Historical Perspective on Islam and Charlie Hebdo by Barry Nirmal

bkn2004This essay explores the need for reform within Islam in the aftermath of the brutal assault on Charlie Hebdo. As is well-known, on January 7, 2015, two masked gunmen, brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, armed with AK-47 assault rifles attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication, in Paris and killed twelve people including its four leading editors. After the killing, the gunmen shouted that they were avenging their Prophet Mohammed. This pronouncement was captured in a video that has been widely circulated all over the world. [1]  The main reason the violent men killed the editors of Charlie Hebdo is that it had dared to publish cartoons mocking the prophet of Islam.

Charlie Hebdo has a long history of mocking religion including Islam and its prophet. In October 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an issue “guest-edited” by Mohammed and rebranded Sharia Hebdo. The cover featured a cartoon of the prophet telling readers “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”  A week later, the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed and its website hacked. Its chief editor, Charb, was on a hit list of famous anti-Islamic people , one of whom is Salman Rushdie. Salman Rushdie was the target of a fatwa in 1989 by Islamic Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, who ordered his killing for writing the novel Satanic Verses. However Rushdie’s worst days are over, and these days he considers himself safe from murderous attacks after Iran backtracked and announced that they would neither support nor denounce if someone killed him.

Islam considers itself under threat from the Christian West. Though most of the Islamic people would probably not violently attack those who slander their prophet, a small section of the global Muslim population gets brainwashed by some clerics into believing that anyone who dares to slander its prophet deserves death. Islam forbids the drawing of the caricature of its prophet.

In this regard Islam is the only religion in the present era that advocates death for anyone who dares to slander its prophet. The following are only some of the recent killing done by Islamists against those that dared to depict or insult their prophet.

(1) In February 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader of Iran, issued a death sentence against Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” for blaspheming Islam, forcing Mr. Rushdie into hiding. The book’s Japanese and Italian translators were stabbed, one of whom died. Khomeini said that anyone associated with the book shall be targeted.

(2) In November2004, Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker and television host, was killed on an Amsterdam street by a Moroccan Dutchman to avenge what the killer regarded as Mr. Van Gogh’s anti-Islamic work. Mr. Van Gogh had collaborated with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee-turned-Dutch politician, on “Submission: Part 1,” a short film in which verses of the Quran were written on the bodies of naked women to protest their treatment by men. Ms. Hirsi Ali received police protection after the film was shown on Dutch television. Mr. Van Gogh had refused police protection and thus died.

(3) In September, 2005, Jyllands-Posten of Denmark published  cartoons lampooning Prophet Mohammed. It inspired a wave of other newspapers, including Charlie Hebdo, to reprint the cartoons, provoking more death threats against the cartoonists and others deemed responsible.

Of the three main religions in the world whose followers exceed one billion, i.e. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, Islam stands alone in prescribing death for anyone who dares to criticize its prophet.


Hinduism is The Most Tolerant Faith and its Numbers are Declining


Hinduism has been the most peaceful religion ever since its inception. The rishis (saints) who founded this religion never even thought about talked about killing anyone who criticized their faith which was not known as Hinduism at that time. Because of Hindu tolerance as well as the fact that society is divided into numerous castes, and numerous sects, Hindus fail to fight back as a united force when attacked. Because they do not covert people, other religions continue to convert Hindus and thus the number of Hindus in the world when compared to those of Islam and Christianity is declining.

There is no single founder of Hinduism and there is no single holy book. Even though The Bhagavat Geeta is considered the most sacred book, there are many other scriptures e.g. the four Vedas, the Upanishads, theMahabharat, the Ramayana, the Purana, and others. So, it is difficult for the enemies of Hinduism to focus their attack on any one aspect or founder of Hinduism.

The Bhagavad Geeta clearly upholds the practice of tolerance.

It firmly declares that the paths to God are many and all reach  Him only in the end. It also encourages people to practice their  own dharma instead of following that of others, even if it is superior.

The scripture clearly distinguishes divine qualities from demonic  ones and the need to follow virtue and righteousness in one’s conduct.

Hindus never persecuted any non-Hindu religious teachers and spiritual masters who questioned the validity of the Vedas or who held unconventional  beliefs within Hinduism itself. Even an atheist can call himself a Hindu.

Spiritual masters like Sri Ramakrishna and Yogananda showed remarkable  tolerance in their own teachings and conduct. They upheld all religions,  emphasized the importance of communal harmony and drew the attention  of people to the similarities between the teachings of Hinduism  and other religions.

