Charlie Hebdo loves being in the news. After shooting to international prominence in January 2015 following a terrorist attack on its office in Paris, which killed 12 of its staff members, people around the world came to know more about the magazine. Initial reaction to the atrocity was one of horror, followed by solidarity -which led to je suis <insert persecuted entity here> becoming something of a meme- and yet another round of debates over the limits to free speech and expression. People also started reflecting over whether or not minorities and their cultural claims being disproportionately targeted for criticism made them victims to cultural bullying in unfamiliar lands. Nevertheless, Charlie Hebdo, by and large, captured media attention in all parts of the world. What was a small throughput French magazine read by probably a few thousand people in Paris became an internationally recognized satire magazine known for its irreverent satire and dark humor. When they made a comeback not long after the tragic episode, they were praised the world over for their bravery. This now means that Charlie Hebdo‘s readership has conceivably taken an upward curve in parts of the world where French is spoken and understood, apart from having its works being translated into different languages. Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo, laïcité and Italy”
It’s very tempting to fall into linguistic traps, especially when the words being spoken have content that is emotive. Sometimes it’s very difficult to separate what is actually to be taken issue with from what isn’t. Words like “murderer”, “terrorist”, “rapist” etc carry emotive content, apart from their criminal implications. Tag a person’s image with any one or a combination of these words, and it is likely to evoke a deep sense of disgust and hatred towards someone you have never seen before and whose (real) antecedents you have no idea about. The average person -even the average skeptic- is unlikely to look for further evidence that the person in the image actually is what the tag represents.
“It is cold at six-forty in the morning on a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”
– Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal
The issue of capital punishment has been a matter of great debate for centuries, and it intensified ever since there emerged a subculture of humans which realized that people were entirely responsible for their own actions. Dishing out the death penalty began to be considered abhorrent to collective human conscience, and it began to be understood that capital punishment wasn’t effective as a deterrent of crime in any case. In Frederick Forsyth’s bestselling fictional thriller The Day of the Jackal, he mentions how he would feel if he were hypothetically to witness an execution by firing squad in the quote above. You might want to forgive the author for missing out on the words “calculated” and “chilling.” Here is a description of what execution by the firing squad looks/has looked like in the United States:
For execution by this method, the inmate is typically bound to a chair with leather straps across his waist and head, in front of an oval-shaped canvas wall. The chair is surrounded by sandbags to absorb the inmate’s blood. A black hood is pulled over the inmate’s head. A doctor locates the inmate’s heart with a stethoscope and pins a circular white cloth target over it. Standing in an enclosure 20 feet away, five shooters are armed with .30 caliber rifles loaded with single rounds. One of the shooters is given blank rounds. Each of the shooters aims his rifle through a slot in the canvas and fires at the inmate.[…] The prisoner dies as a result of blood loss caused by rupture of the heart or a large blood vessel, or tearing of the lungs. The person shot loses consciousness when shock causes a fall in the supply of blood to the brain. If the shooters miss the heart, by accident or intention, the prisoner bleeds to death slowly.[….]
4th January, 2011. The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, is sub-machine gunned to death in broad daylight by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri. He is shot 26 times (28 by some accounts), no less, before Qadri surrenders himself to the police. Why this extreme hatred and madness?
“Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer,” Mr Qadri said in comments broadcast on Dunya television.
Salman Taseer had come out in defense of a Christian woman by the name of Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for the Koranic crime, nay sin of blasphemy. Not only that, he also challenged the entire blasphemy law and supported the more sensible amendments to it that were being proposed. To Islamic fundamentalists, this itself was blasphemy. Salman Taseer was also a man who envisaged Pakistan as a “progressive and liberal” democracy in the future. That too, in the fundamentalist Islamic world, is blasphemy. And the punishment proposed by Sharia (Islam’s proposed solution for all ills) for blasphemy is death. It’s obvious Qadri did it for a cause. He was hailed as a hero by hundreds of thousands of Islamic fundamentalists. In late 2015, more than 4 years after the horrific murder, Pakistan’s apex court sentenced him to death, since it was deemed to be an act of terrorism, and by Pakistani law (non-Sharia criminal law) it is understood to be fair punishment to condemn someone to the gallows for terrorist acts. Four months later, in late February, 2016, Qadri was hanged. What followed was great outrage across the Islamist landscape. Angry demonstrations and protests against the judicial murder thronged many streets and highways in Pakistan. Qadri had become a martyr for the Islamist cause.
The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.
-George W Bush, September 2001
Sufism is a celebration of diversity and pluralism, expressed in the words of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, that every people has its own path of truth, beliefs and focus of reverence. These words reflect the divine message of the Holy Prophet that there is no compulsion in religion; and also that to every people, we have appointed ways of worship which they observe.
–Narendra Modi, March 2016
The media’s interpretation of Modi’s comments was “Islam is a religion of peace.” If that is to be believed, then two leaders of two separate, disparate democracies have made basically the same comment, 15 years apart. But Modi is also a member of a right-wing Hindu nationalist umbrella group, some of whose cells are openly anti – minority, directing their ire particularly towards Muslims. How can Modi then be making such comments contradictory to party interest? Hadn’t he said that he would not appease anyone before he became the Prime Minister of India? Well, reality check. Or realpolitik, if you like. Welcome to the world of appeasement.
