Emin Milli, a liberal Azerbaijani writer, told me that Tagi appeared to be recovering from his injuries in a state hospital and then took a turn for the worse. He wondered how that could be. He was as suspicious about the failure of westerners to take an interest in the murder of a writer, whose “crime” had been to speak his mind. He’d tried the BBC, newspapers… everyone he could think of and no one apart from Index on Censorship was interested. “Why don’t they care?”
Milli has a touchingly simple belief in the power of free speech, but his question was not as naive as it sounded. He knew from experience how effective democratic opinion can be when mobilised. He was one of the Azerbaijani “donkey bloggers,” whose persecution became a cause celebre in 2009.
The world did not stand by and say that Azerbaijan was none of its business. Barack Obama, the EU, the media and human rights groups took up the donkey bloggers’ cause and persuaded the regime to free them.
Milli is now studying in London and cannot understand why those who shouted with such passion about his conviction ignored Tagi’s murder. I tried to explain that Europe was not the brave continent that Tagi imagined. It would defend the victims of political oppression but not of religious oppression. Ever since the persecution of Salman Rushdie, many have been frightened of denouncing Islamism for fear of reprisals. Others were frightened of being accused of orientalism, neoconservatism or some other sinful religious or racial phobia.
To put it another way: there are no “communities” of corrupt officials living in neglected corners of Bradford or Birmingham, so it doesn’t feel like bullying to give support to their critics. The same cannot be said of “communities” of Muslims. It’s a mistake to think that resisting political Islam is a way of bullying Muslims, but it’s a mistake that a lot of people make. It would be nice if those people could learn to make the necessary distinctions.