If we are done critiquing the cartoons, can we now critique the faith?

Je Suis Charlie
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Almost a week has passed since 12 employees at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed in a terror attack, and since then we have seen widespread condemnations of the attack, fringe celebrations of the attack, critique of the magazine’s cartoons, and a unity rally by some world leaders.

While widespread condemnations and fringe celebrations have now become “natural reactions” to any terror attack (yes, that’s the world we live in), the new aspect this time was critique of the cartoons drawn by those mercilessly murdered, which was virtually victim blaming.

And it was done almost immediately, almost as a natural reaction, not as an afterthought.

Earlier today, Charlie Hebdo released front page of their next issue, which is a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad – very mild and constructive by their acerbic and disruptive standards – and people are critiquing that too.

The terrorists, and their apologists, must be smiling.

“The Europeans used to mock us, our society, our beliefs, and even our prophet. One day, two brave brothers decided that enough was enough. They avenged the prophet by killing the blasphemers. And lo and behold! The Europeans realized that their cartoons were indeed bad and offensive.”

Why would the above paragraph not find a mention in a history chapter of Pakistani textbook 10 years hence?

This is not to say that a satirical work can’t be critiqued. But one was effortlessly playing into the hands of the terrorists by critiquing the cartoons barely a day after the cartoonists were killed.

And worse, the most recurrent theme of the critique was that Charlie Hebdo cartoons were “racist”.

Maybe the cartoons indeed were racist. But which race? The Arab? The Middle Eastern? The Central Asian? The South Asian? The South East Asian? The North African? The Afro American? Muslims belong to all these races.

You can’t claim the entire Muslim world as being one race, unless you accept that when one changes one’s religion and converts to Islam, one essentially becomes an Arab – something VS Naipaul obliquely says in his book Beyond Belief.

If the entire Muslim world is a different race, one has to accept that the Two-Nation Theory is inherent in Islam – something Karl Marx had argued way back in 1854 (see tweet below):

For arguments’ sake, let’s ignore the strict biological and geographical definition of a race and the above observation by Marx, and consider the “Muslim world” a distinct and special race.

But did the terrorists kill the cartoonists to avenge the honor of the “Muslim world”?

Did they ever claim that their sentiments were hurt because Muslims were being stereotyped as uncouth Asian or Arab infiltrators in Europe?

No! They killed to “avenge the prophet” (in their own words).

Every fringe celebration of the attack talks how rightfully the two brothers acted to defend the “faith”.

They were not hurt by stereotyping of any “race” (however loosely we use this term), but were enraged that some cartoonists had brought disrespect to Allah and his last messenger. They are happy that the blasphemers were brought to justice.

So where did this “race” thing come in when all they were talking about was “faith”?

The inconvenient truth is that race is being brought because we are not comfortable critiquing the faith.

The aim of terrorists was not to teach the “racist” Europeans a lesson (and indeed, some of those cartoons could have that layer of racism), but it was to teach a lesson to the “infidels” and the “kuffar”.

If the terrorists have to be defeated, their “beliefs” have to be critiqued, not the cartoons.

And no, their beliefs are not critiqued by saying “They don’t represent true Islam”.

Every faith has some problems, why desist from discussing those? Hindus have this ugly problem of casteism. When some upper caste Hindus indulge in inhuman treatment towards the lower castes, do we come up with platitudes like “They don’t represent true Hinduism?”

That doesn’t solve the problem. As we know, the belief system behind this caste system has been attacked in the most powerful way.

We have seen Manu Smriti being burnt, BR Ambedkar writing “Riddles in Hinduism”, and an entire Dravidian movement attacking the very faith in the most virulent manner.

I might not personally agree with all of the above, but I concede that it was important to attack the belief system, which was directly or indirectly responsible for the problem.

I can’t imagine even 1% of this happening to Islam.

And I am not even hinting at anything as I love my head.

But you can’t don kid gloves when it comes to critiquing the faith of a particular group. The inherent risk such an approach carries is best captured in the following tweet by a Pakistani columnist:

Bringing in race when the question is about faith is almost a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the real issue.

And if it’s not deliberate, it only means that for a Muslim, his or her only identity is Islam. So any attempt at critiquing Islam becomes an attack on the “people”.

I’m not sure how much respectful is the thought that a Muslim person’s identity is all about his or her faith. The radical Muslim will surely be proud of it, but the moderate Muslim?

The moderates have to realize that “Islam” and “Muslims” are different entities. The former is an ideology and a belief system – and it should be as much open to criticism as any other ideology and belief system.

Islamophobia is a bogus term, but Muslimphobia exists. The presence of the latter shouldn’t give legitimacy to the former, which is often used as a shield to stop genuine criticism of the ideology and the belief system.

But will we now see the critique of the ideology and the belief system? Maybe when we are done critiquing the cartoons? And by the same set of people? Maybe?