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Post Paris - Let some of us stand apart
Monday January 19, 2015 2:48 PM, Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, ummid.com

The unfortunate attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine of Paris in January 2015 has brought to the fore a man-made cataclysm that has been threatening to shape up in the world for over two decades blatantly defying the existential necessity of 'maintaining an inter-community relationship balance' that's needed for the welfare of humanity and everything else in the multiverse. Like a clap it needs two hands.

One set of the people responsible for this avoidable pestilence have been the agents of parochialism, aggrandizement and one-up-man-ship. The trampling of Palestine's territorial sovereignty; the initial grooming of Taliban; the post 9/11 attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan; the overdrive to abruptly magnify, politicize and overplay the differences between Sunnis & Shias; the maneuvering of continuous oil supply to self at cheap rates; the cultivation of the docile Gulf monarchies; the insistence to democratize Iraq and Libya as they had temerity to stand up; the overthrow of democratically elected Egyptian government; the messing up in Syria; the insistence to mock at the Prophet of Islam - all these events have provided talking points in international debates and have thus worked as ready made electoral planks to fight national elections.

The Muslim community is equally to blame though on a different footing. The couldn't-care-less attitude of the community to internally debate and revamp its religious thought and bring it in sync with the times - even though its scripture mandates so; focussing too much on the sense of victim-hood at the hands of others; squarely blaming the 'other' for its lack of progress; not rising to the occasion and not taking the initiative to promote a culture of individual contribution to boost the community image; not realizing the significance of the basic Quranic articles of faith like (a) God's purpose of creating humanity is to test as who amongst us is more serviceable to others (11.7), (b) Out of whatever I've been blessed with I must utilize what's needed for mine and my dependents' upkeep while the remaining balance needs to be devoted to the needy (2.219), (c) wealth should be made to circulate in the society and not be allowed to remain confined in a few hands (59.7), (d) taking care of my extended family (4.1) and my neighborhood (4.36) is one of my primary duties, (e) I should not differentiate among God's messengers and His books (2.285), and so on.

Looking at the latest events in Europe one finds that the French PM has placed an extra 10,000 troops on the streets of Paris and warned, 'we are at War'. Security services on both sides of the Channel have cautioned that further attacks are highly likely. Policemen are guarding the schools. We know that Amedy Coulibaly was killed by police in Paris after murdering a woman officer and four Jewish hostages. Before dying, he shouted that he deliberately chose a Jewish shop claiming that his victims were legitimate targets in revenge for the deaths of Muslims in Palestine. Private Jewish security cars 'Shomrim' are also out in north-west London following the kosher deli murders. In the circumstances, we must sit back and ponder, "Is so much risk-taking and the consequent massive unproductive diversion of precious resources really justifiable in order to side with a section of the media's right to malign a particular faith ?".

On the other hand, through a latest circular, the Oxford University Press (obviously with no stake in any power politics) has prohibited its authors from including in the books anything that could be perceived as pork-related in their books, including pigs and sausages. This is aimed at avoiding offense to Muslims and Jews. This came up during discussion on free speech on Radio 4's 'Today' program. The OUP spokesman said, "we supply these books in 150 countries and we need to consider cultural differences and sensitivities". Surely, the world's silent majority salutes the high Oxford tradition.

In the meanwhile, the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo has published yet another cartoon of the Muslim prophet holding a 'Je Suis Charlie' sign on the cover. In this context one must also carefully listen to the voices like 'We are not all Charlie' by award winning columnist Matthew Norman in Independent newspaper of Britain dated 14 Jan 2015. He quotes Boris Johnson of 'Today' having said that "you might have got offended by what they (the diseased CH editorial team) have done but you must defend their right to publish it". To this, Matthew has responded, "The point at issue is not whether one shows solidarity with the dead of Paris in word. It is whether you - or we, more aptly, in the media - are prepared to do so in deed, by publishing depictions of the prophet with a prominence likely to attract the attention of the kind of crazies who went hunting with their AK47s in Paris last week. Would Boris, were he still editing the 'Spectator', put an intendedly offensive cartoon on Muhammed on the cover in defence of the human right to cause offense? Would he risk his life?"

The journalists whose lives ended after years of ignoring a danger so clear and present that they required police protection may not have been saints .... Frankly, I'm not convinced they were fighting the war they may have imagined. If satire ever is an effective weapon, it is only against vulnerable individuals. Against a ... mass movement, it is powerless ... When the post-traumatic exuberance fades, when the next murderous attack takes place, we might morosely reflect that the deaths of Stéphane Charbonnier and his colleagues were essentially pointless, adds Matthew.

Besides, one of the founding members of Charlie Hebdo has accused its slain editor of "dragging the team" to their deaths by releasing increasingly provocative cartoons. Henri Roussel, 80, had written to the murdered editor, saying: "I really hold it against you." In the magazine Nouvel Obs, Mr Roussel, calling Charbonnier an "amazing lad", wrote that he was also a stubborn "block head". "What made him feel the need to drag the team into overdoing it," he said. Incidentally, the earlier CH editor Philippe Val had fired one of its historic figures, Maurice Sine, for publishing a cartoon on the marriage of Nicolas Sarkozy's son, Jean, to a Jewish retailing heiress, which he considered as anti-Semitic.

In India, the treatment of the kinds of Charlie Hebdo editorial team is loud and clear. The Constitution mandates (Article 51A) the citizens' fundamental duty to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood transcending religious diversities. The Indian Penal Code prescribes imprisonment and fine for transgressing this statutory provision.

The world society is closely knit and essentially intertwined. There are 30% Christians, 25% Muslims, 15% Hindus, 7% Buddhists and many others including 0.2% Jews. It is imprudent, indeed hazardous, to ignore the believers of any faith, much worse to malign or insult. Everybody everywhere will have to follow the common minimum fundamental prohibitions. Yet, by repeatedly defying and provoking a particular faith sentiment, Charlie Hebdo and world politicians have, for long, been weakening the case of world peace.

Generations of politicians are born and die, all over the world, who either take selfish political advantage of such situations or ignore these. Politics is perverted. Masses are not, but they habitually choose to silently watch the vitiating of atmosphere making life more difficult for the upcoming citizens of the world. Mahatma Gandhi had said, "it's easy to stand in the crowd but it takes courage to stand alone"; let some of us stand apart.

[The author is president, Zakat Foundation of India ZakatIndia.org.]



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