More than a month after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the 'free speech' vs. 'respect for beliefs' debate still rages on. In its immediate aftermath two tweets were circulated by apologists across social networks. The first one says: "I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and I died defending his right to do so". The second one points out to the alleged stereotyping of "an entire religion" because of "One Muslim shooter".
Both these statements have a common rhetoric: They insidiously suggest that the real victim of this tragedy is Islam itself.
I am going to call out the proverbial spade here. Ahmed Merabet did not die defending Charlie's freedom of speech. Sadly, like countless innocents before him, he was a victim of a pernicious ideology that seems to motivate a sizable number of its followers to routinely murder fellow human beings in defense of its ethos. If anything, Ahmed's death is a tragic irony-- that from Syria to Saudi Arabia, the worst casualties of Islamic totalitarianism are Muslims themselves.
If the first message was an attempt to pluck an emotional chord, the second one insults our intelligence with its blatant logical fallacies. Religion is a set of ideas. To suggest that religion is somehow analogous to "a race" is to say that ideas must enjoy the same immunity and dignity as humans should. It suggests that any attempt to broach the subject of extremism in Islam will be taken as a frontal assault on every practitioner of the faith. This line of thought leads us down a very dangerous road; one that may prove to be an existential threat to freedom and democracy, for it plays into the hands of those who demand nothing less than complete and unequivocal submission to their provincial dogma.
No right thinking person would suggest that all Muslims must share the blame for the egregious acts of a few. Every freethinker must stand up against such prejudice. However, the same charitable thinking must not be extended to their religion. If Islam's sole problem was "an isolated Muslim shooter", then the Earth would have been one happy rock indeed. However, that is a myopic view of reality.
The problem with Islam should be viewed through the eyes of 6000 little girls who have their clitoris excised everyday in Muslim Africa and Indonesia ; through the eyes of the 130 plus children murdered in a Peshawar school; through the men and women living under bestial Sharia Laws; through the millions of Yazidis, Kurds and Muslims currently caught in the eye of a new Islamic storm ripping across Syria and Iraq. Through the eyes of individuals like Marina Nemat, who endured years of torture and imprisonment for demanding that her math teacher spend more time on calculus and less on Khomeini's religious diktats; of Reyhanneh Jabbari, recently executed for killing her rapist in self defence; of Raif Badawi, mercilessly lashed for voicing a secular opinion; of a thousand other anonymous innocents who are either political prisoners or in unmarked graves across the Islamic world.
Every religion has been forced to exorcise a few demons since its inception, be it Christianity with its witch-hunts and flat-earth hypothesis, or Hinduism's caste ism and it's burning of widows (sathi). Islam is one faith where reform is a whole 14 centuries overdue.
What makes reform a Herculean task in Islam is that most of its followers believe - that a book, which chapter after chapter calls for unbelievers and idolaters to suffer eternal torment in hell, and considers a woman to be only half as good as a man* - has been DHL'd straight from God. If that wasn't enough, apologists of Islam insulate it further with a thick blanket of political correctness. When liberals and moderate Muslims take a farcical stand of totalistic apologia, it makes it all the more difficult to bring any meaningful reform to this faith.
(*To those quick to defend the "religion of peace", I recommend Marmaduke Pickthall's 'Meaning of the Glorious Quran' or Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's translations. By the time you are through the first 9 Surahs all such pretensions towards this faith will pulverise. Then consider this epitome of hypocrisy: - someone who believes a book that exhorts such acrid prejudice against the vast majority of human beings to be the indisputable word of God, claims to be offended by a cartoon).
No, a single Muslim shooter is not tantamount to a guilty community. But I have often wondered - what if I file a petition in court forcing the authorities to act against the blusterous ear-popping "azaan" blaring 5 times a day from every mosque in my "Secular Democratic Republic"? What if I call for the vitriolic verses in their scriptures that condemn non-Muslims to be expunged? Will the vast majority of peaceful moderates support such an endeavour? Or is the defence of their "sentiments" a tad bit more exigent than that of ours?