12/01/2015 05:13 GMT | Updated 13/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Time to Pay Religion the Disrespect It Deserves

Just because Jesus walked on water almost 2,000 years ago or Mohammed flew on a horse almost 1,500 years ago does not make their stories any more deserving of respect than the story of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Just because a story is centuries old and believed by billions doesn't mean that it should be afforded any more respect than a story days old and believed by barely anyone. The journalists at Charlie Hedbo knew this, and they expressed it so. Their deaths are not only testimony to their bravery but to the absurdity of the respect still paid to religion.

Religion may have been undermined in the Western world in recent decades, particularly in Western Europe, but it's still, despite the brave efforts of Charlie Hedbo, viewed with far too much respect, largely because it's still viewed as something it's not. Religion is not the same as race, gender or sexual orientation, it's a choice, something people choose to be. Criticising religion or being against is not, in any way, tantamount or equivalent to being racist, sexist or homophobic. Unfortunately many people, influence by a media spinning a false narrative, don't see it as so, viewing any criticism of religion, whether it be a joke about Jesus or a scholarly criticism of the Koran, as tantamount or equivalent to racism, sexism etc, thus affording religion an undue respect.

This undue respect that people afford people's religion has been in large part due to it been wrapped up with something else, namely national identity, which is always, always a terrible thing. In the Balkans to be Catholic is to be a Croat, Orthodox a Serb, and Muslim a Bosnian. In Northern Ireland being Catholic is to be a Nationalist, to be Protestant a Unionist. In the Balkans and Northern Ireland, much of the media, those responsible for spinning the public narrative, only perpetuated these terrible conflations (conflations responsible for thousands of deaths). And they're still doing it.

Across Europe in recent years being a Muslim has been conflated with being Asian or Arabic. Islamaphobia is now a byword for racism against Asians and Arabs, it shouldn't be. This conflation of Islam and race, perpetuated by both the left and right for their own ends, has created an absurd situation, particularly in Britain, where criticism of Islam is seen as criticism of Asians and Arabs, rendering Islam with an undue respect (and fear) and making any reasonable criticism of it almost impossible.

Charlie Hedbo didn't afford Islam any more respect than they did Christianity, Judaism or any other religion. Unlike so many others in the media they did not conflate. They, as they were right to do so, viewed religion as fair game, as it should be and as it should always be.

Whether someone lives in France or any other liberal democracy, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew etc, what they must accept is that while their right to believe in a religion should be respected, their religion, including its books, its rituals and most importantly its prophets have no right to be respected by others. All religions, new and old, should be subject to the same disrespect that Charlie Hedbo so boldly and bravely paid them. As Salman Rushdie, a man who knows a thing or two about this subject, said religion deserves our 'fearless disrespect'. Long may such disrespect, whether it be in Charlie Hedbo or elsewhere, continue.