‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.’- Salman Rushdie on Charlie Hebdo attacks
While Charlie Hebdo attack was still unfolding in Paris, 4000 Miles (6500 KM) away, in Jeddhah, Saudi Arabia, a young man Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times in public view on Friday (Jan 9) after the prayers. The crowd chanted “Allah-hu Akbar”.
His crime: He had created an online blog to discuss ideas of liberty and democracy.
Raif was sentenced to jail for 10 years last May and has been ordered 1000 lashes (50 lashes every week for 20 weeks) and a fine of 1 million Riyals (2.6 lakh USD). His crime: He insulted Islam.
Feeling nauseated? Look at another massacre happening in your world. And it is happening parallel to Charlie Hebdo: 2,000 people are feared dead in one of the most gruesome attacks by Islamists in Boko Haram in Nigeria in first week of January. The militants sprayed bullets indiscriminately in Northern Nigerian villages, leading to piling up of human bodies everywhere.
The list can go on.
These examples illustrate a civilizational clash that radical Islam has created in the modern world. The humanity is witnessing a cultural clash where we have a larger part of the world that believes in freedom of speech and religion and another part of world which is medieval in its outlook, where human rights of people (and women in particular) are openly subjugated and more astonishingly, where violence is unleashed if you do not agree with them. As if, it is my way or ‘deathway’!
Charlie Hebdo incidence has once again brought into focus the issue of Jihad. Its magnitude is nothing close to 9/11 or Mumbai attack, but the shock it has generated is no less intense.
Charlie Hebdo attack has raised a question that is staring in our face more acutely than ever: Shall we address the core issue?
But, look at the narrative that is being presented after the Charlie Hebdo.
David Studer, Standards and Practices Director of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) stated in an internal circular: “Let us not show the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed. Other elements of Charlie Hebdo’s content and style are fine, but this area should be avoided, as quite simply, it is offensive to Muslims as a group”.
In the name of Islam, people are being killed, throats are being slit, kids (Peshawar, Pakistan) are being slaughtered, women are being raped and minorities (Yazidis in Iraq by ISIS) are being persecuted.
But, after the Charlie Hebdo incidence, New York Times editorial board stated: “This is also no time for peddlers of xenophobia to try to smear all Muslims with a terrorist brush”.
Dean Howard, former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Convention (DNC) chair, said: “Charlie Hebdo attackers are not Muslim terrorists. They are as Muslim as I am”.
Hillary Clinton- probable Presidential aspirant for 2016- expressed after the French attack that other side’s version too must be understood.
Tarek Fatah – a noted Canadian activist and important voice of liberty in Islam- says: “If the object (cartoons in this case) that is central to the whole story is missing, what kind of (media) reporting are you trying to build upon? It may be noted that the media is generally not showing the cartoons so as not to hurt the feelings of Muslims. Tarek notes that the basic principle of journalism is to report the truth or facts and not conclude in first place!”
Therefore, it seems that everyone wants to condemn the violence without condemning the underlying religion.
But Somalia-born American activist Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali says: “This argument now has become redundant. There is a strong relationship between the violence and Islam. You cannot divorce Islam (religion) from these acts of terrorism.”
There is an impression that the left and liberal media in USA is avoiding to examine the issue critically lest it give rise to anti-Islamic sentiments (Islamophobia). However, this time, some media channels are shooting direct. Fox channel is criticizing Obama for equating terrorist attacks with a mere criminal activity. Largely, political leadership is trying to be politically correct by not linking this issue with religion. But as Peter King (R-NY) – member of Homeland Security Committee- says: “First, label it ‘Islamic Terrorism’ and not plain extremism”.
Another commentator asked: “Have we become politically so correct that we have become suicidal?”
Charlie Hebdo shows that extremism has won again. It seems as if the whole narrative has been handed over to the Islamists! They have ‘avenged’ the insult of the prophet by killing the satirists. That was the message they wanted to convey and they have apparently succeeded. But, all along in last 20 years, public at large has been trying to say: “Oh, No, No! Terrorism has no religion. This is not Islam. Let us not link Islam to these attacks. Islam is a peaceful religion.”
Does the problem emanate from the spirit of Islam? Tarek Fatah does not mince words when he says: “Let us not even talk about West and violence. Within Islam, there is a running celebration of violence.” Looked more carefully, there is a cancer of violence within Islam and the biggest victims of this are Muslims itself. Look at the conflict-stricken Middle East where democracy is not able to even seep in.
The royalties and kingdoms in the modern times are a telling story.
Tarek says, referring to battle of Karbala, that we (Muslims) killed grandson of our own Prophet.
Similarly, the whole Ummayad caliphate (700- 800 people) was killed in Damascus in a day around 700 C.E. and the new caliphate of Abbasids had dinner over the dead bodies. In the 14th century, after the Mongols destroyed the Arab sovereignty, Islam evolved out of 2 characters: Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qudamah. These were the people who created almost a new religion of Islamic ideology that finds itself rooted in Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf.
Ibn Tayamiyyah’s teachings have a great impact on what we see in today’s Salafism, Wahhabism and Jihadism. Needless to say, Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS all come from that school of thought. In addition, this puritanical form of Islam inherently believes that Arab is the superior race (and the consequent racism that sets into Islam, where by non –Arab Muslims are treated with a sense of inferiority in the Middle East. My Indian and Pakistani friends working in the Middle East will vouch for it).
Is Islam a victim of its own ghetto-mentality? Look at the number.
There are 751 official “no-go zones” in France where Muslims only live.
They do not allow French to be taught, have their own Sharia in these conclaves and are literally segregated from the mainstream society. This is a perpetual situation. Why would you set up ghettos in the Western world where equality, liberty and free speech are the mantra?
Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, explains the reasons behind this. He argues that Islam is a political system as well as religious one. It has a complete system for governance and social order. Thus, the migrating Muslim populations continue to nurture the idea that their system of rules (Sharia) must replace the existing law of land even in the newly adopted lands. Once Muslims immigrants achieve a threshold, they start pushing or supporting the idea in all earnest. The clash with the culture of land is inevitable.
The exact diagnosis would require that we look at the symptoms more critically. At the root of Islamic extremism lies an ideology that does not have the spirit of liberty and intellectual inquiry. And then there are compounding factors. According to a Pew Research analysis in 2012, nearly a quarter of the world’s countries and territories had anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and one-in-ten had laws or policies penalizing apostasy. These are most common in the Middle East and North African countries.
Where do we go from Charlie Hebdo? Does the tragedy give us an opportunity?
I think it does. Without raking up xenophobia, honest conversation needs to happen within the world communities and within the Islamic community. The attack on French magazine raises an issue that has political, security and societal dimensions. There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Why there is no outcry among them? The world would be a better place even if a small segment of Muslim population stands up and say: “Enough is enough. Stop killing people in the name of Islam.” Why Imams and Mullahs seem to be more concerned about burning of Koran rather than continued incidences, violence and killing in the name of Islam? The answers must come from within Islam and not outside!
Why do not we see any Mahatma Gandhi (who was killed by a fanatic of his own faith, that is, Hinduism) in the Islamic world willing to exhort his own people to bring peace? Why the U.S. president is so lenient to Pakistan where the doctor who gave crucial info leading to finding of Osama bin Laden is holed up in the jail? Why is the U.S. still giving aid to a fanatic country where 150 children were gunned down in a school by the Taliban? The West has to figure out if they will impose embargo on the Islamic countries or let the medieval mindset continue to nest within their pluralistic societies. Islam is at crossroad and is threatening others more than themselves.
Will a hard look at the problem be welcome or shall we like to continue to look the other way?