Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Charlie Hebdo Attack: Why Western Satire Especially Riles Some Nations and Groups

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Charlie Hebdo Attack: Why Western Satire Especially Riles Some Nations and Groups

Article excerpt

The power of satire to unleash retribution from those offended - as in the cases of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine, and cyber-attacks on Sony over "The Interview" - may be amplified by how "vulnerable" those being lampooned feel.

"In both instances of the French magazine and The Interview, you have an example of regimes being hit in their Achilles' heel - these were salvos lobbed in the battle for hearts and minds where maybe these regimes are vulnerable," says Amber Day an assistant professor in the English and Cultural Studies Department at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., says in a phone interview.

The spread of Western culture and ideas has long provoked a backlash in more conservative - religiously, morally, or politically - nations that see those ideas as a threat. Responses vary from condemnation to the banning of Hollywood movies and Western music to outright attacks.

"How satire is handled is a question of how vulnerable the people in a culture and in power feel. In America, the media can get away with almost anything at all because the government and its leaders don't feel threatened. However, in cases such as North Korea and in the case of most Arab states, the people feel the West is a powerful player effacing their cultures," says Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Bethesda, Md., in a phone interview.

The Associated Press reported that gunmen fleeing the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo magazine, after killing at least 12 people Wednesday, shouted "Allahu Akbar!", Arabic for "God is great!"

In November 2011, that the same magazine's offices were firebombed shortly after the magazine had announced a special issue dubbed, "Charia Hebdo," a play on sharia, or Islamic, law.

"In the Arab world, laughter is often viewed a tool to denigrate and humiliate. So when a people or leaders feel vulnerable, satire is not tolerated," says Mr. Ahmad, who holds a doctorate in astrophysics and holds a unique perspective on cross-cultural understanding (or misunderstandings) between Muslims and non- Muslims.

He was born in 1948 to Palestinian parents. His father became a naturalized American citizen aboard a ship bearing an American flag. Ahmad, who was born on board, became a naturalized US citizen himself as a toddler.

In addition, Ahmad is married to Frances Eddy, an American who is Christian. "My husband's favorite verse in the Koran is, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion," she says, in a phone conversation.

Minaret of Freedom works to counter cultural misunderstandings regarding Islam and Muslim culture and to promote education about Muslim and Islamic culture in the United States. …

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