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For Whom Shall I Mourn?

They had exercised their right to the freedom of expression. But their heavy artillery was reserved to attack Islam and its Prophet. Was it really a level playing field?

For Whom Shall I Mourn?
For Whom Shall I Mourn?

The massacre of the journalists of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo ' and the two policemen who were present to prevent just such an attack ' is over. The slaughter that occurred in the super market is over too and the three attackers who carried out these gruesome killings are dead. The outpouring of grief, the mass rallies and the proclamations of freedom are being heard around the world. 

I shall mourn and grieve too. I shall grieve for the two policemen, one a Muslim the other perhaps a Christian, who were caught in a cross-fire of ideologies that were not of their making. I shall also grieve for the unarmed policewoman who was so casually murdered as she tried to do her job directing traffic. I believe she was of African descent. I shall mourn for the hostages at the supermarket who were slaughtered for being Jewish. How could they be held guilty for the actions of another country? More importantly, singling out people because of their religion was not just fascist, it revealed a warped state of mind. 

And, I shall mourn for the journalists at Charlie Hebdo too. I shall grieve because they met a brutal and unnecessary end. Did they have to be butchered? Was there no other way among the believers to counter their, at times, vicious onslaught? (The 3 toilet rolls emblazoned with the Bible, the Quran and the Torah on them, the edition of Charlie Hebdo with the name of prophet Mohammad as editor are examples).

There are certain thoughts, however, that are troubling me. Though I believe that these journalists were rationalists, they were also, I believe, in a strange way, fundamentalists. They believed they had an eternal 'truth' on their side beyond history and circumstance.

What was their truth? I believe it was the three tenets of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. I also believe there was a fourth tenet too: enlightenment. These were the four tenets that guided the iconoclastic journalists at Charlie Hebdo and armed with these weapons of mass destruction they believed they had an unfettered license to skewer and to roast anyone and everyone.

What surprises me, however, is why didn't these journalists realise that the tenets were very far from being true in their own backyard - in France? Didn't the journalists know that though France could claim to have a great deal of liberty it also had a great paucity of equality and fraternity? This was not something new because it stared me in the face whenever I visited the country from the early 1980s onwards right up to the 1990s. In fact the latent and, at times, manifest racism on the streets was visible to anyone who cared to observe. The segregation of communities was starkly visible too.

But that was in the past and things were going to get much worse because the times were dramatically changing both in France and around the world. It began with the war on terror and the invasion and overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. (One must remember that both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were creations of the West and once hailed as freedom fighters). The invasion did have a semblance of legitimacy but what shocked most observers was the installation of an American agent as the new and democratically elected President of Afghanistan. The Western press hailed his manufactured election but most people knew that his writ did not run beyond the walls of the Presidential Palace in Kabul and that American Special Forces were needed to protect his life. This was the first step that revealed an ominous design.

What followed next was extraordinarily arrogant and illegal. It was the invasion and overthrow of the Saddam Hussain government in Iraq for reasons that were based on absolute lies. As the world watched helplessly, American and British warplanes and missiles first destroyed the country's infrastructure, its roads, factories, bridges, dams, military installations, power plants and sewage systems. And then their troops marched in. The estimated number of deaths of Iraqi soldiers and civilians in this initial phase is estimated to be 100,000. This was the first step and then many more brutal ones would follow.

As the war on terror continued its rampage across the region by bombings, mayhem, slaughter and targeted assassinations it created another crisis: the mass migration of people across borders and millions of internally displaced people in Iraq and Afghanistan. As cruise missiles, bombs and other lethal weaponry wreaked havoc on cities and towns and villages, as smart bombs turned out to be not-so-smart and killed hundreds of civilians, people were left in shock. What had they done to deserve this? In the midst of their despair emerged the gruesome images of the abject humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the images of American soldiers urinating on the corpses of opposition fighters in Afghanistan, the grotesque images of wedding parties being obliterated by missiles in Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, images of the massacre that occurred in Falujah and elsewhere.

The revelations by the heroic whistle-blower Michael Manning of the slaughter of innocent civilians by euphoric American soldiers in helicopter gunships numbed the mind. These images were swiftly forgotten in the West but were retained as memory across the Muslim world. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Somalia, Chad were in turmoil.

It was now the turn of Libya and Syria. Carefully crafted plans were made to overthrow both the regimes. The plans succeeded in Libya and the country has descended into anarchy and despair. In Syria the battle still rages. Hundreds of thousands of more civilians have died. Millions more have been turned into refugees. Millions of others who had lived in dignity are now reduced to scrounging for food, medicines and other basic amenities. Adding to the library of heart-wrenching images was the recent brutal and destructive invasion of Gaza by Israel as the West watched silently.

