Hundreds of Muslims gathered in Lakemba, a suburb of Sydney, to protest the ‘negative coverage’ of Islam in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and shootings in a Kosher supermarket in Paris.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald the event, called “Our Prophet, Our Honor” featured an 800 strong crowed who rallied together on Friday night to complain about the French satirical magazine’s portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad in cartoons, including the front page of what was dubbed the ‘survivor’s issue’ which featured a sketch of of the prophet holding a sign saying ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and a headline ‘All is forgiven.’
The crowd, which included children, held up placards saying “Je Suis Muslim” in the New South Wales town.
In the middle of December, the city was subject to its own attack when an Islamist gunman held up a Lindt cafe, taking hostages. Two people were killed in addition to the gunman and four injured in the violence, with one woman dying protecting her pregnant friend from being shot and the other, a man, trying to wrestle the gun from the jihadist.
The hostages were apparently forced to make videos standing in front of a black Islamic flag. One hostage was made to read from a script that included the line: “Our ISIS brother has been very kind to us.”
Police said 14 people were moved on from the rally for breaching the peace but no one was charged and the event was peaceful.
Speaking at the rally outside Lakemba train station, local Muslim leader Sufyan Badar told those who had gathered that Charlie Hebdo was using freedom of speech as “a smoke screen” for underlying issues. And he said it was also a response to the waves of protests in the wake of the attacks, which left 17 people dead.
There have been anti-Charlie Hebdo protests in countries, including Pakistan, where blasphemy laws still exist. In contrast, Jewish people in Britain have had to increase security around synagogues and schools and there was a spike in anti-Semitic attacks with police putting extra staff out on the street to prevent any violence.
“Freedom is the smokescreen with which Western politicians and media conceal the underlying issues,” Mr Badar said.
“In reality free speech is one of the many political tools that are used to maintain dominance over the Muslims.”
“We also gather to place the politics of the events in France in the correct context,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had previously spoken to say he hoped few people would attend. He warned against the rally being used to incite terrorism and called on Muslim leaders to distance themselves from “evil things that are done in the name of Islam”.
A spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, which helped organise the event, questioned the Prime Minister’s comments and his suggestion the gathering could be used to incise violence.
Hamzah Qureshi said: “No one should be asked to apologise for or distance themselves from something they are not responsible for.”
“I would, however, mention that it’s interesting that the question of whether a Muslim event will be peaceful or violent consistently seems to come up.”