Australian Muslims have been urged by the nation’s highest Islamic office holder to maintain civil behaviour in the wake of the controversial Charlie Hebdo magazine cover, but he also criticised the magazine for its double standards in publishing a provocative cartoon that was religiously offensive.
Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia, said the Muslim community “deplored the sad and tragic events in Paris” after 17 people were killed by Islamic State terrorists two weeks ago and Muslims stood together against terrorism.
But he told Fairfax Media the magazine overstepped the boundary in publishing a cartoon of Muhammad following the attack, and he said it had in the past been forced to apologise for mocking national leaders and being anti-Semitic.
He said that targeting more than a billion Muslims around the world by abusing what they hold sacred “is unethical behaviour” and “angers masses at home and abroad”.
“And when we see a million copies being published you have to ask are they not going to provoke more negative sentiments? Are they not going to push more moderate Muslims to begin to think is this a freedom of speech? Or is it a provocation intended to cause more turmoil?” asked Dr Abu Mohammed.
He said the Muslim community believed in freedom of expression without violating general ethics and without disrespecting the beliefs of others. “Anyone who claims that the Muslim community in Australia accepts such a practice does not truly understand the nature of the community.”
The latest cover of the satirical magazine features a drawing of the prophet Muhammad crying and the headline “All is Forgiven”. It has sparked criticisms in the Muslim community about the magazine’s using free speech to be offensive.
Pope Francis and other religious leaders around the world have said last week there are limits to freedom of expression. The Grand Mufti In Egypt, Shawki Allam, had warned the magazine that publishing the cartoon was likely to incite hatred and upset Muslims around the world.
A total of 17 people were killed in three days days of violence this month, starting with gunmen opened fire on the magazine staff in revenge for its past publication of images of the prophet, and including a siege at a Jewish supermarket.
It sparked a worldwide campaign for freedom of speech marked by the slogan “Je suis Charlie”.
But Dr Abu Mohammed said the Muslim community but did not have to say “Nous sommes Charlie” to demonstrate they are against terrorism, or the absence of justice.
“We do not have to say ‘nous sommes Charlie’ to declare we are against double standards. Freedom of speech should not come at the expense of our ethical national values. It should not undermine our multiculturalism. It should not compromise our gains as a civil society.”
Dr Abu Mohammed said in the past the magazine had been forced to apologise for criticising former French leader Charles De Gaulle and was closed down. He said it had also apologised and axed a cartoonist over an image mocking the son of the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, which was widely considered anti-Semitic.
“These events in the life of the magazine show that freedom of speech has boundaries and that these boundaries must not be violated,” he said.
“There are boundaries for national leaders and there are boundaries for Jewish people, whom we respect. Why is it then when it comes to Islam there are no boundaries?”
He said that society had also displayed its own double standards by immediately making the religion of the perpetrators an issue, but not immediately making clear the religion of two of the victims, Ahmed and Mustapha, and the religion of the hero of the supermarket siege – a Muslim man who saved his Jewish customers.
Dr Abu Mohammed said although he had been asked to comment about the Paris attacks “we don’t want to comment on the sad events in Paris because we don’t have the need to comment or to apologise on every insane act that a criminal of Muslim background commits around the world”.
“Precisely as the Church does not have the obligation to apologise for any Christian criminal, precisely as the Jews and the spiritual leaders of the Jews do not have the obligation to apologise. These people are to be held responsible individually for their crimes.”
He said that with the international situation and the world turmoils and the war in the Middle East with thousands of people being assassinated, the level of sensitivity across all nations and all peoples was very high.
“We should protect our civil society. We should protect ourselves from the epidemic of hate and hate speech and hate provocation, which is coming across the continents whether it is from the east or the west,” he said.
Boundaries: Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia, said the Muslim community believed in freedom of expression.