Upon gaining independence, even though the country was partitioned on religious grounds and a vast majority of Indians were Hindus, India opted for secular democracy and provided equal opportunities to people of all religions. Despite many problems and provocations, by and large, Hindus displayed great restraint in their attitude and conduct towards other faiths. A large share of the credit for communal harmony in India goes to Hindus, despite the fact that India had to deal with numerous instances of religious terrorism, missionary zeal and communal violence, which often resulted in widespread destruction of property and loss of life.

In the Bhagavat Geeta, Lord Krishna says the following:

(1) However men try to reach me,
I return their love with my love;
whatever path they may travel,
it leads to me in the end.

– Krishna; Chapter 4, verse 11; [2]

(2) Even those devotees who with faith worship other gods, worship Me alone, O son of Kunti, by a contrary method.

Islam was highly successful in spreading itself in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and India, after the death of Prophet Mohammed. Most of the time the Islamic warriors waged wars to conquer new lands and then to impose Islam on the vanquished. Christians conquered many lands in Asia, Africa and Latin America during the period of colonization, and the conquered masses were given the Bible to believe in. This is why most countries in Africa and Latin America are either Christian or Muslim.

The Hindus never used force to impose their religion on the masses. At one time Hinduism was the main religion in Asia, the Middle East. This is why when Islam was born, their main enemies of the Muslims were not only the Christians and the Jews who like them were monotheists, but also the idolaters. They did not name Hindus by name because the religion of the Vedas was not known as Hinduism at that time. Its main characteristic was belief in and worship of many deities including Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Because of tolerance of Hindus, Hindus have seen their number shrink and the Hindu countries vanish one after another. Until 2000 years ago there was no Christianity, and there was no Islam. But both of them combined are now fifty percent of the world. Hinduism and Buddhism ruled over all of Asia.

If you consider even Hinduism alone, from Afghanistan to Bali (end point of Indonesia) was all Hinduism. From Sri Lanka to not just Mount Kailash, but also the Kazakhstan, some part of China also has Shiva temples.  Mongolia and Japan too has ruins of Shiva temples. If you take that area, the Hindus are currently now only around fifteen to twenty percent. So, Hindus have shrunk by about eighty percent.


Christianity Has a Long History of Violence


It is wrong to say that Islam has always been violent while Christians were always peaceful. Let us take two period of Christianity, Reformation and Enlightenment. Reformation was the process whereby the wrongdoings of the Catholic church were opposed by Martin Luther,  a devout German Christian and that resulted in the founding of the Protestant religion. (It is called Protestant because they protected.) After the Protestant church was established during Reformation,  there followed a period of religious warfare during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  During these centuries,  there were large scale killings between the Catholics and the Protestants. 

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik van Loon says the following:

“The Thirty Years War which broke out in the year 1618 and which ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was the perfectly natural result of a century of ever increasing hatred. ….. In less than a generation it turned many parts of central Europe into a wilderness, where the hungry peasants fought for the carcass of a dead horse with the even hungrier wolf. Five-sixths of all the German towns and villages were destroyed….. And a population of eighteen million people was reduced to four million.” [3]

In the present time, all Christians are united in considering the Pope as their leader, though the Pope is mainly the leader of the Catholic church. This demonstrates the present unity between the Catholics and the Protestants.

After the periods of Reformation and Religious Warfare in Europe came the era of Enlightenment.  Voltaire was one of the philosophers whose writings ushered in the era of Enlightenment. He said, “I may disagree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  This famous statement of Voltaire defined the era of Enlightenment and is the foundation of modern Western society.

Voltaire was French and the editors of Charlie Hebdo followed his principle when they mocked religion without fear or hesitation.  Prior to the attack on Islam, Charlie Hebdo used to publish cartoons mocking the leaders of the Catholic church. But the latter were wise to have made peace with Charlie Hebdo in keeping with the present mood of the French and the Europeans of staunchly supporting freedom of expression.

Let us examine one event that happened not during Reformation but while Enlightenment was on the horizon. When Voltaire was still alive, on July 1, 1766, in northern France, a young nobleman named Lefebvre de la Barre was found guilty of blasphemy. The charges against him were that he had defecated on a crucifix, spat on religious images, and refused to remove his hat while a Church procession passed.

These crimes, together with the vandalizing of a wooden cross were enough to see him sentenced to death. Once his tongue had been cut out and his head chopped off, his mortal remains were burned by the public executioner, and dumped into a river. Mixed with his ashes were those of a book that had been found in his study, thePhilosophical Dictionary of the notorious philosopher, Voltaire.


