For Freedom of Expression

For Freedom of Expression

This past winter a storm spread across Europe, the Middle East, and beyond ostensibly because of the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet, Muhammad. Amid the violence and uproar, an extraordinary statement was published in the French press written by Tewfik Allal in collaboration with his colleagues at the Association du Manifeste des Libertés, based in Paris. Dissent does not normally publish statements by organizations, but this is the second time we are publishing a declaration by this Association because of its courage and remarkable moral and political intelligence. In summer 2004 we published its “Muslim Manifesto from France.” Its signatories announced, “We are of Muslim culture. We oppose misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and the political use of Islam. We assert a living secularism.” The architect of this declaration was Allal, an unemployed French proofreader and trade unionist who was born in Morocco of Algerian parents. He had been shocked by some of the political rhetoric that accompanied protests against the French law barring headscarves in schools. A long list of non-Muslim sympathizers then signed up to express their solidarity. Now Allal and his colleagues have made their voices heard again, this time with the statement “For Freedom of Expression” that we publish here. It originally appeared in the February 8, 2006, issue of Charlie Hebdo, a Paris weekly—along with the offending cartoons. The French and European newspapers have been filled with varying perspectives on the cartoon controversy, and we follow the statement with an article by philosopher Alain Finkielkraut that appeared in Libération, the left-wing French daily, on February 9, 2006. Although Finkielkraut offers a vigorous defense of free expression as well, he provides a different take on the protests and current developments in the Middle East. Finkielkraut lives in Paris and is the author of numerous books, including The Defeat of ThoughtandAu nom de l’Autre (In the Name of the Other).
— Mitchell Cohen


When the Jordanian newspaper Shihane published on February 2 three of the Danish cartoons that sparked so much controversy, its editors wondered out loud, “What is a greater source of prejudice against Islam? The cartoons or the images of a hostage’s throat being slit in front of a camera?” (Libération, February 3, 2006). The newspaper was then pulled off the newsstands, and its editor was dismissed. There are people in Islamic countries who think the same way as these Jordanian editors do, but who are not allowed to express it. They lack freedom of expression more than anyone else.

We can discuss and argue about the quality of these cartoons and whether or not they were influenced by the rightist and racist atmosphere in Denmark and some other European countries. But it is something else entirely wh...

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