God is an exotic creature. Exotic, because he is so fantastic and attractive on account of being so distant. We haven’t met him or at least, very few of us claim to. He can’t be seen, he can’t be heard and he is almost always silent (Watch ‘The Seventh Seal’ on the silence of God). A primitive society worships his plurality, the more feudal ones-a visible or invisible father while the enlightened decry his existence or tolerate it. It doesn’t matter what color, shape, size, region, society, race, gender, sex, cult or occult you belong to, the belief in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God is phenomenally widespread. And despite our lack of knowledge of his priors and antecedents, we are willing to die and kill for him.
The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo chose to lampoon God and his karyakartas on several different occasions. Their offensive and in-your-face lampooning of Prophet Mohammad, Jesus and other such ‘iconic’ figures instigated widespread controversy. Stephane Charbonnier, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, regarded satire and ridicule as the most potent weapon against fundamentalism. Drawing from a culture of free speech and unadulterated criticism, Charlie Hebdo, in its leftist zeal had made mockery of organized religion and its pioneers, one time too many.
While God did not strike down upon Charlie Hebdo himself, his more interested and fanatic followers (the karyakartas) took it upon themselves to avenge the publishing of their prophet’s cartoon in the magazine. Though Prophet was once a man, maybe even a great one, any visual representation of his persona or his exploits, remain forbidden. Charlie Hebdo ridiculed this prohibition. Unfortunately, prophet’s followers did not have a sense of humor. On 7th January, 2015, several terrorists entered the office of the magazine in Paris and killed 12 members of the staff including Stephane.
Denounced the world over, the attack sparked a fierce outcry against Islamic extremism, some even offering a reciprocation. Experts and idiots, together sought to understand the logic of such barbarism. However, there is no logic to barbarism. And there is certainly none to be found in religion. While being tolerant towards the idiosyncrasies of an individual religion, it remains bewildering that Islamic fundamentalists garner such wide-ranging support in the Muslim world. May be that support is not so overt always. However, an acquiescence by the general population of beheadings and barbarism, with faith in their own innocence and the judgment day has been much more problematic than terrorism itself. Why would a modern individual like Imran Khan choose to partner with a fundamentalist? Why is Salman Taseer’s killer celebrated all over Pakistan? These are all but rhetorical questions, for the purposes are plenty and nefarious. Many people have died and many more will follow, until the whole world is embroiled in this search for identity and power.
While there was considerable outrage against the attack in India, no lessons have been learnt. The slow but formidable ascendance of Hindu fundamentalism appears the solution to our own Islamic problem. A largely illiterate and poor Muslim population is having its own tryst with fundamentalism. Unable to garner a secular leadership, they have taken to the likes of Samajwadis and Owaisis. While Hindus themselves have done their share of blood-letting, they are sanctimonious in dismissing their violent streaks as necessary and justified response to provocation. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism appears attractive and ironically, our salvation as a nation.
A tragedy like Charlie Hebdo does not have easy answers. While the search for logic is pertinent as it may lead to introspection and debate, the questions still remain. How is religion able to exercise such incredible influence over such a huge populace in this age of technology and enlightenment? Why is religion so important to Muslims? How does it inspire them to kill and maim for sport and glory?
The efficacy and utility of organized religion has been debated for centuries, producing many a critic and many regarding it as a necessary evil. Voltaire, an ardent critic of religion, once said, “If God does not exist, we will have to invent him.” Have we not progressed since the time of Voltaire? If not, then perhaps our claim to the top of the evolutionary ladder is perhaps belied.