We, too, have the right to freedom of expression


The Paris attacks have put the social movements against racism and islamophobia on the defensive, more than ever before. We have to explain that we are not related to violent extremism. We have to apologize for acts that have been committed by people who are not related to us. We are being criminalized. So we are in the defensive.

From football we know that no one wins a game by only being defensive. We need to move to the offence. How?

We need to change the narrative in the public space. I propose a European wide campaign of social movements under the title: “We, too, have the right to freedom of expression”

This campaign has the potential for wide support both in our communities and among white Europeans, especially those sections that are worried about the rise of the other radicals: the extreme right.

Under the slogan “We, too, have the right to freedom of expression” we can take actions to change the narrative. Our movements are creative and come up with concrete ideas for such campaigns. I will mention a few which I have come across.

The use of artists: at a ”Tribute to Malcolm X” on Genocide Memorial Day in Amsterdam Moroccan poet and rapper Appa ridiculed the hyped slogan “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” with the naked reality of unemployed youth with the phrase ”Je suis unemployed”. The use of art and satire can be a powerful instrument in our campaign. We need to bring in our artists because they already have part of the public space. In the UK the annual Islamophobia Awards have used humour, ridicule and satire to attack islamophobia and is in itself a form of satire.

Hijacking the dominant campaign and give it another twist. Dyab Abou Jahjah, founder of Movement X in Belgium, has done that in a fabulous way. He took the slogan “I am Charlie” and changed it in: “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so.”. Ahmed Merabet is the 40-year-old police officer who was killed in the Paris attack.

Demonstrations with the slogan: “We, too, have the right to freedom of expression”. On March 21, the international day against racism, youth in the Netherlands plan to take to the streets with placards that translates the slogan in a multitude of simple messages based on the concrete experiences of islamophobic incidents that have been registered in the last few weeks: a young women who was attack with beer that was poured over her scarf; a bus driver who refused to drive his bus until a Muslim passenger offered apologies for the Paris attacks, etc. The youth is planning to print these incidents and carry it on their bodies during the demonstration with the slogan “We, too, have the right to freedom of expression”.

Empowering our people who are asked to comment in the media and provide hem with three suggestions. Whenever the media ask you to comment on recent events, this are the three point to keep in mind in your message:

  1. The cause of radicalism among the Muslim Youth is not mental illness, but hypocrisy. It is hypocrisy and double standards that enrages the youth. And everybody is able to provide examples of this.
  2. The hypocrisy is fuelled by the other radicals, the extremist of the right. We have to fight against two extremist movements, the extremists of east and the extremist of the west. They help each other.
  3. The only way forward is equal rights for everybody, not only for white bodies. So, we, too, have the right to freedom of expression. Everybody can point to the different ways in which these rights are limited for non-white bodies.

How does this campaign bring us from defence to offence? It puts two questions to the other side:

  1. Tell me, what justification do you have to deny my right to freedom of expression?
  2. What if your analysis of radicalization is wrong? What if tt is not about mental illness, but about hypocrisy?

The great thing about this campaign is: everybody can start it. The social media is a great engine.

Although at some point in time organizations are needed to take up the challenge to organize demonstrations and actions that challenges institutions, we can start now.

In order to start the campaign, we need a shift in our mind from defence to offence. It is a matter of decolonizing our mind.

– Sandew Hira