Terrorism by different names

| | in Oped

The attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris not just brought out the worst in Islamist terror. It also exposed the hypocrisy of those who promote double standards in dealing with militancy and freedom of expression of different kinds

If the Peshawar school massacre saw an outpouring of schizophrenic and hypocritical grief, then the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attacks topped the melodrama and hypocrisy quotient still further. Hypocrisy? Specifically the North Atlantic Treaty Organization hypocrisy. For example, take some of the statements made by the Al Qaeda in Yemen, when, claiming responsibility for the attack, it called Charlie Hebdo an extension of the crusader alliance, clubbing it with France and American actions in the Muslim world. Now, compare them with statements made by the White House — specifically the ‘liberal-Democrat’ Clinton White House and equally ‘liberal’ Tony Blair in 1999, when Nato bombed Serbian Radio and TV.

Sample these gems in support of free speech: “Serb TV is as much a part of Milosevic’s murder machine as his military”, said Pentagon Spokesman Kenneth Bacon. “The media is one of the pillars of Milosevic’s power machine. It is right up there with security forces and the military.”

Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, said, “This is a war, this is a serious conflict, untold horrors are being done. The propaganda machine is prolonging the war and it’s a legitimate target.” Nato’s military spokesman, Air Commodore David Wilby, described the RTS, the Serbian state broadcasting station, as a “legitimate target which filled the airways with hate and with lies over the years”.

The point here is simple. Western Europe’s perception of itself is very different from the reality of what it actually is. It would prefer to think of itself as a paragon of free speech, but hearing the comments that came from Jamie Shea, Clare Short, Tony Blair, Madeleine Albright, their justification of their actions was almost exactly verbatim to those of the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps the only person who wasn’t a hypocrite in the whole peace march that followed the Hebdo Massacre was US President Barack Obama, who simply abstained from this exercise in self-denial and self-delusion. The fact is that Western Europe has no qualms bombing and killing the spreaders of ‘enemy propaganda’, and it de facto imposes limits on the freedom of speech like the Al Qaeda does. Instead of trying these in civil courts, it employs execution as a means of silencing information it doesn’t like.

But honestly, who cares about Europe? Our only concern is India and Islam. In India too, the Clinton-Madeleine Albright style ‘liberal’ double-speak has created a permissive environment for speech to be punished by execution. A now spent, once major TV news anchor opined on her Facebook page that she had found the Hebdo cartoons to be “insulting and pornographic”, though she was equally on record defending MF Husain’s paintings of goddess Saraswati naked with her legs spread wide— effectively proving herself both a hypocrite and a tacit supporter of the Hebdo massacre, despite protestations to the contrary. To be fair, both Islam and Hinduism have a tradition of executing people for saying things. Prophet Mohammed acquiesced to the killing of the pregnant poetess Asma Bint Marwan for the crime of ridiculing him through her poetry, and Krishna chopped of Shishupala’s head for insulting him repeatedly.

Yet, being politically correct, one has to claim that this was not a “Muslim crime” and that “terrorism has no religion”. Another set of liberals was at pains to point out that the attackers were “un-Islamic” and that the Hebdo had crossed the boundaries of free speech and had engaged in bigotry by targeting a minority community. This is the kind of nonsense that allows Islam to externalise the problem and pretend that violence is not intrinsic to it. Violence — specifically terrorism and genocide — are intrinsic to every single religion, and it is the acceptance of first, the separation of church and state, and second, mentally esoterising religion by accepting that modern societies cannot function under bronze or iron age laws, that make one peaceful citizens or terrorists.

Sadly, this rubbish about the attackers being ‘un-Islamic’ and about Charlie Hebdo being bigoted only prologues the refusal of the Islamic world to accept the separation of church and state and prevents the abstraction of the more violent aspects. But more dangerously they externalise the problem.

In 1827, the last Sati in my family took place, when my great-great-great grandmother was burnt alive on my great-great-great grandfather’s funeral pyre in Noihati, a few kilometres outside Kolkata. It would have been quite a stretch to claim that these were ‘un-Hindu’ acts. To claim that then, as now, is ridiculous, and to claim that William Bentinck, the man who banned it in 1829 was a ‘bigot’ because he was White and ‘not Hindu’, is just plain obnoxious. Bentinck was as much a bigot as Charlie Hebdo, and Hinduism owes him a huge debt, much as the Islamic world will Charlie Hebdo at some point in the distant future, when it has the courage to accept its failings. At the same time, Bentinck had an ally in Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who mobilised support from within Hinduism for the abolition of Sati. Charlie Hebdo, on the other hand, has yet to find that ally within Islam, someone who has the courage to abstract and to secularise and has the courage like Roy to claim that Islam needs to change.

In the final analysis, Charlie Hebdo is the only hope if Islam is to shed the terror tag, but it is only one half of the puzzle. The other half has to come from within the Muslim world itself, and of that we see no signs — just a barren desert of fear and denial. Charlie Hebdo was as much a victim of the West’s and the Nato’s refusal to introspect and see the rot within as it was of terrorists.

And herein lies the great lesson for India. We need Charlie Hebdos in India. We need a judicial system that encourages Charlie Hebdos. And, we need that temperament. But we see in a sense is that we are an exact carbon copy of Wahhabism, and are sanctimoniously self-assured — refusing to introspect.

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