Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – A Motto to Live By
By Mansoor Ahmad Clarke
As the world lies in shock, reeling from the callous and barbaric murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty, it is of utmost necessity for us to ask crucial questions as to how we wish for our society to function and what our responsibilities are to ensure that it does so.
Murder in Paris: When will the terror end? 3 young Imams talk about the tragic killing of Mr Samuel Paty in Paris and the way forward. Watch the BRAND NEW episode of The Muslim View above.
At the very outset let me be pristinely clear, the abhorrent attack in Paris was utterly condemnable both from a moral standing, but also from a theological perspective according to the teachings and essence of Islam.
The Quran is emphatically clear on this and states:
“Whosoever killed a person…it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind…”
(The Holy Quran, 5:33)
Hence the murderous actions on 16th October 2020 although carried out by a so called ‘Muslim’ were in absolute violation and contradiction with what Islam teaches. Certainly, any true Muslim would completely and unreservedly condemn this shocking incident.
This is just the latest in what can be best described as a ‘torrent’ of hate-inspired attacks that seem to be increasing in frequency. But how have we allowed ourselves to succumb to this level of depravity, division and hate?
Although I diametrically oppose the showing of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), or any other figure of religious importance for that matter, Samuel Paty, in truth, was not to blame.
A teacher educating his students on the nuances of debate regarding expression and free speech, in conformity with his school’s curriculum and guidelines is not wrong, far less a crime, far less one deserving of decapitation at the hands of a monster.
There is a fine line to be drawn here, and it should not be one that divides society into one of only two camps viz, ‘I oppose mocking people’s beliefs, therefore am completely against free speech and support murder, terrorism and the killing of innocents’ or ‘I am for free speech, hence believe we must offend others wherever and however we can regardless of the impact it has on society and peace’.
Evidently, the issue is not as black and white as this. While I believe in the freedom of expression and the essentiality of free speech, I also believe that there should be limits that we set so as to maintain peace in society and refrain from offence for offence’s sake.
Where I feel that Samuel Paty was not to blame for teaching from the curriculum, I do believe that there is a need to revisit the policies and guidance regarding what we teach our children and indeed what we practise in wider society.
It is a simple playground principle that is worth its weight in gold: “treat others how you wish to be treated”.
‘Be kind’ we tell our children, ‘play nicely’ we say; from a very young age we place importance on building relationships, maintaining meaningful friendships and desiring for others what we desire for ourselves because ultimately, this attitude keeps us and those around us happy. Being rude, insulting others, and focussing only on our own rights, always has a detrimental impact and leads to the corrosion of relations, be that in school, at work, in a marriage, or indeed in wider society.
We live in a society of many cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities and upbringings, it is progressive for us to learn to respect those differences and to celebrate them, not to deride and mock them simply because it is not illegal to do so. The image of Aylan Kurdi washed up face down on the beach was not wrong because it was illegal, it was wrong because it was immoral, unkind and vile.
Our actions regardless of legality should be such that promote unity and social cohesion as opposed to ones that sow resentment and division.
Freedom of expression and debate over contentious issues are positive things that encourage education and understanding, but if we want a peaceful and functional society, we must temper what we say and what we do, so to do away with division and to pave the way to a more tolerant and inclusive society.
It is said the French Tricolour today stands for Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood, shortened from its original much longer list of values, but if we do not start looking at how we treat one another in society, we may as well strike yet another value from the motto, for our Fraternité will undoubtedly be lost forever.