Even as Europe is trying to cope with an exodus of refugees from mainly Muslim majority countries in West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa, and intra – EU differences over policies regarding their intake, and even as the wounds Europe had incurred from the 13/11 Paris attacks last year were beginning to heal, Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU has come under attack today, witnessing two separate explosions at the airport and at a metro station close to the EU’s core institutions, obviously targeting people of business and business itself. Witnesses apparently heard now-much-dreaded Arabic chants before the bombs went off, which means that the airport attack might have been suicide bombing, which has by now become a signature of jihadist mass murder and destruction. It’s now been determined that the terrorist group IS was involved in carrying out this latest spell of barbarism on humanity, and so there is little doubt as to where the injunction to kill, maim and terrorize came from. If someone had indeed chanted something in Arabic before committing their grisly suicide-murder, it’s a safe bet that he didn’t martyr himself for the cause of Communism at the heart of Brussels.
It’s the new year…according to the Gregorian calendar, which is accepted as the standard almost everywhere in the world. Different calendars have different “New Year days”. That’s one reason why I always find it difficult to take the phatic platitude of “Happy New Year” too seriously. The other is that new years are unlikely to be too “happy”. There is too much going against that possibility. For India, the new year began in a way similar to the way it did for France last year , as it did for Afghanistan and Iraq. It began with the threat of sadomasochistic suicide – murdering, commonly known these days as Islamist terrorism. It’s never in short supply when you are lucky enough to have a neighbour who suckles and nurtures terrorists or -luckier still- have them at home.
So the year last began with a ghastly spectacle motivated by religious offense – taking place in an arrondissement in Paris. It was a perfect attention – seeking stunt by murderous, ghetto – dwelling hicks who wouldn’t be given any attention otherwise. Nor would the object of their ire grab international attention. How, then, could 2016 not begin with another bout of offense taking? The Indian cricketer MS Dhoni in a new avatar:
The cover of a business magazine trying to be a bit creative, perhaps. I mean, it’s really a “meh, whatever” kind of picture. Some people with a sense of humour might even find it a bit quaint and funny. Not what some people seem to think, though. Late last year, he was summoned by a court in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh after a VHP leader filed a case against him for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments.
In May 2013, Jayakumar Hiremath, a RTI activist filed a case in Bangalore under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code – intent to insult the religion of any class – for “hurting the sentiments of the Hindu community”.
In May 2014, Rajinder Singh Raja, national general secretary of the Shivesena Hindustan filed a case in Delhi saying Dhoni had insulted the Hindu religion and Lord Vishnu because he had “been portrayed as God Vishnu and instead of showing religious things, the magazine is showing products of various companies including a shoe in his hand.”
“Neither did he pose for the picture, nor were we aware of such a picture being published,”says Dhoni’s manager. Dhoni’s lawyer says he never got the summons. Whatever happened, the court couldn’t get MS Dhoni to appear before it. The result? A non – bailable warrant . Really.
There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.– Charles de Montesquieu
Earlier this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s official admission of defeat in WWII, gave a speech in which he made an oblique reference to the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers on South Korean “comfort women“, or women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers:
We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.
While not a direct apology, there is an air of repentance there. Many wondered if an apology was forthcoming. After all, in the same speech, Shinzo Abe also said:
We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.
We now know that Abe was not paying lip service to that commitment. Japan has now officially apologized to the comfort women -many of whom have died, and the rest are now very old- and had lived with the scars without any form of emotional closure. Japan has also announced a compensation package of $8.3 million, purportedly to “restore the dignity” of the women. Such a rather old-fashioned view of female dignity notwithstanding, at least steps are being taken in the right direction. The least governments can do for the crimes of their predecessors is apologize. Differences persist, however, but that is expected when atrocities were committed on such a large scale. If anything, this gesture should begin to restore Japan’s own dignity, which had been greatly besmirched by its fascist past.
A rapist-murderer who was one of a gang of 6 to have brutalized Jyoti Singh -a 23 year old, ambitious paramedical student who made the mistake of going out of her home on the evening of December 16, 2012, with her boyfriend in India’s rape capital– in a horrific manner, was released after a “sentence” of 3 years of imprisonment, afforded to him by India’s Juvenile Justice Act yesterday. The reason? He was a few months short of completing his 18th birthday. The others, who were judged to be capable of taking responsibility for their crimes, were sentenced to death. So, in pampering a violent and dangerous “juvenile”, who at seventeen years and six months old was apparently as good at differentiating rape from larceny as he was at telling shit from Shinola, the Indian judiciary has overcompensated for sending the-poor-thing’s comrades to the gallows. If ever there was an instance of complete travesty of justice in a highly publicized case, this was one. There are already voices out there calling for a more considerate treatment of the issue at hand. So let’s hear what this one has to say:
We must take cognisance of the fact that the environment the children are growing up in now is vastly different from a decade ago. We are living in a ‘super sexualised world’ and the access that a common person has to the amount of depraved information available has grown multifold. It is the adversely sexual aspects of popular culture that are problematic.
If by “access” the author means “access to the Internet”, then by the same logic, one also has access to information on gender sensitivity and human rights on the Internet. Besides, correlation does not become causation. And there is no evidence that the “juvenile” (whose identity, by the way, is protected by Indian law on the excuse of being a juvenile) was influenced by “the adversely sexual aspects of popular culture” in being led to participating in the crime. One might argue that he felt encouraged to take part in the crime because he had adult friends doing it, but that does not in any way absolve him of any guilt or responsibility. The first thing that people need to understand is that brains do not commit heinous crimes. And that is the first step in reformation of any criminal, juvenile or not. The author admits as much:
Any punishment has to have a reparative effect, one that prevents an individual from repeating the crime — this cannot and should not come at the cost of fear, but should stem from a place of understanding in the individual, who takes cognisance of why what he/she had done was wrong, and, therefore, must not do again. If it is not reparative, it is vengeful and the purpose of the law is not to be vengeful.