The Attacks Are Backfiring


Some leaders of Islam like Benyettou, the Paris Islamic mosque’s imam, who inspired the Kouachi brothers think that by killing those who mock their prophet, they will be able to intimidate and silence them. But the opposite seems to be happening. For example,  Charlie Hebdo has published a new cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in its first issue since 12 people were killed during an attack on its offices in Paris.

The new cover depicts the Prophet Muhammad shedding a tear and holding up a sign saying “Je suis Charlie”, the message of solidarity with the victims. Above the cartoon are the words “All is forgiven”.

This first issue had a huge circulation. A million copies were printed that sold out within hours. After that a reprint of the issue was ordered. There were huge lines all across Europe to buy this latest issue of the satirical newspaper.

So, instead of silencing Charlie Hebdo, the attack seems to have galvanized public opinion against such attacks and Charlie Hebdo may become more popular, just as the death sentence on Salman Rushdie made him and his book, the Satanic Verses, more popular. This has made Salman Rushdie filthy rich and hugely famous.

Violent attacks by the Islamists are turning public opinion in Europe against Islam itself. For example, in December 2014, just before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, there was a huge march by PEGIDA in Dresden, Germany that was attended by seventeen thousand people against Islamization of Europe.  A wave of xenophobia is sweeping the country. The main focus of PEGIDA, “is the preservation of ‘Judeo-Christian Western culture’ against what they claim is the rise of ‘radicalism’ and ‘parallel societies with Sharia police’. [4]

In the aftermath of attack on Charlie Hebdo, about a million people marched in Paris against this attack and at the head of the march were top leaders of many countries. World leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II joined the beginning of the Paris march.

All across France, in numerous cities and towns, millions of people marched to condemn this attack. Social media like Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with condemnation of this attack by millions of people, in various parts of the world.

Many people are saying that we need to go into the root causes of Islamic extremism, that it is the injunctions of Koran itself that are inciting people like the Kouachi brothers to launch armed assaults against non-Muslims. They quote passages from Koran that preach intolerance for non-Muslims called infidels. They also quote stories from Hadith, the stories about the life of Prophet Mohammed and his companions, and point out that these stories directly incite Muslims to launch armed assaults against targets like Charlie Hebdo.


The Future of Islam


It is this authors hope and dream that with the efforts of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Islam too will become tolerant just as Christianity has become. The role of atheists in this regard is great. As more and more Muslims become atheists, they will influence other Muslims to stop believing in those passages in Koran that teach intolerance and instead focus on those passages that preach tolerance for non-Muslims and the need for all religions to live in peace.

The spirit of the modern era, the era of Enlightenment, teaches us to stop blindly believing in any book, no matter how holy it claims to be. All people including Muslims should believe instead in the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, and the freedom of every man and woman to believe or not to believe in any religion. This freedom of the conscience is the need of the hour, in all countries and more so in Islamic countries.

Without freedom to disbelieve in the religion handed over by our forefathers, there can be no democracy. Democracy is a farce if it does not give us the freedom to question the correctness of any holy book and the freedom to criticize any prophet or saint or guru, no matter how exalted he is supposed to be. 

No one deserves to die for insulting any prophet or guru or saint or pope. Verbal and published insults should be dealt with in the same token, i.e. by verbal or published retort.



[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30719057

[2] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita

[3] The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik William van Loon, chapter “Religious Warfare”, Page 263.  Washington Square Press, Pocket Books.

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-antiislam-protests-17000-march-on-dresden-against-islamification-of-the-west-9941656.html

Barry Nirmal is the founder of many websites, e.g. www.myads.org, Hinduism Research website at www.myads.org/hindu, and the Journal of Rational Thought at www.myads.org/journal.

He founded the Hinduism Research website at www.myads.org/hindu,
after returning from Saudi Arabia in 1997 where he spent a few years working as a computer specialist. He witnessed first hand the hatred of the Saudi authorities for Hindus and Hinduism. 
Barry graduated with a B.Tech degree from the world famous Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. He also obtained his
Masters degree in engineering from University of Nebraska.
Barry has written six textbooks on computing published by Prentice Hall, Inc and John Wiley & Sons. His books can be found by searching Google for ‘Barry Nirmal books’. 
Apart from writing many published articles on computing, he has written numerous essays that have been published on the Journal of Rational Thought, atwww.myads.org/journal. His essays can be found by searching Google for ‘Barry Nirmal essays’. 
Barry can be reached at BarryNirmal@gmail.com.

Source: WHN Media Network

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