A few years ago, I was invited to visit the Charlie Hebdo office. I was bowled over by the work of their brilliant and talented cartoonists. Their struggle for freedom of expression at the risk of their lives is akin to my own struggles. There were fatwas and there were death threats galore but they didn’t stop. There was pressure and intimidation about lampooning Muhammad but they still carried on.
If they kept drawing ‘offensive’ cartoons, they were told, they’d be murdered. And they still drew their cartoons. Their office was firebombed, their names appeared on al-Qaida’s most wanted list, and they still didn’t close their doors. Many artists feel their plight today — fighting fatwas, death threats, exile.
They were all such wonderful human beings — those cartoonists. They were adept not only at the art of comedy, they dearly loved a laugh themselves. Their philosophy was similar with mine — they absolutely rejected religious fundamentalism, violence and terror. They were, on their part, worried about my safety and security.
Since they were inhabiting one of the safest democratic spaces in the world, they didn’t seem very worried about themselves. I could hardly have known then that terrorists would barge into that very office and kill all of them, that there is no country left in the world that is actually safe and secure.
Charlie Hebdo will continue to be published. If it were to shut down or if the artists got scared, that would mean victory for the terrorists. I am happy to hear that its next issue, in protest of the massacre, will have a print run of one million copies. This publication asserts freedom of expression.
It does not need a lot of talent to become a terrorist, to use an automatic weapon and kill innocents. But one can neither become a journalist nor a cartoonist without any talent. The murder of so many talents by some uncivilised, insane and barbaric men to please their god and their prophet, in order to get heaven in afterlife — this is the way they are indoctrinated to be pious Muslims!
I have been stunned ever since I heard they have been killed. I have a feeling that one day I will meet their fate at the hands of Islamic fanatics. Perhaps I would be in the middle of finishing a novel or a book of poetry, and they would sneak into my study as suddenly to butcher me or maybe pump a few bullets into my head while screaming Allahu Akbar. If they could get away with this in a city like Paris, despite the presence of armed security guards, there is no reason for such an incident not to happen where I am staying.
The intellectuals of the Occident have always spoken in favour of Muslims, no matter how much terror Muslims might perpetrate. Perhaps to maintain the western liberal tradition or maybe their sympathies are drawn to the Muslims who were once colonised by European nations and now form a minority in Europe or even by the fate of Muslims persecuted in Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine.
But the intellectuals working at Charlie Hebdo spared no one. No politician, no religious leader of any denomination escaped their humour. They made fun of Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike. They would also sometimes lampoon Prophet Muhammad. Those were intelligent works of art. Some people complain they were provocative. But they have all the right to be provocative and no one should have the right to kill them for being provocative.
Most people today would stand by Charlie Hebdo. They would criticise the murders and claim that their version of Islam is not in the true spirit of the religion. That real Islam does not provide any sort of influence for killing unbelievers. But numerous verses in suras like al-Bakara, al-Nisa, al-Anfal and al-Tauba of the Quran speak of killing people who have no faith in Islam. There is express advice to Muslims to kill non-Muslims. Many Hadith have enumerated instances where Muslims were ordered to murder infidels.
Islam has largely been exempt from the critical scrutiny that other religions have undergone to modernise them. Now fundamentalist followers of Muha-mmad want to establish a quintessential Islamic caliphate to rule the entire world. Whoever happens to disbelieve or mock Islam, they reserve the right to do away with that person. Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaida, ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab are waging ‘holy terror’ across the world and all of them have the same ideology.
They do not believe in plurality of thoughts or in democratic principles, relying instead on a theocratic, monolithic version of their medieval belief system.
Islamic fundamentalism is not a negligible problem. If one wants to address this problem, one has to go to its very roots. Preaching principles of freedom of expression alone won’t do any good. One has to know what mantra makes terrorists tick and influences them to take up arms. It is important to stop indoctrination of children with irrational religious faith at home or institutions like madrassas or mosques. They should be raised to have logical, rational minds and to adopt scientific outlooks that are able to distinguish between right and wrong. I strongly believe that as long as Islam remains unreformed, there can be no end to terror.