Not really a nice way to start the year, one would say- with an attack on the freedom that comes guaranteed as soon as you become a man who is old enough for his or her views and opinions to be expressed out in public. The attacks- although not, admittedly, as violent and widely publicized as the gruesome one in Paris – have been on the roll for the past several years.
It has been happening in Turkey, with the government officials and police officers replacing the two masked gunmen of Paris; it has continued to happen in Russia, and especially Chechnya, where media houses and newspaper offices are routinely closed down or even fire-bombed; it has now been a regular fixture in China, and here too we have a region worth the special mention- the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, where online websites and local newspapers have been forced to shut down for voicing out the troubles of the Chinese minorities. The war against freedom of speech and freedom of media had been declared long before the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices graced the front pages of our newspapers.
The outpouring of grief and, more positively, resolution post the attack reminded me of yet another ghastly incident that had invited a similar set of reactions- the coldblooded murder of Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. As an editor and a columnist, Dink was one of the most prominent members of the Armenian minority in Turkey, where he voiced out against the injustice being laid down upon the Armenians in his nation and, at the same time, pointed fingers and hit his words hard right where it hurt. When he died- killed, as it happens, by bullets that were fired right outside his newspaper office- thousands of mourners filled the streets of Istanbul, mourning the death of a brave voice silenced prematurely and protesting against a system that had let it happen in the first place- perpetrated it even.
This was repeated in Paris yesterday and the day before that when thousands declared themselves to be Charlie and took to streets, mourning, but at the same time angrily declaring to the fanatics that had dared to pull the trigger in the quite Parisian streets that they weren’t afraid and that the pen shall continue its fight to spill the ink on all that is wrong with the world. May that be religious fundamentalism or blind nationalism, things are bound to change and one of the agents of that change is, shouted the protesters, the very institution that the two gunmen had chosen to attack.
To me, the attack served to be an irony- the fact that several prominent newspapers and magazines around the world chose to share Charlie Hebdo’s apparently offensive cartoons worked against the very purpose of that freakish shooting.
Some, I observed, indulged in the sort of double standards that I have witnessed recently in India and that I hate to the core- criticizing, to start off, the gunmen that open fired outside the offices of the magazine, but then pointing out that the cartoonists, in fact, had it coming. Had it coming? How and, more importantly, why did they have it coming? Because they drew cartoons about a religion and made fun of their Gods? They have been at it for years, and it never changed people’s perception about the Prophet or about the Islam now, did it?
On the other hand, with the attack followed the right-wing rants of ‘we told you so,’ which may not have had the power to change anybody’s mind at any other time, but for France, and the whole of Europe, this is a testing time. Surge against the migrants and the Muslims was already on the rise- a mail I received for one of the articles I had written six months back defending the rights of the Pakistani migrants in Greece made me realize the amount of hatred that is being felt over there against the migrants and, particularly, the Muslim population- and this freakish shooting in Paris would be like the fuel that keeps adding.
For the war mongers of the world, things have been good. First came Sydney, then came Peshawar and now arrives at their doorstep Paris, easy to be picked up and used for propaganda purposes. What these attackers fail to realize is the simple fact that the more they kill, the more of theirs are, eventually, going to suffer. It does not raise questions about a particular religion, but about religions and, more appropriately, religious tolerance all around the world.
What the attack also raises are some valid concerns, like countering the rising face of extremism in cities around the globe, and a newer definition to global terrorism fueled by the return of radicalized youths from Iraq and Syria who have had their training in the hard-hitting terrains of the Middle East, who have fought pitched battles in the ancient- albeit now razed to rubble- cities of Homs, Hamah, Aleppo and Damascus and who are now spilling out on the streets of Paris and Sydney to use those roughed-up bodies and minds of theirs on the peaceful vicinity of the metropolis.
The psychological impact of a city being targeted, not to mention the news that it creates the world around, is bound to, without a doubt, seduce a lot more “lone wolf” attacks such as the one in Sydney, and perhaps (although this I am not too sure of) the one in Paris.
Tracking down such radicalized souls is hard, even when authorities have concrete information about their journeys and activities- they don’t need accurate planning or setting up, all they need is an automatic or a semi-automatic and a place where they can hold off for a bit- in case of Paris, not even that- and they are ready to go. In Syria and Iraq itself, life for the extremists is not too hard, except that you have to slaughter once in a while.
The modernization of the world has also shown itself within the terrorist, like when gunmen hold the severed heads of their hostages up, click a selfie and upload it on Twitter or Facebook. Teenagers as well as men with families from all around the world- but especially Europe- land inside these war zones to spread something they probably don’t even know the meaning of.
And then we come to the point of a right-wing upsurge in Europe, which could take dramatic turns in the coming years. The response that the man from Greece emailed in to me- and the consequent exchange that spread over three months- told me something that perhaps couldn’t have been visible to a naked eye: resentment within the minds of several in Europe. Such attacks contribute to it, even when organizations rightly come out in support of the Muslims and plead for peace.
In France itself, the symbolism is lost to no one when Marine Le Pen‘s popularity soared dramatically. The European right-wing has always been a danger to the functioning of these countries, especially the Central European ones, where nationalism has always been a major problem and has contributed, in the 1990’s, to full-scale armed conflicts.
If we, today, allow the right to take the reins and dictate terms in France, or for that matter the entire Europe, we would be “no different from the murderers who went ahead and did their business and paid no attention to the screams,” as Isaac Rosenfeld wrote in 1948 while writing about the concentration camps in The New Leader. And for us to be different, perhaps what we need the most is introspection- genuine, silent introspection that could help us fill in the void that this attack has created within each one of us.
By: Atharva Pandit