Beheadings in France

As Indians, we need to stand by France and wage a united war against terrorism while upholding our secular and democratic values

The decision of the French President Emmanuel Macron to defend freedom of speech in his country, following the barbaric beheading of a school teacher and some others by radicalised Muslims, has led to violent protests across Islamic nations. The perpetrators of these violent acts in France, it is believed, were seeking to avenge the caricaturing of Prophet Mohammed in a French magazine. So it has become a blasphemy versus free speech issue in a nation that rests on the foundation of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Most of the protesters in the Islamic world are justifying the beheadings and baying for the blood of the French President. The biggest culprit is the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Bin Mohamad, who said that Muslims have the right “to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past”. This is an open encouragement to bloodshed and must easily be the most outrageous and irresponsible statement made by a person who has held an important public office in a big nation. It is surprising that Twitter has only deleted Mohamad’s tweet and restrained itself from taking more severe action.

While all this is on in the Islamic world, how should citizens of India respond to the developments in France? Several Indian cities have seen angry protests by Muslim citizens against the caricaturing of the Prophet. There is legitimacy for these protests so long as they are peaceful and non-violent and do not cause any disturbance to the normal run of life. That is why the conduct of Farhan Zuberi, a student leader from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who has justified the beheadings in France and held out an open threat to behead anyone speaking against Islam, deserves to be condemned.

India, given its democratic credentials, has taken the right stand against this kind of violence. The Foreign Ministry condemned the beheading of the school teacher in Paris and said there can be no justification for terrorism “for any reason or under any circumstances”. For once, the Ministry put aside its weakness for prevarication and “strongly deplored” the personal attack on the French President and said it is a violation of the most basic standards of international discourse. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also taken a firm stand. In a tweet, he strongly condemned the terrorist attacks, including the heinous attack in Nice inside a church. “India stands with France in the fight against terrorism”, he tweeted.

This is where all Indians have to draw the line. They cannot behave like the citizens in the Islamic States where everything revolves around religion and the space for public discourse is severely constricted.

For the moment, it can be said that the violent outbursts of the AMU student leader are an aberration. It is not the rule. All those who value democracy speak a different language. That is why the statement of one hundred Indian personalities, who “unequivocally and unconditionally” condemned the recent killings in France by fanatics in the name of faith, is important. The signatories to this statement, who included actor Naseeruddin Shah, former Indian Police Service Officer, Julio Ribeiro and lyricist Hussain Haidri, said: “We are deeply disturbed by the convoluted logic of some self-appointed guardians of Indian Muslims in rationalising cold-blooded murder and deplore the outrageous remarks of some heads of state.” The signatories attacked whataboutery and condemned attempts to rationalise crimes by comparing them with other similar crimes. They said this was irrational and absurd. “No god, gods, goddesses, prophets or saints may be invoked to justify the killing and/or terrorising of fellow human beings.” 

India is the world’s largest, secular, liberal, democratic republic and all of us who care for the free air we breathe must unite against individuals who defend such brutality. 

As citizens of the most democratic and diverse nation in the world, our future lies in the preservation of the core values in our Constitution and our democratic way of life. Secular, liberal democracies cannot survive, let alone flourish, if any section of the population offers justification for violence in order to assert the correctness of its stand. This applies to all Indian citizens and, in the present context, especially to citizens who are adherents of Islam. No citizen of India can take lessons from Islamic nations which have no respect for plurality and equality. We are different. In fact, we are unique, and we must assert our uniqueness and the exalted status that our Constitution has given us.

Co-existence within a plural society demands a high degree of tolerance. Our Constitution makers recognised this and it is here that our constitutional arrangement is slightly different from that of France. Our “freedom of expression” is subject to “reasonable restrictions.” We cannot use it to disturb, among other things, “public order, decency, morality” or resort to “defamation or incitement to an offence.” This is further reinforced by provisions in the Indian Penal Code, such as Section 153 A, 295 and 295 A, which prohibit any activity which promotes enmity between different groups or amounts to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or the religious beliefs”. Therefore, we are distinct and we should completely stay clear of the violence that is being promoted by the Islamic nations against France.

As the campaign for a separate Muslim nation started building up in the 1940s, Dr BR Ambedkar, after much deliberation, came to the conclusion that the creation of Pakistan was inevitable. In his book, Thoughts on Pakistan, he said, “The allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his, but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim Ubi Bene Ibi Patria is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.” Dr Ambedkar said this 75 years ago and in a certain context — when Muslims in India said that they constituted a separate nation — and established Pakistan. About 35 million Muslims stayed back in India after Pakistan was born because they believed that life in a liberal, democratic environment was far better than in an Islamic State. In these Muslim families, the third generation is growing up with the protection and safeguards offered by India’s Constitution.

These citizens, like all others belonging to other faiths, who have grown up under this secular, democratic umbrella, can see that Pakistan is a failed State that is weighed down by its own failures and has cross-border terrorism as a single-point national agenda. The issues that prompted the creation of Pakistan are no longer relevant. That being the case, they need to prove Dr Ambedkar wrong. The times have changed and peaceful co-existence offers all of us the best chance. As Indians, we all need to stand by France and all other democracies and wage a united war against terrorism and against all those who are opposed to secular, democratic values.

(The writer is an author specialising in democracy studies. Views expressed are personal)

Source: The Pioneer

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