Monday, January 12, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo Attack: Are We Are Asking the Wrong Questions?

In the past few days, I've been observing the reactions on the ground in Egypt about the Charlie Hebdo attack. And I found it shocking and disturbing how very few people are asking the right questions. The ongoing debates seem to be all about whether one should tweet #JeSuisCharlie , #JesuisAhmed, or both; whether silence is an acceptable response; whether the outrage should be mainly directed at the cartoonists who didn't  respect our religion and thus supposedly endangered their own lives, or at religious institutions that are not combating extremism. It is all about blame allocation and haughty holier-than-thou attitudes across the board. Very little self-reflection is going on and very little awareness of the gravity of the rampant fundamentalism in our culture, its repercussions on us-- and the world-- for hundreds of years to come.

I see news like this popping up and very few people are actually paying attention and I wonder to what extent does most of society condone things like this:
Raif Badawi was sentenced to  10 years in prison, a 1 million Saudi Riyals and a 1,000 lashes. His cybercrime? Insulting Islam by calling for open debate about its interpretations and starting the website Free Saudi Liberals. What is even more astounding in this tale is that Raif’s lawyer, prominent human rights activist Waleed Abu Al-Khair, was also sentenced to 15 years in jail for “inciting public opinion” and undermining the regime.

And let’s not forget the two women facing "terrorism" charges in Saudi Arabia for the heinous terror-spreading crime of driving a motor vehicle. Public response was condemnation then "business as usual" for most and a thinly concealed desire for a women ban on driving in Egypt too.

One may be tempted to say that this is Saudi Arabia and that's what Saudis do but we, in progressive Egypt, are as freedom-loving as they come. Well, news like the three-year sentence Karim Al-Banna received for announcing that he is an atheist prove such optimism to be a fallacy.
Egypt Student Gets 3 Year Jail Term for Atheism
The cherry of the top of this news tour is president Sissi's condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo attack and his call to global leaders to join forces in fighting terrorism and closing down Takfiri groups' websites and portals. Takfiri, linguistically, is the 'ex-communicator', or one who declare others 'infidels.' If the world was to heed Mr. Sissi's call then they should shut down entire countries, Egypt included!
President Sissi calls to fight terrorism and close down Takfiri group websites

There is actually "Takfiri" residing in each and everyone who doesn't believe in freedom of worship, human rights and freedom of expression. And in our corner of the world, these Takfiris are state-sponsored. Heck, the state does its own Takfir. The state thinks it can maintain monopoly on Takfir. But the truth is it can't, these ideas spread like a malignant cancer infesting and infecting the whole culture. It turns most Middle Easterners / Muslims into bigoted, intolerant, freedom-hating people.

The current processes by which religion is handed down and spoon fed to the young is setting them up to be Takfiris-in-the making. They may then become recruited by the likes of ISIS, el Qaeda, or whatever forsaken bloodthirsty terrorist cell offers the severely disturbed ones a home and tribe to belong to.  I find the inability of Muslims worldwide to stop and self-reflect on what might be our contribution to the problem staggering. After all, God explicitly tells us that personal responsibility is the key to change, that all change starts with personal change :"God alters not what has befallen a folk until they alter what is within themselves" Ra'd verse 11. So perhaps the question is not whether or not you are Charlie, but the real question is how is the little Takfiri inside you feeding the circle of violence that is consuming us all.

If you decide you are not Charlie,that is ok. But the question remains: will you accept me when I say that #IamCharlie, and #IamAhmed, and also Loujain and Maysa and Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu Alkhair and Karim Al Banna? Or will you, like Mr. Sissi's judiciary, punish me? If you ask me, a Takfiri is as Takfiri does. We are treading in murky dangerous waters with head-chopping militants roaming in our region, on our streets, social media and our mosques and churches too. Can we really afford forfeiting personal responsibility and duty? I think not!

The debate is not whether you are Charlie or not Charlie, the debate is really whether you recognize how your outdated value system, culture, and your government's backwards policies and practices contribute to the problem.

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