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'If Jesus Christ was Depicted as a Terrorist, Europe Would Take to Streets'

   
InternationalProfessor Jacques Robert, a French jurist known for his studies in the field of freedoms, told that the insulting cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad were “a provocation aiming to bring religions against each other”.

”If Jesus Christ or the Pope was depicted as a terrorist, the European public would also take the issue to the streets with feelings of enmity”, Robert said, emphasizing the cartoons published in Denmark were “offensive”. Professor Robert, one of the leading names in the field of secularism in France, defended that the cartoons were closely linked to Islam’s negative image in Europe. He claimed that the economic crisis, recently hitting European countries, is one of the main reasons of increasing suspicion towards Muslims in Europe.

Evaluating the recent developments to Zaman, Professor Robert, also a former member of the Council of the French Constitution, made interesting statements about secularism and freedom of expression. He told that the boundary of freedom of expression was the principle, “whether something causes conflict in the public or in the conscious of people,” adding that the idea of strict secularism was replaced by an understanding relying on the idea of living together. Professor Robert who is still the honorary president of the Paris Panthéon-Assas University, where he served as a rector for long years, has many works on religious freedoms, human rights and secularism.

Any representation of Jesus Christ as a terrorist would certainly stir things up in Europe, said Professor Robert, because the Christian audience would take great offence at such representations, leading to public hostility in the form of violence that was experienced in some Islamic countries.

Nothing of that kind would be tolerable, said the French lawyer, adding that it would definitely lead to chaos in France. Professor Robert illustrated his point by indicating that a public newspaper publishing pictures of the Pope having sex with a woman on its front page would immediately be banned.

Even something like this would meet mild reactions under the freedom of expression, said Professor Robert, but it would attract stronger reaction from the “unfathomable public” and offended groups of people would eventually turn to violence.

The Catholics sought injunction against further releases of “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Director Martin Scorsese, a 1998 film, because it offended Jesus Christ; however, they set fire on many theaters in France and in the United States when they did not get any result.

The French lawyer is “shocked” at the publication of cartoons satirizing Islam’s most reverend figure, the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, because those drawings associated a religion with terrorism: “This is sheer provocation meant to destroy the public order.” It does not make any sense to arouse feelings of hostility between members of different religions, said Professor Robert, adding that the newspaper published those cartoons with perfect awareness that the drawings would create angry response from all around the world.

The freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles, said Professor Robert, adding that that is why the issue should not be dramatized. There are limits to the freedom of expression, asserted the French lawyer, and anyone trespassing those limits would certainly face judicial sanctions. Professor Robert referred to many movies and advertising posters as banned by French courts because the court officials found those movies and placards offensive to the Christians. For instance, a Paris court banned an advertisement poster from being re-printed because it was a rude remark to the Christian audience. It was a famous portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, “The Last Supper,” that inspired a fashion company to draw an advertisement poster.

The French newspaper could have been banned

The French lawyer, answering the question “Was it not offensive enough?” about the cartoons published in France, said; “If the goal of these cartoons is provocation and offending, which is what we believe it is; this is a call for a revolt, clash among religions, and violation of public order. The officials have the right to ban the newspaper immediately.” Robert noted that the limit to freedom of expression is the principle “whether it causes disturbance in the public and consciences,” and exemplified his point as “Let’s think an anti-Catholic newspaper depicts the Pope with a prostitute. This will cause a scandal and I am sure it will be banned immediately by the officials.”

The problem is not Islam

Robert, who believes the publication of the cartoons is closely related to the image of Islam in Europe, said; “Is this a stupid mockery by a newspaper or the start of an Islamophobia campaign, I do not know.” The French professor, saying he lived for 25 years in Algeria and knows Muslim countries very well, stated there is not any ‘religion-based’ clashes between the Islamic world and the West. Opposing theories that Islam and democracy do not work together, Professor Robert commented; “If we think this way, the Catholic Church is not democratic. Consider the election of the pope. If we evaluate it on a religious organization basis, then Catholicism is a totalitarian religion.” The French lawyer predicts the cartoon crisis will not deepen since it does not have a religious clash in its basis.

Robert claims the recent economic crises and the activities of organizations like al-Qaeda play a great role in the increase of negative views about Islam in the West. The French lawyer emphasized that today, an atmosphere of ‘mistrust and doubt’ against Muslims has been created in Europe and added; “We can say 8 of 10 prisoners are Muslim, though it is not accurate. When an accident occurs somewhere, we rarely say ‘it is not a Muslim or Arab’ or we say it was not an Arab. This is really bad.”

‘France’s secularism understanding has changed a lot, headscarf law opposes secularism’

Professor Jacques Robert, who has written many books on secularism, said secularism understanding has changed a lot in France from the understanding of a century ago and a new secularism understanding has emerged. Robert said in 1905 religious affairs and state affairs were strictly separated from each other; religion was sent to private life and the state was sent to the public life and added this situation has already changed today. Robert reminded secularism predicts the state will not interfere in religious affairs and emphasized all of the interior ministers in the last 10 years in France tried to institutionalize Islam while municipalities helped financing the mosques.

The French lawyer said France’s secularism understanding has changed and added: “There was a radical distribution in 1905; however, now we have a secularism understanding which is based on mutual cooperation and living together.” Robert said this is not bad and defended it is quiet normal that the state and local administrations, which also finance cathedrals and churches, help the mosques.

Robert noted that Islam was not a reality of France in 1905 and it was not considered in the secularism laws however today Islam has become the second religion of the country. Robert believes the problems of Muslims and members of other religions in France may be solved by changing financial acts without changing the 1905 laws, which have been discussed in France for a particular time, and opposes changing the 1905 laws.

Professor Robert said the law prohibiting religious symbols in schools in order to protect secularism in France is against the soul of secularism. Robert said the French State Council had solved the headscarf problem with a decision it made before and added: “A secular republic cannot prevent religious freedoms. Freedom of religion also includes wearing religious symbols like a headscarf and kippa.” The French lawyer said these symbols can only be prohibited when they are used for missionary activities or violate the public order and added the law that the Chirac administration made went further and prohibited the religious symbols even in the places they did not create problems.

Robert said he frequently goes abroad and added this law harmed France. He thinks this law was made due to the cowardice of the French government against some events and said: “A secular and tolerant republic sent a part of the young girls to other countries due to this stupid prohibition. Where did these girls and this republican integration system go?”
  

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