“Irony of the divine text is that once we humans subject it to our various interpretations, owing to our mundane needs and limitations, nothing remains divine of it.” — Anonymous
What happened in Paris, or for that matter, what happened in Peshawar, offers an ironical array of disturbing insights. Many people have tried to find similarities in the two incidents. For me, the only similarity is that many humans, young and old, were murdered by a few malicious people who thought they were serving Islam in one way or the other. But in both cases, those few ended up making things worse for themselves, Islam and for a majority of the Muslims, everywhere.
Other than this, I don’t see many similarities between the two. Except perhaps that it is time for us to act and assert.
We, the centre, the folks who are Muslims and believe there are other (besides bombs, guns and bullets) and far more effective ways of talking, telling, and responding with others’ lunatic fringe.
The way Muslims and others are feeling a compulsion to fit in the tight and limiting binary of Je Suis Charlie and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie, are not only misleading but also a case of the centre being at the merciless mercy of the lunatic fringe.
Now, how others’ need to deal with their lunatic fringe is others’ problem. They won’t do it the way we want them to! How do we deal with our fringe is our problem. This piece is an attempt to reflect on that.
By way of sadness breaker, I surmise very soon the ‘others’ will be offering a marketing crash course in their business schools on how to become ‘famous and millionaire’ overnight by poking a mullah through a no-cost blasphemous act and the resulting fanatic mob will ensure your crap is sold like a gold. This ‘no investment, huge return’ model has a risk of life, but then every investment has some risks. The catch here is that such enterprises do not require any capital, land or labour in the traditional sense.
First, let us look at the taxonomy, tradition and treatment of satire by us, in our recent experience.
We, as Muslims in general, and in Pakistan in particular, feel that humour deserves a lowly status, and those practising it, however intelligent and amusing they may sound and appear, remain lowly folks. Therefore, the lowly must not be allowed to laugh at the high and mighty. And, thus, humour of any kind must not be directed at the sacred and sacrosanct: two symbolic manifestations of the powerful.
The tension between satire and sacred is now a tussle between institutional power and individual freedom. Since the powerful in this case also have monopoly over coercion and the so called ‘legitimate’ use of violence, every poke by the (perceived) lowly is responded with a punch by the (assumed) highly.
In Islam, the confused and free for all interpretation of ‘amr-bil-ma’roof va nahi an’il munkar’ (spread the virtue and forbid the vice) encouraged the ignorant but powerless mobs to enforce what they thought, and mostly wrongly, as virtue and vice. Now every poke is first declared vice, and then punches of the self-declared virtuous follow to silence the voice of the alleged vice, mostly brutally and maliciously.
This, free for all enforcement of virtue and suppression of vice has one major supporter and three main factors that need to be understood, managed, and countered.
The main supporter of such streak of violent reactions is money from a friendly country.
Of the three factors which have relevance beyond Pakistan, the first and foremost is the pauperisation of the religious leadership. That is, a majority of those who pick religion as their vocation or profession are the lowly of the society (not merely in class sense, but more in knowledge, exposure, and wisdom). Thus, the divine text is up for imprudent divergent and internecine interpretations of mostly the unwise.
Two, I equate lack of democracy in Muslim countries with lack of tolerance for dissent of diverse and or divergent practices, opinions and stances. Third, the sustained and pampered lack of appreciation and acceptance of internal benign dissent where poke is responded with punch and duly celebrated, ‘humorous’ pokes by ‘others’ – be it from Jyllands-Posten of Denmark or Charlie Hebdo of France — are taken as hateful pushes, reacted with counter passionate punches of bullets and bombs.
Now something Muslims everywhere, but those in the Western countries in particular, need to reckon is that we the roughly 1.5 billion people who wear diverse shades of green called Islam ought to coexist and adjust with other 5.5 billion persons who walk this planet wearing different colours. The majorities in the West have no compulsion to accommodate us and our fragile religious sentiments. Incidentally, we don’t give a damn to minorities in our own Muslim majority backyards.
The sooner we learn to talk, tell, and negotiate in political language, and stop the habit of reaching guns at every poke, the better it will be. This is pertinent because, one we have less guns than others; two, our resort to bombs and bullets gets translated into millions of dollars of revenue for the ‘others’.
Charlie Hebdo roughly sold about 70,000 copies in the weeks before the murders in Paris. Soon after, it has already sold 5 million in Europe, and set to sell many more millions in more countries.
So, it’s about time to think and reflect how we can stop making every Tom, Dick and Charlie rich and famous overnight — as well as more effective in hurting us at larger scale and then appear heroic due to our reducible ignorance and misplaced anger.