January 9, 2015

The terror attacks at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a disturbing reminder that violent extremism is challenging our values for freedom of expression and is a major source of anti-Muslim sentiment. First and foremost, our condolences go to the families of the victims of this heinous attack and to the people of Paris. We eagerly await the apprehension of the suspects.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are rights that we must defend even if it means enduring insults against us or our most sacred symbols. No matter how offensive or distasteful that speech is, it is not worth murder. Media professionals should feel safe in expressing ideas. Journalists also have the responsibility to ensure that the dialogue surrounding the Paris attack takes a responsible tone that encourages discussion.

Muslim communities worldwide must take the issue of blasphemy head on. Unfortunately, there are too many instances of people misusing the religion to kill. Respect for the Prophet is a foundation of Islam, however, so is freedom of choice. Nations must do away with blasphemy laws. Religious scholars and institutions must take the lead on explaining the spirit of Islamic law and the prophetic way of dealing with insults. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation can make a big step in blazing the trail by dropping its support for its “Defamation of Religions” resolution, which calls for the prohibition of any speech deemed offensive to religion. This resolution counters the Islamic concept of free speech and makes Muslims look intolerant to dissenting opinions and consequently leading to more anti-Muslim sentiment.

Governments also have a responsibility in creating an environment that unifies, not separates communities in dealing with this crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel displayed this leadership when she discouraged people from getting trapped into prejudice and scapegoating. Now more than ever, leaders must stress that terror must be confronted with a united front. President Hollande, as the leader of France, has an opportunity to craft a strategy against terror that is collective as opposed to disjointed. It is up to government leaders to provide that atmosphere for the rest of society to unify, otherwise hate overcomes the discourse. Bosnia is not too removed a reminder that fascist tendencies in Europe can target minorities and lead to persecution and even genocide. Many Muslims are locked in their homes in Paris now fearing retribution.

It is a time for leadership, whether you are a leader of a Muslim community or the head of state for a European country, whether you are working in government or in the media, whether you have to lead your family or the world. This is a time when peacemakers must rise to the occasion of overcoming terrorism and hate, and upholding values of freedom.