Many a time I have followed criticisms of satirical caricaturists as a student, discussing who's right and who's wrong in painting a picture because freedom of speech allows it or those who are offended by it from an academic point of view. When I engaged in the topic that is the Charlie Hebdo shooting yesterday, the point of view had changed drastically: I am no longer an onlooker; today I am a journalist myself. This morning I was haunted by the thought that should religious extremism lead to actions like that in Egypt, it would be me and my colleagues who would be the target. And yet, I have never been more inclined to stand with Charlie Hebdo because today I know what that freedom they now lost their life for is worth.
The type of journalism we practice at my job is very much one that religious extremists would condemn. We speak openly about homosexuality, pornography and other ideas that are alienated in Egyptian society, yet part of every country's reality. I enjoy that we are standing for a society that has not been thoroughly accepted in Egypt. As a result, we very much stand for the "evil West" whose influence is not all together wanted. I, however, prefer that society. Despite being willing to adapt to the foreign culture I believe in the values I come from and refuse to adapt to some of the values common in Egypt. Freedom of Speech is just one of them!
It never occurred to me that I might one day be affected by not being able to speak my mind. Now I live in Egypt and I am not free to speak my mind in this private blog or the publication I work for in fear of being shut down by the government. One of my colleagues has been arrested before which wasn't all that surprising, the threat of yearlong prison sentences, however, was. Never before did I think I would ever find myself in the shoes where my expressions could get me in trouble. Unsurprisingly, solidarity for the slain Charlie Hebdo journalists is naturally a different matter for someone of my profession because it could easily have been me.
To me, expression of any kind should never be a brave act, it should be self-evident. If someone feels the strong need to tell the whole world that I am a nasty person it will of course insult me but I would never take any action to stop that person from doing so by force. Voltaire famously said "I don't like what you have to say but I would die for your right to say it." Truer words have never been spoken! Even though I sound ignorant and offensive saying what I'm about to say, but I don't give a crap who got offended by a caricature. Nothing, and I repeat it, nothing, justifies murder and I refuse to accept a religion that would rather see murder than offensive behavior. Luckily, I believe that these individuals are misinterpreting what Prophet Mohamed preached although I personally find no use for the application of such doctrine in my life.
I expressed my solidarity on the only output accessible to me despite being a journalist of a major Egyptian publication and posted a Facebook status. The next morning one Egyptian friend of mine posted a comment that was very much offensive to me and the killed journalists. However, I am glad I have the chance to not delete his comment, engage with him on the platform and point out that I thought his opinion and choice of words was horrible in my eyes. Being able to have this exchange is no longer a right I have on the bigger scale. We may not see eye to eye but I come from a country that is able to have this discussion while my Egyptian friend is not. And when he said he wants more freedom but not at the expense of ridicule about the Prophet, other friends rightfully pointed out that part of freedom of speech is freedom to criticize. I'm happy I get to both speak freely and criticize abundantly where I'm from. Being offended is a price I would gladly pay for freedom of expression.
I am sorry Muslims are offended by actions that are the direct result of people from my part of the world expressing themselves. I don't need to agree with the behavior of Charlie Hebdo to be able to thoroughly stand behind the ideas they stand for. I would never draw a religious caricature because I have a personal interest in not offending Muslims but I am glad France was executing the right of liberty to do so if one so wished. There will never be universal understanding on some topics and I will never understand why Muslims freak out about a picture despite the fact that the same rule applies for the Christian God. I can therefore whole-heartedly stand behind solidarity to Charlie Hebdo and condemn the terrorists' actions. I have no ounce of understanding handling conflict that way and I don't want to try. It is unmistakable to me who is in the wrong here and it's hard stopping delusional extremism. But I'm proud that the fear of such maniacs doesn't stand between us and our freedom because, in the end, that freedom is worth it!