Charlie Hebdo: A Case of a Cultural Clash – By Ibraheem A. Waziri

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 9th Jan. 2015

It was a soft breakfast. Precisely oats and pepper soup. Aljazeera was discussing Charlie Hebdo, the unfortunate killings. My audio player was re-echoing again and again, “Bakatal Eeem”, the famous song written by late Sudanese scholar and poet Abdurrahman Al-Bur ‘iy and others. The music was by late Sudanese Sahwa group. It celebrates the praises of all divinely ordained prophets in history, crowned by the Prophet of Islam. The cadence and its penetrating lyrics got me all over. It was a moment of deep reflection. Probably there are no better songs and lyrics, in both quality of composition and harmony in the whole of modern Arabic that can match those dedicated to prophet of Islam, his friends or relatives. Even among the modern Hausa musicians of Northern Nigeria; the best of the genre are those dedicated to these categories of humankind. Talk about very recent ones like “Bari mu gaida Batula”! Be reminded of “Yaya bazan yi kuka ba”!

Yes Charlie Hebdo was an unfortunate incident and very much condemnable as I stand to condemn it here and now! But pundits East and West must be careful in analyzing this. This is not a case of conflicting extremism. The too liberal philosophy of some Western elements put against an extremist philosophy of some Islamic elements. In both cases, we have written essays seeking for middle grounds and advocating moderation.

Charlie Hebdo is actually a case of clash of cultures, of civilizations; the oft-repeated thesis of the relativity of truth and viability of social concepts in which no opposing party can claim all righteousness or make certain, some impositions. East is east and West is west as Rudyard Kipling would want to put it. In this, probably the best approach, for the future, is to learn to appreciate one another in tolerance and avoid provocation on one hand, and over reaction on the other.

In Western philosophy evil is material and very physical. So in today’s human peak which is symbolized by the Western ideological and material conquest, killing or losing a life, is the ultimate expression of evil. Some even hastily quote the Holy Bible, “the wages of sin is death”! But this is and has always been different with the East on which Islam built its ethics of social relation. To Muslims, evil finds maximum expression in tongues also and as such a word can be worse than killing or losing a life. In the West there is the popular expression, “a rose will still smell good no matter what name it is called”. In the East or Islam, name matters. In fact it determines the end of everything to the extent that there is a prophetic Hadith that suggests a Muslim father to have his first responsibility to his child, in giving the child a good name.

Today the West is saying everybody must remain calm and indifferent amidst everything said. Muslims are saying the worst can be provoked by everything said. I believe reasonable philosophers of heterogeneity and multi-culture, in the modern world, will quickly jump to say there is truth in the first claim but only to an extent; just as there is some truth in the second claim and that to an extent too. There is ample evidence in history that many societies are kept backward because they didn’t speak freely. Many have also been plunged into war because everything has been allowed to be said.

In Islam, the state exists to protect for one and other humankind, their lives, their properties (wealth) and their dignity. Although scholars argue as to which one is more important than the others to prioritize. This, as much as they are in agreement that life can be taken in some situations in order to protect wealth. Wealth, on the other hand can also be given to save a life. In the same vein, and according to the demands of circumstances, there is a unanimous agreement that life or wealth can be taken to protect dignity as much as dignity can be forfeited to save life or wealth.

For the prophet of Islam, the understanding is, disparaging him, tearing his public image in an issue-less discourse, and by any other, is worse than killing a life. A typical case of where life and word represent same level or expression of morality and essence of being. Violating one is made equal to violating the other. This, to the West, is an aberration; but to the Muslims it is the ideal!

It is my reflection this morning that the harmonious world we all crave for will lie in its present leadership, personified by the firmness, grace, elegance and magnanimity of the West, which must be seen to show commitment to pursue its highly prized ideal of free speech, side by side, the pursuit of the other equally prized ideals of the world’s other viable segments; to see that some symbols and persons – in time and history – remained sacred! No one wants to live in a cage. Yet no one also wants to extend the frontier of social interaction to the battlefield.

I reiterate my thanks; I ask for your forgiveness!

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