Let’s not hide behind our silence and discuss the Paris attacks. Indeed, there is a lot of discussion on social media but the silence of the print and electronic media is amazing. It is almost as if the tragedy of 17 people getting killed did not happen. While the Saudi ambassador marched with other world leaders in memory of the dead, his country and many others did not discuss the issue. Turkey is perhaps the only Muslim country that saw one of the big demonstrations in support of Charlie Hebdo. In Pakistan, we conveniently hid behind Imran Khan’s wedding and continue to do so.
While governments of numerous Muslim states, including Pakistan, sympathised with the French over the attack, there is a sense of the issue being pushed under the carpet. While the Peshawar attacks saw a stream of opinion pieces and television coverage, very few papers mentioned the incident in their editorials. There were also very few opinion pieces on this. The general drift of the argument presented in them was, which a lot of people believe in, that given what Charlie Hebdo had done, the violent reaction of the Algerian brothers was inevitable.
We are certainly looking at two opposing sensibilities — on the one hand is the European and particularly French attitude towards religion, and the other, the Muslim tradition of faith and ultimate respect for religious icons. The French attitude towards religion is a byproduct of their historical experience of it and the violence which came out of dependence on religion. While many like the British-Pakistani writer, Tariq Ali, see the Charlie Hebdo affair from the prism of racism in France and Europe, it is also a fact that there are those in Europe who are intrigued by political Islam and push the envelope of discussion. Notwithstanding the differing belief systems, it is necessary to understand that not every Muslim who objects to the idea of disrespecting the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is a fundamentalist. The world of the Muslims is far from where they have a ‘matter of fact’ attitude towards religion or religious icons. It is just very tragic that radicals take over the cause of making others appreciate our religious sensitivities and that too in a violent fashion.
But let’s consider two opposing examples from amongst the Muslims that came out of the Paris attacks. There are the two Kouachi brothers who killed 12 people. And then there were two Muslims both killed in the attack. Mustapha Ourrad, who was a copy editor at the magazine and was himself an Algerian by descent, and the Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet. We don’t know how these two men felt about the cartoon controversy, but they certainly, in their own way, fought for the right of the magazine to perform its task. In fact, Merabet’s case stands in stark comparison to Mumtaz Qadri’s, another policeman who killed Salmaan Taseer, the man he was deputed to guard, for a perceived act of blasphemy.
It is essential to engage the world in a peaceful dialogue about our religious sensitivities with the understanding that some might not appreciate it at all. In such a case, violence is not the only means of response. It should be noted that in Pakistan’s case, blasphemy at times has been used as a political issue. Thus, it is not surprising to see that the bulk of the cases registered under the blasphemy law made by Ziaul Haq in 1987, the majority are Muslims (out of 1,434 cases registered from 1987 to 2014, 719 are of Muslims). As a matter of fact, the bulk of the Muslims booked under this law are those who are generally considered to be more orthodox. In the past few years, we have seen people being accused under this law on the basis of spurious evidence. Not to forget cases in which people were tortured to death and then burnt without any assessment of their alleged crime or the evidence against them.
Former pop star Junaid Jamshed, who is associated with the Tableeghi Jamaat, has also been accused of committing blasphemy and was forced to take refuge in the UK to safeguard his life as a result. It would be quite interesting to see this case debated in a court of law. Perhaps, it may teach us a way to deal with an outside world that is likely to become increasingly provocative. Militancy draws extreme reactions and not sympathy, especially if there is an understanding that blasphemy was used perhaps, as an excuse to attack the West, which is a dominant pattern in al Qaeda-driven violence. The two Algerian boys were recruited by al Qaeda in Yemen to strike inside the heart of the perceived enemy as it did before. We know that if the intent was to stop the publication of sacrilegious cartoons, then al Qaeda has failed. The cartoons will increase, not stop.
Unfortunately, these attacks will result in strengthening of the political right across Europe and the Muslim population will be subjected to greater scrutiny, perhaps at times unfairly. The pressure on Muslims in Europe to prove themselves better citizens will increase mostly by demonstrating commitment to Western secularism that they are not prepared for. Indeed, this is a test for both free speech and multiculturalism in Europe. Increasing intelligence is one option but then we just saw people can slip through the intelligence radar. A sociopolitical solution and a dialogue are necessary both in the West and the Muslim world. It’s better to talk about this than go silent.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2015.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