The assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris has caused shock waves in Europe. But the ripples have also reached Christian minorities in Asia. In fear of a backlash, they are bracing for the worst. Little does the West realise that a religiously contemptuous teaser in Oslo or Paris could be a death knell for the hapless far away. It is time Europe realizes it has a collective international responsibility to safeguard lives and properties in distant lands.

The act of violence though long expected is condemnable. Hebdo for far too long had been taking on Islam and Christianity in its satirical and often obscene pun lines. Bill Donohue, President of the US Catholic League issued a statement, “Muslims are right to be angry.” Donohue criticized the publication’s history of offending the world’s religiously devout, including non-Muslims.

Individuals cannot take the law into their own hands but then we must also condemn insensitivity that provokes violent reaction. We must also blame international diplomacy in failing to resolve disputes arising out of cultural and religious fault lines. The Islamic world, Christian church and Hinduism have tolerated satire and provocations on their core beliefs for far too long. They have failed to act in unison against this ultra-leftist pluralism. It is time some limitations are imposed on liberalism.

Shrinking of the world on the information highway, transnational migrations and turmoil in the Muslim world necessitated a paradigm shift by the West that never came. The western church (Catholic and Anglican) is in recusal, while the dependent Muslim world ruled by non-representative regimes lacks the wherewithal to force its position. These compromises give rise to anti-western sentiments and radical organisations. Inasmuch, the West wishes to impose its values on the South and East, it also reflect their negligence at taking cognisance of the intertwined religious-cultural values, sensitivities and sensibilities of diversity. Unless the template is reset, Charlie Hebdos will continue to happen.

The French government has to accept part of the irresponsibility and guilt. In contrast to the position taken by President Jacques Chirac in 2006 that, “overt provocations” which could inflame passions…anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided”, President Nicolas Sarkozy and President François Hollande supported the French tradition of satire overturning the caution imposed in the past. To European secularism, satire of left leaning pluralism and abstainers is acceptable in the name of freedom of expression. They frequently quote Voltaire who said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”, but ignore Zechariah Chafee who said, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins”. Freedom of expression particularly in Europe needs to be redefined for the future. Europe needs to know where the other man’s nose begins and act accordingly. Funeral bells at Notre Dame Cathedral rather than a French national mourning are to be seen in the spirit of Christian forgiveness. “Oh God, forgive them for they do not know what they do”.

It is yet to be ascertained if these individuals acted on their own or were foot soldiers of a spreading transylvanian threat of radicalized jihadists. In any case, this disclosure would be futile because insensitivity breeds precursors to set off individual reactions. If Europe wishes to improve its internal security, a good analysis of why provocations take place could provide the most economical solution. Scandinavia and France with liberal policies will have to act more than others to affect damage control.

Hebdo also reminds us that the use of non-state actors to stir trouble in other countries is counterproductive. It is like fathering an untamed multi-headed serpent that will always devour its makers. The ilk of Arab Sidewinders can neither be controlled nor tamed. It is more important to deny them space for propagation. Lose cannons like Hebdo make them stronger and Europe weaker. Since 9/11 the entire international community apparently rallied against militant groups and non-state actors. Yet it exercised double standards and chose to patronize a few. Most countries of the West support insurgent and revolutionary groups for geostrategic objectives and regime change. Frequently, chickens have come home to roost. They hit the twin towers, Europe and elsewhere. Pakistan has learned this lesson the hard way and others must make it a case study to refrain from according any kind of support to such groups.

Takfiris from the times of Hazrat Ali have been used selectively to create fault lines within the Muslim World. They hibernate in the desert sands and shoot to strike. In the latest surge, they grew out of the Soviet Afghan conflict and are now devouring the Middle East to redraw geographies in a juxtapose of conflicting interests. Warlords are not revolutionaries.  In Syria, they provide the rationale for this extremist surge making serpents more poisonous and dangerous.  

These groups believe in an extreme ideology that physically beheads dissent. They provide no space for caution or neutrality. Religious minorities in the Muslim World become frequent victims of this backlash. Whether it is Terry Jones of USA, Jyllands-Posten of Denmark or Charlie Hebdo of France, the victims invariably are churches, innocent Christians and their dwellings. To hardliners, Christianity symbolizes western influence and must be attacked in quid pro quo.  European liberalism and secularism makes existence of Christians in conflict zones extremely dangerous.

In reaction to provocative satire, over two hundred Christians have died in Africa and Asia. Christians in Pakistan are at the receiving end for a long time. Effigies of the Pope are usually burned. Churches and Holy Crosses are desecrated. Rarely does the west realise that its secular and liberal sanction of satire make life of fringe groups in the Muslim world miserable. One person’s ideology cannot be another’s guillotine.

In the societal dimension, globalisation and interdependence has brought cultures and religions to close proximity. If developed countries wish to reap fruits through trade and technology, they also have to take the responsibility to create mutual spaces where instrumentalism fuses diversity. They cannot raise the stakes of their political economy, if they fail to sensitise themselves to the realities of differing perspectives. In the debate of a new Europe shedding off a part of old notions is a necessity.

As a Christian who lives in the Muslim World it is “Nous Sommes L’Humanite” and not “Je Suis Charlie” that matters. 

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.