We live in extraordinary times. These days, people get killed for making cartoons! Living in India, one is nearly psychologically inured to hearing news of terror attacks, thanks largely to the perseveringly malicious elements planted in our neighbourhood.
But when I saw the pictures of the Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and cartoonists who had fallen victim to the most mindless violence in their Paris office, something stirred in me. Do we really want to be a part of such a world where we can’t draw sketches which poke fun at established beliefs, or ones which see humour in banal and ordinary lives around us?
When people begin to pick guns to silence any discourse, quell any thought, and break any pen that does not adhere to their convictions, how colourless the world shall become.
Firstly and most certainly, this is not the way God meant things to be. If it were so – He would have made the world in subfuscous black and white and not infused forests with blushes of green, or broad strokes of purple, red and yellow; He would not have made the sky with hues of blue and not left a rainbow to smile over our heads; not made the brooks spring with glee or waterfalls with dancing gaits.
If God exists he does not need blood thirsty and gun wielding bodyguards to protect His honour. He is too much above this and can dispense justice on his own, if He wishes to.
Secondly, the journalists cum cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were ordinary men with extraordinary courage. Despite threats and repeated attacks at their office, Stephen Charbonnier loved riding about freely on his bike. Georges Wolinsiki was a legend. He got interested in cartooning when he got his hands on some comics left behind by American officers returning from North Africa after World War II. He was notorious for his love of wine and women, but celebrated for his exceptional talent. Tignou had visited Kolkata a decade back and had been fascinated by the chaotic traffic and all the honking on our roads; Cabu was unique in his persistence to freely express his imagination and spared none from his satirical wit.
All of them were willing to pursue their jobs for the sake of freedom of thought and expression than live timidly but safely. It was a cruel twist of fate that Charb had recently released a cartoon that read: “Still No Attacks in France,” and a jehadi saying “Just wait - we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.” But then that was Charb – who had earlier told a news agency that he would “rather die standing than be on his knees”!
Thirdly, whether this incident was executed independently by two radicalized Kouachi brothers on behalf of Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula and their ISIS affiliated friend Amedy Coulibaly or a part of larger plot hatched in another country like Yemen, Syria, Iraq or even Pakistan, the fact is this is a Clash of Civilizations. The clash is not waiting to happen in the form of a World War – it is happening and right now in the streets of major towns and cities like New York, Sydney and Paris. This is a clash of ideologies, thinking and two separate ways of life.
We have already been facing the brunt in South Asia, but now Europe needs to brace up. What happened in Norway earlier, has taken place in Paris today and, of what we know, the story will not end here. The Continent has a large Muslim immigrant population; the youth living in neighbourhoods can be brainwashed easily, just as we saw in the case of those arrested in raids in UK – when a plot to blow up airlines was uncovered. Young Muslims are prey and can easily be radicalized by showing videos of wars in Iraq and Syria. With their European passports, they will come back to their home countries and unleash the unthinkable. Both the EU citizens and holders of Schengen visa can travel with ease across the Continent without any border security checks and this is a problem Europe needs to be prepared to deal with.
Fourthly, we live in an extraordinarily narrow-minded, lopsided and meek world. People say Charlie Hedbo should not have published such provocative cartoons; but how is one supposed to make a cartoon without rubbing someone the wrong way. Cartoons are about humour and satire after all. That laws should be framed about disallowing cartoons on religions, much the same way as French laws do not allow the denial of Holocaust, would possibly be an extreme step. These cartoonists had mocked all – the Christians, the Pope, the Rabi, all major political parties, leaders etc. etc. but none responded in such a shockingly violent way.
We are told that France is insensitive by giving far too much liberty on the freedom of expression and has alienated its large Muslim minority (nearly 7.5% of the population) by secular moves like disallowing head scarves. But how come no one questions why Saudi Arabia forces non-Muslim women visitors to also wear a Hijab! If Eid celebrations are curbed anywhere in the world, it would hit the headlines. But when Brunei bans Christmas because it may influence children and teenagers into liking Christianity, it hardly causes a ripple.
Has anyone noticed but not one prominent leader of the Sunni Muslim world has come out openly to personally condemn the Paris shooting. The only people who have condemned the attack are the Shia Hezbollah leader, Jordan royalty that lives off Western(US) sops, Turkey which is a part of Europe and Palestine which constantly needs the world to stand by it against Israel. But what about the heads of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Oman, UAE etc? Either the incident has their mute consent or that they are too scared to damage their reputations with their people or hardline forces. In fact, groups like Tehrek-e-Taliban have congratulated the killers.
Fifthly, and most importantly, there ought to be a better way to respond to a cartoon that is not to our taste or ruffles our faith.
If you don’t like a cartoon, draw another one to counter it. Write an article condemning its content or even its artist. Put up posters outside the office of Charlie Hebo. Hold a sit-in, protest marches outside its office or wear a black band. And if one is not satisfied, take legal recourse and drag these people to court.
When Stephen Charbonnier said whenever he was drawing a cartoon, he knew he was not killing someone, he made exactly the same point I am trying to press home. However outrageous a cartoon is, it does not take away anyone’s right to life.
In a world where violence is increasingly becoming the most popular way to prove a point, we need learn from the old saying, the pen is mightier than the sword.
There just has to be a more creative way to express the gleed of rage! And there is no two ways about it.