Originally a public Facebook post by Lama Abu-Odeh on January 13, published here by permission.
Ok let’s do these legally. Supposing you pass a rule in France that says any humorous depiction of prophet Mohamad is banned. Based on the idea that life for French “Muslims” is hard because of French racism and any such depiction of the prophet is in itself racist and will only make the effects of the racism worse. You want to make life easier for them so you ban it. What have you achieved? Let’s think of the winners and losers of such a ban.
One primary winner of course are the religious within the “Muslim” camp who find such depictions offensive. Great victory for them and a great concession from the Secular French. The French lose, they win. The French press will have to be self-conscious about its representation of Muslim religious icon, self-censure or face the consequences.
Ok, now think harder, who else loses? Well, the secularists, skeptics, agnostics, atheists within the Muslim community itself.
Religiosity of the kind that gets offended and commits violence as a result is a recent phenomenon within the French “Muslim” community. The community is internally varied and is vibrant with struggle over questions of secularity and assimilation and types of assimilation, not to speak of serious conflicts between men and women especially with relationship to the libertarian sexual mores of the French. All of these people lose because the religious within them win – a rule like that will have a disciplinary effect within the “Muslim” community itself because the religious will invoke in it conflicts and struggles over power, prestige and privilege within the community. The rule at heart is anti-secular, and anti-assimilationist, and deeply particularistic. The rule then would empower all those who represent those values vis a vis those who don’t, or are half-hearted about them, or beginning to question them etc.
But you’ve done something else. You’ve passed this rule following an incident involving gun-toting angry men who then proceeded to kill twelve people and declared they did it for the prophet. Ok, so instead of asking yourself as a progressive interested in empowering the French “Muslim community” – what is happening to the French Muslim community that angry men who kill are the ones avenging the racism? – as opposed to activists mobilizing the public around progressive issues you recognize – and instead of worrying about the implications for the emergence of this violent oomph among the young men – you reward it. Rewarding it means validating it as a practice within the community. It is now a socially validated way of settling internal conflict – between generations, between men and women, between the secular and the religious within the “Muslim” community. Religious rage as a means of settling disputes is now validated.
What else have you done? Your very generous multiculturalist gesture symbolized by the ban has settled the very question of “who is a Muslim” within the community. Not only does the offended Muslim find himself empowered within the community by the rule, but he stands now to speak for and be representative of the French “Muslims” in toto with the outside world. The French can now securely state: The Muslims of France are offended by the humorous representations of their prophet. Ewww.
What else have you done? well, by empowering the offended religious Muslim with his underlying rage, you have alienated those assimilated French Muslims who nevertheless insist on their membership in the community. You have given them a powerful reason to exit – to dissociate – to disown – to leave. Who wants to be around angry men who get offended by pictures???
You say you don’t want to be an Islamophobe? So why are you being so hateful to all these other Muslims then? Whatever have they done to you???