Two significant and identical things happened in the world on Wednesday. In Paris, armed gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication, and killed 12 people allegedly for disrespecting the religion of Islam. On the same day in Taxila, the bullet ridden body of blasphemy accused Abid Mehmood was found. Some days ago, he had been released from jail after a board declared him mentally and physically unfit. Fellow villagers did not allow Mehmood to be buried at the cemetery and his family eventually laid him to rest in the courtyard of his own house.
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, we in Pakistan must listen carefully to ourselves and understand what we feel. This is a dangerous and important time for ideological actualisation across the Muslim world, but it is also time to scrutinise a private conversation. There is an intimate narrative evolving across the country; a confused, half-hearted support of democracy, freedom and liberty. Officially and unofficially, the country chooses battles least offensive to its traditional religious leanings. Throwing open punches is largely unheard of. Those who make loud and inconvenient noises, like Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, are quickly silenced. And so, we must ask ourselves honestly, what we believe in. Who are we, exactly? Do we truly believe in the ideals of democracy for which we land in hoards to vote? Do we believe in the freedom of speech? Can we tolerate dissent? Can we engage constructively, and intellectually, with the democratic standards to which we aspire? In short, no, we cannot.
And what of our national response? So far, social debate and media response surrounding the massacre has required measuring. This must not be the case. The only reasonable response to the murder of twelve people going about their day, as to the murder of Abid Mehmood, is unequivocal condemnation across the board. Yet, the narrative is confused by justifications. It is absolutely inconsequential whether the Charlie Hebdo publications were Islamophobic. It is insignificant if their editorial policy was in error, if they should have been more sensitive to cultural sensibilities. It is also unimportant whether or not French Muslims are fully accorded their democratic rights; their right to live in France, to express themselves and be accorded justice in that country, will always be greater than the version of rights the armed terrorists who stormed the magazine office would accord them. There is no other way to react than with wholehearted disgust at the killing of people expressing their right in their own country to criticise religious, political, social orthodoxy. There is no selective justification for this massacre. Either you support democracy in all its manifestations, some of them admittedly difficult to swallow... or you do not.