There was another kind of insidious destruction that was also unleashed by this War on Terror and it would have far reaching consequences. As the invasion forces and occupying troops met with fierce opposition from common citizens, nationalists and resistance fighters of all kinds, they were dubbed by the West as militants, Islamists or terrorists and brutally attacked. Weak governments that were sucked into the War on Terror were often forced to send in their armies to fight their own citizens. 

And then the final straw. To counter such resistance in the future another strategy was put in place: separate tribal loyalties were funded and encouraged, the differences between Sunni, Shia, Catholic, Nestorian, Druze, Alawite, Kurd, Yazidi and Copt were actually nurtured and promoted. The net result of these divisive policies was the brutal slaughter between sectarian militias. A common civilisation had collapsed.

What we now have in the region are militias off all hues and with different agendas battling each other. Some are nationalists, some resistance fighters, some members of overthrown power structures, sectarian militias and some plain mercenaries. And, most frighteningly of all, we now have the jihadists. Indoctrinated by rabid clerics they have now launched an incredibly brutal and retaliatory war against the West: in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, in Syria and Iraq. There is, however, another side to their tale: much as the West rapidly forgot the horrendous atrocities committed by its own missiles, warplanes and soldiers, the images of these fanatics beheading and slaughtering foreigners and hundreds of fellow Muslims are constantly repeated across television screens all over Europe and North America.

Who played what role in this sordid, unedifying mess I will leave to the historians to reveal. But I do know that the United States of America, Britain, France, Italy, and Israel were the stars of the show. The monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, inordinately dependent on the might of the West to protect their wealth and fragile fiefdoms, were the supporting cast. The leadership of Turkey, a NATO member, played it both ways by running with the hare and hunting with the hound. The role of Russia and China could be debated too. But, in their defense I would like to add that they entered the arena to stop the unilateralism of the West but ended up in prolonging the Syrian war. Iran, trapped in a pincer movement across its borders, intervened in the mayhem to protect its turf. The brutal retaliation of the Syrian regime against the sponsored armed opposition groups added fuel to the raging fire. The role played by regional players ' like Musharraf's Pakistan, Mubarak's Egypt, the kingdom of Jordan and Karzai's Afghanistan need to be mentioned too' but as flunkeys.

All of them created a monstrous situation. And in the debris of this monumental destruction lived the ordinary citizens of these blighted lands. They turned to their religion for succour. After a decade and a half of relentless devastation their faith in their God was the only hope. 

I believe that the journalists at Charlie Hebdo knew about the catastrophic legacy of this war on terror.

Which leads me to ask a question: didn't the journalists realise that the 'truth' that they held as a flaming torch to scorch would exacerbate the existing racial tensions in their country which, in the past was kept under control and manageable but in the time of the War on Terror had turned extremely volatile and incendiary. The pain, anger, humiliation and despair of the Muslim minorities were not imagined. They were real. 

It was in these times that the savage attack on the journalists took place. They had exercised their right to the freedom of expression by sniping at racism, fascism, Christianity and Judaism. But their heavy artillery was reserved to attack Islam and its Prophet. Was it really a level playing field? Was their freedom of speech selective? Alas! I think it was. Nevertheless, I shall mourn for them. I don't agree with them. But they had the right to express their views and they didn't have to die for it. 

I shall also mourn the words of the Israeli Prime Minister who, with amazing alacrity, announced that the attack on the journalists and at the super-market was the handiwork of Islamic terrorism. It almost seemed that he had anticipated such an attack and was there in Paris to tell the French and the rest of the Western World: 'I told you so'. What he was really saying was 'Beware the Ides of Islam.'

Here was a man completely unburdened by history or intelligence. Here was a man who didn't realise that the policies followed by his government and several others before him were, perhaps, one of the root causes that had inflamed the entire region. The second reason was of course the control of oil and natural gas resources. The third was to preserve the interests of the satraps in the region. The fourth was to overthrow inconvenient regimes. 

Therefore, I mourn the words of Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu. He reduced a complex argument into an absurdity.

I shall also mourn for the ordinary people of all the blighted lands who, for no fault of theirs, were laid low by the forces of greed and narrow national interests and who had the power to impose their will with arrogance and impunity. I wish that the journalists at Charlie Hebdo had understood that. They would have seen another kind of 'truth' and it would have been far more compassionate.

The author is a renowned film-maker, writer, and traveller.

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