Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.
—George Orwell in his proposed preface to Animal Farm
Satire is murdered. And, the bloodthirsty orthodoxy foolishly believes that it has buried the human spirit for freedom of expression.
It is true and disturbing that the blood sputtered and stained the floors of popular French satire weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday posted a notice that you cannot afford to crack a joke or lampoon religious figures without risking your life.
The 12 people killed—10 journalists and two police officers—are martyrs of freedom of speech. Never before in the history of modern human society have 10 journalists been gunned down for poking fun at religious sentiments.
The horrendous and cowardice act of killing in Paris, including the weekly’s editor and four of the country’s leading political cartoonists, reminds us that hatred and intolerance have eroded into our very existence.
Truly, the journalists have given their life to what Orwell defines liberty: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
The shooting incident has proven that we are living not only in a flat world, as Thomas Friedman sees it, but in a dangerously fragmented and terrorised one.
Freedom of expression or irreverent satire seldom goes down well with Islamic fundamentals or with the rulers of Islamic countries. Having worked for over a decade and half in newsrooms in a Middle Eastern country, I can say how the subeditors and copyeditors are trained and “conditioned” to sanitise every copy to make sure that there is not a hint of anti-Islam or anti-government thought in the media. Over the years, these editors develop an internal sensor as a survival tool, lest they end up languishing in prison. Criticism and satire are the last things the rulers and religious leaders could tolerate.
No wonder Salman Rushdie, the British-Indian author who was forced into hiding for many years to escape Islamist extremists for writing The Satanic Verses, described the killings in Paris as a sign of the deadly mutation in the heart of Islam. “This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris.”
“Religion, a mediaeval [sic] form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry, becomes a real threat to our freedoms,” he said.
The latest incidents of shooting at Charlie Hebdo and in another part of Paris in which a policewoman died, have stoked the anti-Muslim flames in France and across Europe.
France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, most of them immigrants, has seen the anti-immigration National Front gaining popularity over the fear of the spread of Islam.
Interestingly, Charlie’s cover this week was on French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel, Submission, which depicts France in 2022, led by an Islamist party with a Muslim president who bans women from workplace.
Marine Le Pen, National Front leader who features in the novel, said in a video posted on her party’s website after the Paris attack that “time’s up for denial and hypocrisy.”
The attacks in Paris have fanned the embers of an increasing anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe—with an anti-immigrant party dominating in France, mosque burnings in Sweden and thousands marching in Germany decrying the “Islamisation” of the West.
We have seen how America and Britain have been stabbed right in the heart by home-grown jihadis, and if European countries also make it difficult for people with Muslim names and Middle Eastern looks to enter and travel in and across them, they cannot be blamed.
I have had my moments of troubles at European airports because of a Muslim name with “Mohammed” as middle name and stark Middle Eastern looks even though I was travelling as a journalist along with my journalist wife. Once at Charles de Gaul in France my wife had to tell the immigration officer, loudly, that we were not shady immigrants nor were we terrorists. It was more than a decade ago. Living with our Belgian friends in Brussels, we had seen the smirk and unhappiness of the natives over the increasing number of North African immigrants and political asylum-seekers from Pakistan and elsewhere.
For years to wear or not to wear burqa or face scarf in public and schools has been a subject of hot debates in France, Belgium and other European countries. While Muslims argue for human rights and personal freedom, one wonders why these don’t apply to the non-Muslims travelling and living in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, where every woman, whether Muslim or not, has to cover her head, and why during the month of fasting every non-Muslim is denied the right to eat at restaurants during daytime.
These double-standards and hypocrisy, killing in the name of faith and increasing intolerance towards people of other faith will soon make the lives of millions of non-jihadi, moderate Muslims an endangered population across Europe, as they are in most states in America.
Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party in the Netherlands, has made a statement, aiming the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European political gr0ups. “When will Rutte and other Western government leaders finally get the message: it’s war,” Wilders said.
In Germany, anti-Islam rallies have begun to attract thousands of people. Rallies organized a few days ago by a group calling itself Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West drew its largest support yet, with 18,000 marchers. “The Islamists, against which Pegida has warned for the last 12 weeks, have shown up in France that they’re not capable of democracy but rather rely on violence and death as a solution,” the group said on its Facebook page after the shooting at Charlie Hebdo. Academics and analysts are worried that any such incident in Germany would boost right-wing groups like Pegida. “This sort of movement will explode in Germany when we have the first major Islamist violence here,” said Karl-Heinz Kamp, academic director at the German government’s Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin “It would grow tenfold after the first head is cut off in Cologne or Berlin.”
Europe will not be the same for the immigrants and those with Muslim names. “Europe is in the grip of so much tension over the question of Islam and immigration,” said Shada Islam, director of policy at the Friends of Europe advisory group in Brussels. “There is the danger in the immediate aftermath that this is going to strengthen the anti-immigration campaigns, but you have to have a longer-term strategy when the emotions subside.”
It is hard to formulate a strategy when people from within could pick up a machine gun and kill people at will.
George Packer wrote in New Yorker a day after the Charlie shooting: “In France, it will need to include a renewed debate about how the republic can prevent more of its young Muslim citizens from giving up their minds to a murderous ideology—how more of them might come to consider Mustapha Ourrad, a Charlie Hebdo copy editor of Algerian descent who was among the victims, a hero. In other places, the responses have to be different, with higher levels of counter-violence. But the murders in Paris were so specific and so brazen as to make their meaning quite clear. The cartoonists died for an idea. The killers are soldiers in a war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance, pluralism, and the right to offend—against everything decent in a democratic society. So we must all try to be Charlie, not just today but every day.”
The ages-old tradition of satire will not die even after such a bloody, fatal attack, but things will not be the same as before for me with a middle name starting with a capital M and with conspicuous Middle Eastern looks.
It is not easy to fight these indoctrinated terrorists because no machine or gadget can detect the hatred bred and watered in the human heart. Nothing poisons the human heart like the doctrine of hatred. Long live satire!