The response by Charlie Hebdo to the attack on its offices, which led to the death of 12, has sparked off protests in the Muslim world, making it seem that the original offence for which the attacks are supposed have taken place, had been shelved, but the new depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) acted as a justification. There seems to be a clash between the Muslims’ desire not to have blasphemy committed against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the desire of all publications to freedom of expression. That elevation of one of the freedoms to the level of another religion’s beliefs makes it itself a tenet, though of what religion, one cannot tell. It is pertinent to note that the Pope, who represents the religion most Europeans claim to follow, has said that certain limits on freedom should be observed, as no faith should be insulted, but David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK, the oldest country espousing these beliefs, said in effect that the Pope didn’t know what he was talking about.

For the devout Muslim, blasphemy is not a freedom issue, and punishment of any blasphemer is not the result of any reverence felt. That implies that it is not a disturbance of law and order, not the result of a rush of blood, but a test of faith. It is not so much the result of a rush of blood to the brain of excitable natives, for whom the Raj provided the original blasphemy provisions in the Penal Code, but a coldblooded and deliberate affirmation of one’s faith.

One of the difficulties that has cropped up since the abolition of the Caliphate is the responsibility for taking action against blasphemers. In the presence of a Caliph, the responsibility for seeing to the ‘enjoining of good and forbidding of evil’ is his. In fact, that is supposed to be his function, enjoining good and forbidding evil. That is supposed to be the purpose of appointing a Caliph: not to perform some sacred or priestly function, but so that he can ensure the fulfilment of collective responsibilities, like punishing blasphemers. Without a Caliph, there is no one left to organize such collective responsibilities as punishing blasphemy. The responsibility once again falls on the ordinary Muslim.

It should be noted that the Pope, when asked about the issue, said that if someone was to “say a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” It is worth noting that he is of Italian immigrant stock, and comes from Argentina, which is part of Spanish America. Spain, and part of Italy, were both under Muslim rule, and thus share the common Muslim regard for mothers.

It should also be remembered that Islam is careful of reputations, to the extent that it imposes a punishment for a particular type of slander. With the central place it accords the Holy Prophet (PBUH), its defence of his reputation, including the prohibition on his depiction is virtually natural. There is also in Pope Francis’ remarks an element of envy, as if he recognized that if the freedom-of-speech defence was available for blasphemy against the Prophet (PBUH), it was also available for blasphemy against Jesus Christ, whom he and other Christians regard as Son of God, and whom Muslims regard as a Prophet of the Almighty. Indeed, there are blasphemy laws on the books of many European countries, which came about to prevent blasphemy against Christ. He was particularly the target of attack because of the struggle by secularists against the Church – particularly the one Francis heads.

It is a sort of aftermath of this struggle that Charlie Hebdo even existed: because of the titanic struggle in France against absolutism, monarchy and the Church, because France was the centre of the Enlightenment project, and of both the clerical and anticlerical factions that were the doughtiest warriors on both sides. If on one side God and the King were arrayed, on the other were the freedoms, including that of expression.

It is also interesting that even in France, supposedly so uncompromising on freedom of speech and with such a long and proud tradition of not compromising on it, the consensus against criticizing Israel or Zionism should prevail, to the extent that Holocaust denial is a crime. Charlie Hebdo itself faces anti-Semitism charges, not for Holocaust denial, but for speaking mockingly of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son’s engagement to a Jewish heiress. It seems it is perfectly all right to blaspheme against the Holy Prophet (PBUH), even to elevate it into a necessity as of principle, but Zionism must be left alone. This alone illustrates the true malleability of the state towards freedoms. When it suits the state to reduce a freedom it does, even if it is as blatant as a piece of a special provision for a particular section. Freedom of expression has been restricted to appease Jews by means of punishing it. In the same way, freedom of assembly is restricted by the need for prior permission from the authorities to restrict riots, and freedom of enterprise has been restricted to allow rationing and nationalization, simply by legislation.

The Islamic concept is that a Caliph has no protection not enjoyed by ordinary citizens, and thus if IS claims that its head is secured from lampooning, that would not be correct. Attempts to claim IS involvement may owe more to the need to demonise it than to the demands placed by the Sharia on the believers.

To conflate the Paris attacks with the Peshawar massacre would be a mistake, as while the latter was militant in motive, the former was not. It should not be forgotten that the motive was one that applied to all Muslims. That the Charlie Hebdo cover was followed by riots throughout the Muslim world showed that the ordinary Muslim did not look kindly on the depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). It also showed that the attempts of governments to use colonial-era law-and-order legislation to control this outrage, was shortsighted. It also made implicitly clear that such riots, not even the original attack itself, would stop the blasphemy. It should be taken into account that such blasphemy will continue, and be restrained only by a state with the resources to make a credible threat. The folly should also be noted of espousing vigorously the principle of a freedom Western governments are willing to compromise when it suits them.