Just as with other religions, we must be allowed to offend Islam

As long as radical Islam remains immune from criticism a moderate version will struggle to emerge.

As long as radical Islam remains immune from criticism a moderate version will struggle to emerge

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is a watershed moment in dealing with Islamist terrorism. But we’ve had at least four of those in the past month or so, in four different countries, on four different continents.

Islamist terrorist attacks have become as predictable as the ensuing reaction. The Sydney siege was owing to Australia’s participation in Afghanistan; the Peshawar attack was a corollary of US funding counter-communism jihadists; whereas Boko Haram’s massacre in Cameroon, just like their kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, was un-Islamic because the Quran does not endorse killing nonbelievers or slavery.

Therefore, the retort of the apologists – who seem to hog the intelligentsia in both the Muslim world and the leftist circle in the West – is easy to discern as well. This is also because it isn’t the first time Charlie Hebdo has been attacked by radical Islamists.

Charlie Hebdo’s office was firebombed after 2011’s ‘Charia Hebdo’ (Sharia Hebdo) edition that had Prophet Muhammad’s caricature on the cover. The reaction following that attack basically accused the satirical publication of being ‘racist’ and ‘Islamphobic’ for treating Muslims like any other community in terms of satirising religion.

Hence, let’s brace ourselves for Paris attack condemnations to be followed up with how Charlie Hebdo should have been smart enough not to infuriate Muslims; which is a bit like saying every woman who is sexually assaulted in a nightclub should have been smart enough to not drink or to have dressed so ‘provocatively’.

Anyone who is condemning mockery of Islam, fearing Muslim hostility, appears to be suggesting that Muslims have a complete lack of control on their actions when their religious sentiments are offended.

In addition to mentions of Charlie Hebdo blatantly disregarding the religious sensitivities of Muslims, the apologists’ reaction would also manifest the usual anxiousness vis-à-vis the anti-Muslim backlash. This story in the Telegraph, headlined, ‘France faces rising tide of Islamophobia’ and published hours after the attack, perfectly epitomises that reaction.

The admirable #illridewithyou hashtag, and the invigorating movement to reassure Australian Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the Sydney siege, unfortunately showcase the priorities of the Western intelligentsia. It is almost as if bigotry is considered worse than the act of killing itself. Political correctness and extroverted gestures of tolerance seem to have superseded any genuine intent to counter Islamist terrorism by addressing its ideological roots, without which taming radical Islam is impossible.

Being oversensitive about Islam and giving the religious sensitivities of Muslims preference over the security of citizens is something that some Western liberals and Islamist fundamentalists seem to share. Instead of focusing on Islam and how its literal interpretation has become a global security threat, many liberals are doing their best to shield Islam from pointed fingers.

These are the same fingers that compelled Christians and Jews into not paying heed to the Old Testament calling for blasphemers to be stoned to death a few centuries ago, and which more recently made Hindus realise how absurd it is to burn women alive with their husband’s corpses.

Britain is no stranger to a backlash against caricatures. Last year’s ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon controversy involved Maajid Nawaz, who tweeted an animation featuring stick figures of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad, claiming that he “did not feel threatened” by the cartoon and vowed to defend his religion “against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest”.

Yet if some are to be believed, shouting loud and reacting violently is the expected Muslim reaction, with moderate and reformist Muslims like Maajid Nawaz considered the anomaly. And yet these same people would bellow chants of Islamophobia (the ‘irrational’ fear of an ideology), used synonymously with ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ (veritable xenophobia against the religious community), when someone points out the fact that an extremist mind-set prevails in the Islamic world.

All British publications that reported on Maajid Nawaz’s Tweet blurred out Prophet Muhammad’s image, but Jesus’s caricature was visible, clearly implying that orthodox Christians won’t resort to violence even if offended, while radical Muslims would go for blood.

While some publications are displaying the cartoons that led to the Charlie Habdo massacre, many are blurring the images while claiming to ‘show solidarity with Charlie Habdo’ and ‘safeguarding free speech’.

This is either a manifestation of bigotry against Muslims by setting lower standards of tolerance for them or it’s an acceptance of the fact that Muslims generally are more extremist than other religious communities.

If Islamophobia is an irrational fear of Islam, what should we call the perfectly rational fear that one might get killed for mocking Islam? A fear that is exclusive to Islam in the modern world. Regardless of how we christen that fear, it is being fuelled by the left succumbing to ‘the religious sensitivities of Muslims’.

As long as Muslims are treated differently when it comes to offending their religion they will continue reacting differently when offended. As long as Muslims are expected to react violently to religious mockery some will continue fulfilling those expectations. As long as there is only an odd voice or two that ‘dares’ to consider religious sentiments of Muslims as being equally worthy of insult as that of any other community, those voices will be brutally silenced by radical Islamists.

And as long as radical Islam remains immune from criticism, a moderate version cannot be sifted into modernity.

Just like with other religions, we must be allowed to offend Islam because it is criticism that will instigate Islamic moderation. When overprotected religious sentiments are offended at the same frequency as that of any other community the pious will finally realise that their religion is as respectable as any other ideology.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Friday Times journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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