Opinion: Charlie Hebdo sparks global outrage after mocking Turkey-Syria earthquake victims 

Jazib Mehmood, Jamia Ahmadiyya International Ghana
Turkey magnitude 7.8 earthquake 3 17 AM 6 February 2023 1

When I first heard that there had been an earthquake in Turkey and Syria three or four days ago, the death toll was less than a thousand. Many more aftershocks were experienced, some nearly as bad as the original earthquakes.

Today, I opened the BBC website to check the latest figures, and saw that the figure had risen to 17,000. A few hours later, I decided to check the website again. I was shocked to find out that in less than two hours, the death toll had reached more than 19,300. (www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/world-europe-64565412)

What’s worse is that this number is expected to increase. Who knows what the death toll will be when you read this? Many  more survivors are stuck without food, water, and electricity, not to speak of the economic loss both countries will incur.

This is undeniably an enormous tragedy that has affected millions of people. And it is hard to imagine what people must be going through at this time. Heart-wrenching social media posts of people stuck in the rubble are spreading all across platforms. Other posts show immense joy of people along with cheers of ‘Allahu Akbar’ as a child is miraculously taken out of a building that fell.

It has been heart-warming to see countries around the world send immediate aid to the affected areas, but very recently, the ever-so-controversial Charlie Hebdo magazine decided that all the people involved in this international tragedy hadn’t experienced enough pain.

They put out their “drawing of the day”, which featured the ruins of the earthquake with the caption “[didn’t] need to send tanks”. There has been near universal condemnation of the drawing, and many people have expressed their disgust at the gross misuse of free speech.

Of course, Charlie Hebdo has a history of mocking the pain and suffering of others, with little regard for the consequences. The magazine published a cartoon in September 2016 mocking the victims of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Italy at the time. Then, when people criticised it, the magazine shared another cartoon demonising their critics.

While the actions of the magazine are indefensible, it is a classic example of what happens when the lines of free speech are blurred. For years, this magazine has been mocking the holiest personages of various religions including the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa but it seems the magazine lacks what little humanity it takes to not go out of one’s way to hurt others.

What’s worse is that the magazine hides behind freedom of speech and conscience to defend its actions. Previously, when the magazine published disrespectful cartoons featuring the Holy Prophetsa – knowing full well how it would hurt the sentiments of over a billion people – they defended themselves by saying that free speech and freedom of the press allowed them to do such things.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has always been at the forefront of denouncing such insensitive and unjustifiable use of absolute free speech. Keeping in line with the true teachings of Islam, instead of asking his followers or the Muslim community at large to rage against the magazine and take to the streets, he urged them to pray for the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and to respond by educating the public about the reality of unshackled free speech. Speaking about Charlie Hebdo’s justifications of absolute free speech, he stated:

“You apparently champion democracy and freedom of expression, but playing with the sentiments of others; this is neither democracy nor freedom of expression. Everything has a limit and some code of conduct.

“Just as there are codes of conduct in all professions, there is also a code of conduct in journalism. Just as no matter what kind of government there is, it has its rules and regulations. Freedom of expression certainly does not mean that sentiments are trifled with, or caused to be hurt.

“If this is the freedom that the West is proud of, then this freedom does not lead to advancement, rather it leads to decline.” (The Blessed Model of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and the Caricatures, pp. 32–33)

True to the words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, Charlie Hebdo has suffered further moral degradation. Looking at the track record of the magazine so far, one can only wonder what direction this magazine will take in the future, and how it will further decline and show us its moral ugliness.

On this topic, Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa has always urged Muslims to pray and raise their voices in a peaceful manner instead of reacting violently, and stressed the significant impact the media can have on shaping public opinion and the crucial role it can play in either escalating or defusing a situation. 

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