Di­a­logue needed to heal cul­tural di­vides

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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