Thursday, Aug 11, 2022

Of Blasphemy, Blood, Cross Hairs and Crossbows

In India the Charlie Hebdo terrorists would have been in jail under some preventive law. Not that I support this kind of a thing...

A long poem is out of step with the times. Before you are halfway, the world has changed. Even the word has swivelled three degrees on its non-existent axis; time itself has torn a hamstring and hobbles around on one leg. George Verghese is dead. Three madmen have shot French satirists. A vedic science congress has been held in some lunar crater of a loony planet. Life is a long poem that should not be written.

That is actually a stanza from a long poem I am writing. I have just rearranged the lines so that it looks like prose. Poetry hoye ke prose yara, ki farak painda, as we Punjabis put it so felicitously.

The great Vedic inventions, and the ‘golden age’ to which such fervent atavism and buffoonery is taking us, can wait. France gets priority. What can you say of the poor French as they mull over the tragedy? Europe can’t imagine the hate that drives Jehadi fanatics. In Peshawar they die for a ‘cause’. What cause? To kill young boys and girls in a school! The army connection was a death warrant for the kids. In Nigeria nine-year-old girls blow themselves up to kill hundreds. How come?

What about the mentors and motivators? The ones who indoctrinate them must be experts in a kind of mass hypnosis. Impressive robes, long beard, seemingly pious men, the resonant reading from a holy book in Arabic (often unintelligible to a motivated kid), the promissory note to Paradise (much in the way Popes and the Church sold Indulgences, absolving sin and allotting places in heaven for a price, before Martin Luther came to Wittenberg)—all this comes into play.

Muslim immigrants in Europe need to realize that they can’t foist their religious-cultural mores on a Christian, free-thinking liberal Europe. For France after 1789, free speech is central. And the French government does not have a Ministry for Hurt Sentiments, as we have in India. If you don’t like the way Europe lives, leave Europe. Yet much of this is simplistic.

While I am all for free speech and all for satire, it must be said that Charlie Hebdo had it coming. That sounds crude and cruel, but Muslims would treat the cartoons as crude and deliberately provocative. And it won’t cut much ice with them if you tell them that the cartoons on the Pope were equally bad. You can lampoon Islam and its followers, as you can lampoon any other religion. You can even make fun of the Caliphs (arguably) but don’t touch the Prophet. Muhammad is no go area. His name is prefaced with ‘Prophet’ or with the appellation “peace be upon him” by his billion followers. You can’t paint him, sculpt him, or build a musical around him a la ‘Jesus Christ—Superstar.’

All that these caricaturists and satirists have to do is to leave one man alone. Not too much of a price to pay for peace, is it?

I saw a Canadian cartoon the other day. A couple, the lady in burqa, goes to a ‘Taliban Marriage Counsellor’, who asks the male “Have you tried throwing rocks?” This is perfectly legitimate.

What happened in Paris leads us to the old chestnut—the sacred versus the profane, a matter mostly of perceptions.

And what does one say of French policing? Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed in November 2011. That was when they came out with an issue inviting Prophet Muhammad to edit it. There were threats galore. The Danish cartoons of Muhammad in the Newspaper Jyllands–Posten, bringing death to hundreds in 2006, were reprinted by Charlie Hebdo. How did they let those brothers have a free run of Paris? Both Said and Cherif Kouachi had been to Yemen, and got training from Al Qaeda. Cherif was implicated in a jehad-related case in 2008. The brothers were on British and American watch lists. The other culprit Amedi Coulibaly-- a 32-year-old convert, who later stormed a kosher grocery in Porte de Vincennew in eastern Paris, killing four Jew hostages -- was implicated in a 1995 bombing of a subway station in France and jailed for five years. His wife, Boumediene, now on the run, went and practised shooting with a crossbow somewhere in central France. Quite a set up, this!

Anti Semitism, rife in the Middle East, is older than the Israeli state and goes back to antagonism between the Jews and Muhammad. Shouldn’t Muslims cast off this legacy now? They also need to face reality. I believe some Pakistanis are finding a Charlie Hebdo-Mossad link in this tragedy!

The terrorists were allowed a free run. In India they would have been in jail under some preventive law or the other. And if they fell to an overzealous police officer, they would have found a trumped up charge on their dossiers. Not that I for one moment support this kind of a thing especially after observing how innocent Muslim youths were implicated in the Malegaon blast case, the Samjhautha Express and Maka Masjid blast cases. I got to see a lot of this during my stint with the National Commission for Minorities. These will remain a stigma on the police.

While the world’s elite foregathered in Paris because 17 people died, and Charlie Hebdo has published over a million copies with the same cartoons on the cover, hardly an eyebrow is raised at the murder of about 2,000 people in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram.

And finally, with the reprinting of the cartoons, Charlie Hebdo will remain in the cross hairs of the Jehadis.