In an admirable show of solidarity with France, Bahraini journalists on 11 January held a rally outside the French Embassy in Manama holding up “Je suis Charlie” placards and laying flowers outside the Embassy building.
Senior Bahraini clerics were also outspoken against the recent terrorist atrocities in Paris. Imam Salah al-Jowder visited St. Christopher’s cathedral to meet with his Christian counterparts in a shared condemnation of terrorism and hate crimes.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister attended the Paris demonstration as the personal representative of the King on 11 January, alongside more than a million other demonstrators expressing their outrage at these attacks.
The importance of defending and strengthening freedom of expression is something that all of us can recognize. We live in a world of many faiths, ethnicities and doctrines and we all have to learn alongside each other.
Acknowledging the freedoms of the individual means that when someone does or says something that we disagree with; nobody has the right to threaten the lives or wellbeing of that individual and their families. Therefore the attacks against the Charlie Hebdo offices should be condemned unreservedly.
It is not yet clear whether there are direct links to groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in instigating and preparing the Paris attacks. However, death threats against journalists and authors are sadly nothing new.
In 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini issued his famous fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. Khomeini also widened his fatwa to the publishers, editors and others closely associated with the Satanic Verses book, saying: “I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay”.
After Rushdie apologized for the distress he had caused, Khomeini issued another fatwa commanding that; “even if Salman Rushdie repents and become the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell”.
Following Khomeini’s fatwa there were numerous attacks against those associated with this book, including the bombing of several bookstores. In recent years, several extremist groups followed Khomeini’s lead in using incidents of offensive cartoons and other perceived insults to the Islamic faith to stage terrorist attacks.
There are many avenues open to us to express our strong disagreement with something that we find objectionable. None of these avenues could ever justify murder, threats of violence or terrorism.
Indeed, Citizens for Bahrain has spoken out against those figures who have abused freedom of expression to stir up sectarian hatred and attack people of other sects; in particular when Sunni and Shia clerics have abused their position in the pulpit to spread distasteful sectarian discourse.
Arguably, these abhorrent attacks in Paris have done more damage to the Muslim faith and the situation of Muslim minorities living in the West than any offensive cartoon, book or newspaper article could ever hope to do.
It is the fault of these terrorists that many Muslims today in France fear discrimination as a result of their faith, because those who perpetrated these acts claimed that their actions were in the name of Islam.
When we as Muslims say “We are Charlie”, this is not to align ourselves with the editorial line of a particular media outlet; it is an unconditional statement of outrage and rejection of the aims and methods of those who resort to terrorist methods to obstruct freedom of expression.
We live in a world of many faiths and ideologies. The greatest threat to our society today are those who are willing to resort to terrorist methods to kill or silence all those who think or act differently. It is these hateful figures we are addressing when we say unreservedly: “We are Charlie”.