A man poses with the new issue of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo at a cafe in Nice..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Booksellers are not warriors in the ordinary sense of the word, although printed texts were at given historical intervals the harbingers of liberty and change. But in a workaday environment retailers legitimately want to do business rather than fight. That was the rationale of Israel’s Steimatzky chain when it backtracked from its plans to hold a special sale of the Charlie Hebdo post-massacre “survivors’ issue.”
That sale was to take place at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan this past Monday. It was since relegated to the Internet only.
The problem is that the preparations were halted directly after blatant threats came from Muslim leaders and NGOs in Israel. They objected to the depiction on the cover of the prophet Muhammad. He is shown beneath the words “All is forgiven,” with a tear in his eye for the murdered Paris cartoonists and raising a sign saying: “I am Charlie.”
Demanding that the prime minister stop Steimatzky’s initiative, MK Masud Gnaim (UAL) wrote him: “I am warning that the sale in Israel will result in turmoil. Muslims and Arabs won’t sit idly if this publication is circulated here.”
Although Gnaim claims that this is not intimidation, there is no other way to interpret his words. If they do not constitute scaremongering, it is hard to define what does.
Nobody forced Steimatzky to announce its event in the first place, but it looked like a good publicity- and income-generating stunt – an opportunity of the sort that entrepreneurs look for. Booksellers, after all, hanker for profits and Steimatzky – fully within its rights – was no different. But its retreat from its own freely chosen path was less than honorable.
How can we, as a society, criticize the craven surrender of so many abroad to Muslim bullying, if we are no better than the cowards we take to task in Europe.
It is necessary to put this episode in its proper context. This was not a run-of-the-mill business reassessment.
This was capitulation made possible by an ostrich-like denial of reality that afflicts too many in this country.
When MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al) rages that this “has nothing to do with freedom of expression but with religious insults that are forbidden by law,” he in a sense asserts that Muslims deserve special status and veto powers on what may be published.
Otherwise, why hasn’t he raged against the hyper-abusive, Stürmer-like caricatures of Jews and the Jewish faith published throughout the Arab world (including in Ramallah that Tibi frequents)? Neither Tibi or Gnaim, nor their allies, ever bothered to utter a syllable of disapproval about anti-Jewish slurs.
And if Tibi, Gnaim et al presume to altruistically defend all religions (not only that of their political power base) we may venture to ask why they never saw fit to censure the daily desecration by Muslim Arabs of the 3,000-year-old Mount of Olives cemetery – the oldest and most scared Jewish burial ground? Charlie Hebdo, incidentally, was hardly kind to Jews either, but no Jew ever countenanced breaking into its offices with guns blazing.
In our own bailiwick, Sapir Academic College outside Sderot mounted what purported to be an art exhibit with displays that highlighted the Arabic slogan Itbach el-Yahud (“Slaughter the Jews”) and ruthlessly mocked Jewish religious symbols. It drew criticism, but no Jew committed murder or threatened violence because of an unpalatable provocation.
Gnaim and Tibi, in their self-appointed role as religion’s protectors, didn’t object to insults against what is holy to Jews.
The aim of the Charlie Hebdo cover was to tell the enemies of free expression that they will never win. By attempting to suppress that issue and what it aimed to impart to the free world, Gnaim and his cohorts place themselves unambiguously on the side of those who seek to silence voices they dislike and who aspire to coerce us all to resort to their idiom – or else.
We in Israel bend over backwards to respect minorities, but manipulative politicians (who unconscionably incite these minorities) owe respect to the very democratic freedoms that they cynically invoke when it suits them.