Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Islamist Terrorism and Satire
HARA Satoshi / Guest Professor, Kyoto University of Foreign Studies

March 19, 2015
The world was stunned by the terrorist attack on weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamist extremists. In the following week, the paper carried a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad shedding a tear under the headline: "All is Forgiven."

The incident raised important questions about the nature of religion and whether any and all criticism should be allowed. In response, I have sought to review and scrutinize the issues of religion, terrorism, politics, criticism and satire based on my own experience of engaging in intercultural work.

What is religion? In our world there are people of faith who accept and believe in the existence of a transcendental higher being that guides their lives. On the other hand, there are atheists who do not believe in any divinity.

To begin with, religion is a spiritual matter, an inner experience. The majority of people would likely agree with the view that religion is a highly personal matter that has to do with one's inner self, and that one’s faith or religion should not be the object of criticism or satire by others.

However, history has shown how the development of religion has been closely intertwined with politics and the nation state, as well as with race and ethnicity. Religion has broken out of the inner confines of our minds, aligning itself closely with political power to attain the status of "religious authority."

This was definitely the case with Christianity during the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, as evident from its sacred scripture - the Qur'an, Islam is not confined to the mind, but serves as a model for social and economic life, regulating both the minds and daily lives of its followers. Quite a few Islamic countries today have theocratic systems that do not distinguish between religion and politics.

Any religion that allies itself to political power can no longer be a religion for the inner self – this has been the European idea of Enlightenment following the Renaissance and the Reformation.

The Enlightenment was the idea and movement that sought to liberate all aspects of daily life from the yoke of religion - including politics, society, arts, economy and philosophy, by criticizing the religious authority of the Catholic Church and emphasizing the importance of humanism, rational thought and reason. Herein lay the origin of the French Revolution.

The Japanese today believe in democracy, which is founded on freedom of thought, speech and the press, as well as the freedom of religion. History has clearly shown how easily we succumb to our desires, and those who have gained power are prone to be overcome by greed. It is for this reason that all political power must be placed under the constant scrutiny of free speech and free press. And such is the very essence of the French spirit of criticism and the starting point for the satirical cartoons of Charlie Hebdo.

Let us then examine the nature of the satirical cartoons published to date by the weekly magazine. I strongly urge you to see actual cartoons for yourself on their website. Charlie Hebdo has been offering its bitingly satirical take on everything from the various religions to political and social issues both inside and outside France. Some of its satirical cartoons on religion include graphic sexual imagery. Followers would no doubt feel strongly offended by those sexual cartoons in which Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad are depicted naked.

To what extent should the pen be given free rein to criticize any religion that is linked to political power? Some may say such criticism should be altogether prohibited. Others may claim that a certain degree of criticism would be justified depending on the degree to which the religion is tied to political power. And yet others may advocate absolute freedom to criticize. A person of faith is likely to lean towards the first view, while an atheist may advocate the third view.

I would like to propose my own opinion about the incident, which is as follows.

With regard to terrorist acts by Islamist extremists, I think such terrorist killings in the name of God or Allah – or religion – must be ruled out completely as an act of blasphemy against their own God. Waging a religious war means using religion as a political tool, which contradicts the very essence of religion as an introspective act of faith. Any religion that encourages terrorism must therefore be eliminated.

As for the satirical cartoon of Muhammad published in the wake of the incident, I would say it was within the bounds of acceptability, considering that Islam is a religion that seeks to control not only the minds but the daily lives of its followers, and that at present a considerable number of Islamic countries in the world handle religion and political power by blending them together.

On the other hand, I think Charlie Hebdo overstepped the boundary of decency with its cartoons on religion carrying sexual content. One should recognize that for believers, Jesus and Muhammad lie at the core of their respective faiths. Though Charlie Hebdo editors themselves may be atheist, such cartoons are nevertheless obscene and vulgar. They must show greater respect for others' beliefs and make their cartoons more decent and dignified.

Finally, I would like to touch upon what I consider to be a fundamental flaw of Islam, which is its lack of a "center" that provides an authoritative interpretation of the Qur'an. Islam does not have the same kind of central authority on interpretation in the way the Catholic religion has the Vatican. Variously located Imams – religious leaders – offer their respective interpretations of the Qur'an to educate their followers. In some Islamic countries, the madrassa schools emphasize the "holy war against infidels" aspect of "jihad", whose original meaning is to struggle and strive for the good cause of Islam, and teach their children that being called up to heaven by becoming a suicide bomber is the right thing to do.

I urge all Muslims around the world to raise their voices and declare that the Qur’an does not permit Muslims to kill non-Muslims by way of terrorism, and that Islamist extremists are not true followers of Islam. I would also like to see the establishment of a "center" with the authority to interpret the Qur'an. This is the genuine jihad that I hope will be carried out by the followers of Islam.

HARA Satoshi is Japan's former Ambassador to Portugal.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

原 聡 / 京都外国語大学 客員教授

2015年 3月 19日


宗教とは何か? 世の中には、自分超える超越者の存在を認め信じ、その導きによって生き方を定める信仰者がいる。他方、無神論者もいる。









1. イスラム過激派による襲撃テロについては、「神(宗教)の名におけるテロ殺人は一切認められない。むしろ神を冒涜している」と考える。宗教戦争は宗教を政治的手段として利用していることであり、宗教の本質である「心の中」の信仰に反する。テロ殺人を勧める宗教など排除されるべきである。

2. 事件後のムハンマドの風刺画掲載については、イスラム教が「心の中」の問題のみならず日常生活まで規定している宗教であり、かつ、世界のイスラム教国の相当数が宗教と政治権力を渾然一体として取り扱っている現状から判断して、この程度の風刺画は許されてしかるべきものであろう。


3. 最後にイスラム教には本質的問題がある。それは、クルアーンを有権的に解釈できる「センター」の欠如である。カトリック教における法王庁のような有権的解釈センターが存在しない。各地のイマーム(イスラム指導者)がそれぞれ独自にクルアーンを解釈して、それを人々に教えている。ある国のマドラサ(学校)では子供たちに対し、本来イスラムの道のために努力するという意味の「ジハード(奮励努力)」を「異教徒との聖戦」であると強調して、自爆テロにより天国へ召されるのは正しいことと教育している。


一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