the United Kingdom and Holland, has changed drastically with a high Muslim population. In fact, there are six million Muslims in France, making it the country with the most number of Muslims in Western Europe.
While Europe expects all Muslims to accept assimilation into Western values, not everyone can accept the regular mocking of Islam and, in this case, to denigrate and desecrate a Prophet, as Dr Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World, aptly described.
Certainly, the right of expression does not include the right to insult what is regarded as sacred and important to any religion and, by extension, the millions of its faithful.
The Prophet, Jesus, Buddha and the Hindu gods cannot be likened to politicians who are merely human beings who can be subjected to scrutiny, which satirical magazines can target regularly.
When it comes to matters of faith, so-called rationality is not something that can be applied nor used as argument for freedom of expression.
It is important that the Western media does not fan fears of Islam following this Paris tragedy. The reality is that many such incidents are perpetrated by evil people with their own agendas, not about their religion.
The recent incident in Sydney, for example, showed us how the authorities and the people of Sydney came together to reassure the Muslims there that although the gunman was a Muslim, the hostage crisis at the café was not about his religion.
There are good and bad people in every faith, as well as among those who do not believe in any religion.
There are, for example, white supremacists among Christians. Have we forgotten the 32-year-old right wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who went on a shooting spree in 2012 in Norway?
Certainly, all right-minded Christians did not condone the action of the pastor of the Christian Dove World Outreach Center in Florida who announced he would burn 200 Quran on the 2010 anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks.
His stupidity caused 20 innocent people to be killed as his threat sparked protests in the Middle East and Asia. He later apologised and pledged never to burn a Quran, but that came too late as lives were already lost.
Surely, the action of this man, who calls himself a pastor, is not representative of the religion.
In every religion, there will always be extremists who interpret their holy books to suit their personal or political agendas. There will be people who want to act and sound like religious figures and, likewise, there will be religious figures who want to be political figures. When the line between religion and politics becomes blurred, it becomes dangerous.
Religion can be so easily manipulated because the ordinary adherents of the faith are, by nature, fearful of challenging any religious authority, especially those who dress up to look religiously pious.
I remain a believer that the Sedition Act should be kept intact simply because there should be zero tolerance for anyone whose actions or words can lead to security concerns. But there should be a golden rule – please exercise the powers fairly. We cannot scream for certain individuals to be hauled up for sedition charges and in the same breath call for its abolition. We need to be consistent.
Let no Malaysian have the perception that some individuals or organisations have special protection that allows them to get away with offensive remarks or actions. Nor should the Sedition Act be used to shut up a political opponent or, worse, an academic who cites a case study in an article or gives a view to a newspaper.
But more importantly, the one lesson from Paris for the rest of the world is that we must never let extremists have their way. Moderation must always prevail. And let’s not forget that we must not let evil defeat us but instead conquer evil with good.