A few years ago , I was invited to visit Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris. 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 were not deterred. There was pressure and intimidation over the lampooning of Mohammad, but they still carried on. If they were to draw cartoons, they knew they might be murdered, and yet they still drew their cartoons. There was a firebombing at their office, their names appeared on Al Qaeda’s most wanted list, and they still didn’t close their doors. Naturally, I’ve felt at one with their plight. Fatwas, ordinances, exile — nothing could ever silence my voice. Those cartoonists were all such wonderful human beings. They were adept at the art of satire, and they dearly loved a a good laugh. Their philosophy was similar to 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 hardly could 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 were intimidated into self-censorship, that would mean victory for the terrorists. I am happy to hear that the next issue, in protest of the massacre, will have a print of one million copies. The continued publication of Charlie Hebdo is a triumph for freedom of expression. It does not require 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 talented people by a few insane and barbaric men to please their God and their prophet, in order to get into paradise, is an offense to human decency. This is the way gullible young men and women around the globe are indoctrinated to be pious Muslims!
I have been stunned ever since I heard the cartoonists and journalists at Charlie Hnedo have been killed. I have a feeling that one day, I’ll meet the same fate at the hands of Islamic fanatics. Perhaps I’d be in the middle of finishing a novel or a book of poetry, and they will sneak into my study 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 to not happen where I am staying . Come what may, I shall never be silenced, the way Charlie Hebdo shall never be silenced.
The intellectuals of the Occident have always spoken in favour of Muslims, no matter how much terror Muslims might perpetrate. Perhaps they wish to maintain the western liberal tradition, or maybe their sympathies are drawn to the Muslims who were once colonized by European nations and now form a minority in Europe, or perhaps they are moved 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 the Prophet Mohammad. 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 criticize the terrorists and claim that their version of Islam is not in the true spirit of the religion, that real Islam does not provide any justification for killing unbelievers. This is, however, completely untrue. 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 are express commandments to Muslims to kill non-Muslims. Many hadith passages have enumerated instances where Muslims were ordered to murder infidels. The prophet himself had waged many wars. The men from various Arabic tribes were coerced into converting to Islam. He with his soldiers killed 800 Jewish men of the Banu Qurayza tribe, and looted their land and property. He distributed the tribeswomen as spoils of war among the victorious Muslim men to enjoy either as sex objects or slaves. Islam was born of such unspeakable acts of terror. If it weren’t for terror tactics, Islam would have never crossed over the boundaries of Medina. It has been propagated throughout the world through fear, terror, force, tyranny, brutality, murder, torture and bloodshed. It is no wonder that the followers of Mohammad are today following in his footsteps and spreading terror in the whole world. Unlike all other religious orders, Islam is completely impervious to reforms. Islam has been largely exempt from any critical scrutiny that other religions have undergone to modernize them. It has almost remained as primitive as it was 1,400 years ago. The devout followers of Mohammad believe in true Islam, and therefore want to have a quintessential Islamic caliphate established to rule the entire world, which would only be inhabited by true Muslims and no one else. Whoever it is who happens to disbelieve or mock Islam, they reserve the right to do away with that person, exactly like disciples of the prophet did in the seventh century. Islamic terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab intend to wage this holy war of terror throughout the entire world. All of them have the same ideology. Allah is the one and only true god. Mohammad’s way is the true path of Islam. 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 the very roots. Preaching principles of freedom of expression won’t do any good. One has to know what mantra makes terrorists tick and influences them to take up arms. Their holy book reeks of violence. This Quran should rather be treated as a historical document than a complete code of life or the basis of laws. It is important to stop indoctrination of children with irrational religious faith at home or institutions like madrasas or mosques. Children should be raised to have logical and rational minds and to adopt a scientific outlook that will enable them to distinguish between right and wrong, fact and fantasy.
I strongly believe that as long as Islam remains unchanged and unreformed, there can be no end to terror.