Dialogue needed to heal cultural divides
The two heavily armed perpetrators of the deadly attack on the offices of Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan 7, were killed when police cornered them in northeast Paris on Friday. The two brothers, Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, killed 12 people, eight journalists, two police officers, a caretaker and a visitor in their killing spree.
Of course, one has no sympathy whatsoever for the terrorists. China strongly condemned the deadly terrorist attack, said ForeignMinistry spokesman Hong Lei, on Thursday. Yet, the tragedy also brought forward an important question for all media outlets: What on earth are the boundaries between respect for religion and freedom of the press?
The widely recognized press freedom compromises freedom of publication, communication, news gathering, and expression. It was further stressed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, passed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1966, that all people have the right to freely air their opinions without interference (Article 19).
Even so, all journalists should strictly abide by journalistic ethics. For devout believers, the abuse of such freedom (such as insulting religion) may cause as much damage as “killing them”.
Western media such as Charlie Hebdo, have given a full play to their freedom of expression in lampooning religions or politicians. Charlie Hebdo caricatured Islam’s ProphetMuhammad. Jyllands-Posten, a Danish daily, also provoked fury across theMuslim world by publishing cartoons that mockedMuhammad in 2005.
It has often seemed that some Western media publications fully enjoy their rights under the ICCPR, yet fail to bear in mind the following Article 20: “prohibition of any propaganda for war as well as any advocacy of national or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence by law”.
The boundaries of press freedom should be formed by observance of the law, good ethical practice, and respect for all religions and peoples. For all participants in the media industry, not crossing the line is not only a moral obligation, but also a social responsibility.
Moreover, another question arises after the recent horrifying slaughter in Paris: why do the Arab world and developing countries always face harsher accusations, satirical or otherwise? Samuel Huntington, the late Harvard University political scientist, appeared to foresee the tendency in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking ofWorld Order. The book mentioned that Europeans were getting worried by the increasing number ofMuslims in their countries, and it was the deep-seated cultural discrimination that was the main reason for the anti-Muslim mentality in France.
Given the extreme sensitivity surrounding people’s faith, relevant media reports are likely to court worldwide controversy instantaneously if they “cross the line”. Hence, with regard to Western media’s numerous attempts to lampoon Islam, it is worth considering: Did they do it for better circulation or to encourage the divisions between cultures?
However, one thing is for sure, what originally incubated these terrors are the giant cultural and economic gaps between the West and the East. Given the ongoing global recession, all countries are obliged to devise peaceful dialogues to heal cultural differences. Otherwise, what happened at Charlie Hebdo might take place elsewhere in the foreseeable future. The author is an associate professor with the Communication University of China in Beijing.