The Mila Affair

‘Je suis Charlie’ is a myth! The bitter truth is there were hardly any Charlies and there are even fewer Milas.

 When Mila, a 16-year-old adolescent expressed her homosexuality and her views on religion, on social media admittedly not in the most eloquent manner,  she was trolled by a random people – mostly crude and cultureless boys, who labelled her sale Française (dirty French), sale pute (dirty whore), and sale guine (dirty dyke). A good number wanted to ‘find her and teach her a lesson’. And of course, they called for her death, evoking Allah’s divine intervention even on a holiday. In retaliation to the threats, Mila posted another video where she ranted, ‘Islam c’est la merde’, a phrase which requires no translation even in the world of Anglophones. What followed was all too predictable; the viral video escalated the threats and the thuggish boys were now calling for her to be gang-raped, burnt or buried alive. Her address and telephone number were made public and schoolmates now wanted to take part in the orgy of torturing her to death. Mila was quickly removed from school and she and her family were put under police protection.

While it is commendable that liberal democracies can afford police protection for those who speak up, it might do us good to remember that sections of French or for that matter European society have not embraced the concepts of freedom of speech or freedom of expression. In fact, many of them hail from parts of the world where those who blaspheme are left to be lynched, and their society sleeps better knowing those who ‘commit the crime’ will be dealt with in severe terms. When Asia Bibi, a Christian lady was accused of insulting Islam in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami led the hate march calling for her death. For those who know the history of the Jammat-e-Islami, it was no surprise that they openly called for an Islamic execution. The Jamaat, as they are referred to in the Indian Subcontinent, are obsessed with the idea of Islamic states and Islamising the spheres they live in. Much of this is done under the guise of social good, charity or better yet, peace. 

In Britain, they style themselves as the UK Islamic Mission, but since 2017, their website has distanced themselves from the teachings of Syed Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the organisation. However, the fundamental factor that binds every Islamic organisation is that religion is not a private matter in their definitions or for that matter their minds. Any critique of Islam is perceived as a person attack on Muslims across the planet. Those who are threatening Mila may be born in France, but their attachments lie in countries where blasphemy is a grave crime and police protection in matters of individual liberty is unheard of and this is fundamental to understanding their impunity when it comes to delivering threats.

From Charlie to Mila; more will follow; yet, vast sections of the West refuse to address the disturbing reality that the endorsement of casual violence and sometimes death comes straight out of the mosques, Islamic centres and Muslim bodies that claim to know what is best for their populations. When asked to comment on the Mila affair, Zekri Abdalla, a representative of the French council of Muslim Faith (an organisation founded by Nicolas Sarkozy) and a leading member of the collective against Islamophobia in France, declared that ‘she was asking for it’. He added,  “Qui sème le vent récolte la tempête.”  (you reap as you sow.) According to him,  no one should have the right to insult Islam without consequences.

The Mila affair seems trivial to the rest of the world, but it has once again exposed the reality that sections of Muslims in France live in their own sphere. A sphere that wants to reclaim blasphemy, a sphere that is flabbergasted by any criticism of Islam and a sphere that normalises threats and killing in the name of religion. This new sphere has not gone unnoticed by our politicians in France.

France’s new landscape means that the Left refuses to come out and stand firmly by the Charlies and Milas of our time. Instead, prominent and popular politicians like Ségolène Royale come out and unwittingly endorse the threats by saying,  “If this young girl had spoken in this tone about her teachers or parents, we would have asked her to show some respect.” In an instant, Madame Royale threw out our right to criticise religion in France.  To add injury to insult, the Minister of Justice, Nicole Belloubet, declared in an interview on Europe 1 that ‘Insulting religion is attacking the freedom of conscience’. And so it appears that we in France are now in the process of resetting the clock on our sense of freedom on multiple levels. The centuries of struggle that gave us the right to criticise religion in no gentle terms is now facing opposition not just from Islam, but also from a secular sphere in power. Fairly quickly, the Justice Minter made a U-turn saying that she had never intended to suggest that blasphemy is off limits in France, but by then le Garde des Sceaux (as the Justice Minister in referred to in France) or the keeper of seals had sealed the fate of a divided French Republic.

France’s failure to inspire its new populations to adhere to its principles of laïcité and its incapacity to stand unanimously in matters fundamental to our future has worked like a charm for the Front Nationale. It was not the Left, orthe feminists, neither the LGTB association nor SOS Racisme, but Marine le Pen who was first in line to defend Mila. This simple fact exposes the futility of the silent majority. Elizabeth Badinter, the French philosopher and writer, summed it up perfectly when she said,  “Nous paierons cher cette lâcheté.” (We are going to pay dearly for our cowardice.)

Every time an affair of this kind hits us, the social media battle lines are drawn. This time, we had #Jesuismila or #Jenesuispasmila. The bitter truth is no one is Mila because only Mila came out, showed her face, and openly declared war on Islam.  Likewise, no one was truly Charlie because people and the press could not find the courage to reprint the Mohammad caricatures. Yet, it feels lofty enough to hide behind those who take the fall. Five years ago, the ‘Je suis Charlie’ march attracted Ali Bongo, Mahmood Abbas and the likes who had nothing but contempt for Charlie. Many of those who attended the march shared the view that the journalists ‘were asking for it’. France and the world lost an opportunity to call them out for their hypocrisy and trigger real debate on freedom of all sorts within the Islamic sphere.

For now, these spheres remain in sharp contradiction with the values of the West. The story of Asia Bibi who was forced to leave Pakistan when ochlocracy took over Pakistan got widespread media coverage, but few realised the relevance of it in the West. One might have hoped that a negligible number of Muslims in Britain held views similar to those in Pakistan on the issue of blasphemy, but Asia Bibiwas not welcome in Britain precisely because the Islamic spheres have grown so powerful in Britain that the government could not guarantee her safety. And while politicians maintain ties with community leaders in the hope that they will make things better, it’s time we woke up to the harsh reality that many of them have not poured oil on troubled waters, but have instead been gently stoking the fire