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To Be, Or Not To Be

January 13, 2015


Is there really a right response to the Paris carnage, or, is it yet another episode that brings out the binary from a reservoir of assumptions? The somewhat antiphonal response, on the ground, and via social media, has overshadowed the tragedy itself and the mourning it deserves.


The rush to take immediate sides – either for Charlie Hebdo or against it – leaves no room for negotiating clumped viewpoints. After the forceful and immediate #JeSuisCharlie reaction came a timid #JeNeSuisPasCharlie that eventually assumed a large fan base. Those who push for absoluteness of freedom of speech and those who point towards the hypocrisy in observance of that freedom. Fair enough. However, it’s challenging to pick up such threads from an entangled milieu of politics and religion, one by one, and keep them aside for rumination. What if there was a third perspective, or, fourth; or more for that matter? How many hashtags could this tragedy elicit? As an atheist, I find the practice of religion self-delusional. Because atheism isn’t a religion, I have no compulsion to be tolerant towards anyone else’s. However, humanity propounds acceptance, more than tolerance of the other, and that supersedes my intolerance for religious practices. Ergo, when I see cartoons humoring/insulting (take a pick) Prophet Mohammed, the Pope, a Jew, or, paintings of naked Hindu goddesses, it doesn’t create a ripple in my heart. On the contrary, I’m quite tickled. And I eat, breathe, sleep, all in peace. Having made that admission, I am seeking to question, the overlooking of logic in the singular support of Charlie Hebdo or against its form of satire. #JeSuisCharlie One of the central principles of critical thinking – of which I am a fledgling student – is that logic must be consistent. The scenes from Paris’ march against terrorism, couldn’t have brought out the inconsistency any crisper, where leaders of the world marched to defend the freedom of speech, while hacking it barbarically in their own backyard. One doesn’t question the value of the march, or even its need. One, however, wonders about the geopolitical discrepancy in reactions to present day terrorism.2,000 Nigerians are feared dead in one of the most brutal attacks by Boko Haram terrorists in Northern Nigeria. 2,310 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the 51 day offensive in August last year. About 40,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are known to have been slaughtered by its army in the last phase of action against the LTTE. The bloody list of innocent civilians killed by state and non-state actors helps probe deeper into our own reflexes when it comes to terrorism. The 3.5 million people’s reaction on the streets of Paris and of their leaders’, perhaps, would not be so consistent if the victims were non-white and/or Muslim, or, if the ridiculed god in question was a western one and if the attacker was a non-Muslim. Should one, then be concerned about the narrow lens with which one views terrorism?Loss of life, indeed, is the paramount affliction of terror. One would think it as heresy to compare it with M.F Hussain’s forced exile from India for painting nude goddesses, or pulping of Wendy Doniger’s book merely because it presented an alternative history of Hinduism, incongruous with the more palatable (non-sexual) history that Hindus are accustomed to, or pillaging of hundreds of invaluable historical manuscripts from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute because it provided assistance to James Laine’s controversial book on Hindu king Shivaji. But, in the landscape of agony, terrorism is really a matter of semantics and our logic isn’t always consistent with our outrage. #JeNeSuisPasCharlie Charlie Hebdo’s critics have charged the magazine’s satire with racism. Ridiculing a religious figure is being held akin to ridiculing, say, a black person. Race is what a person is born with. Religion is what she is born into. Race or the color of one’s skin cannot be shed. Ridiculing a black person for her color/race amounts to ridiculing of a trait that she has no control over or that bears any relevance to one’s life on the planet. Editors at Charlie Hebdo – self-professed anti-racists – can be credited with making that simple distinction. One’s religion, however, is a sticky sphere. For non-believers, religion is the unnecessary cloak that a human body requires to dispose. Social realities, be what they are, Charlie Hebdo has been consistent in taking on every religious ludicrousness. Much is now also being written about Sine’, the cartoonist who was fired by Charlie Hebdo in 2009, for mocking the then President’s son Jean Sarkozy for converting to Judaism for money. It would be a hoax to say that Charlie Hebdo was necessarily perfect. In this particular case, however, why is it so easy to reject the crony capitalist forces, possibly at play that led to Sine’s dismissal? The two matters – Charlie Hebdo bowing down to a forceful moneyed lobby and its constant mocking of Islam – are still separate issues. It’s not as much about the duplicity of freedom of speech as much as it is about the conditions in which free speech is practiced. Does it say something about our society, that a possible financial/political threat from a cartel is considered more dangerous than a threat for life by crazy fringes known to kill? It must be said that even after the Sine’ issue, the magazine continued with its critique of Israel’s Palestine policy as it did with mocking religion.When it comes to logic, even Oscar Wilde would agree that consistency is not the last refuge of the unimaginative. #CharlieHebdo #JeSuisCharlie #JeNeSuisPasCharlie #Islam #Christianity #Hinduism #Racism #Terrorism #Intolerance #Religion


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