Like millions of others, I too was shocked when I learnt of the hideous attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. As one cartoonist depicted it, 12 people were murdered yesterday but 66 million French men and women were wounded as a result of this crime.
However, I wish to push the envelope a tad further this morning ...
• This attack reinforces in my mind the urgent need for Muslims today to examine their religion and introduce those jurisprudential reforms that import it into the 21st century in terms of the literalist interpretation of the Holy Quran that was revealed in the 7th century. As many Arab thinkers and writers have suggested with their own powerful pens (the Saudi thinker Mansour Nougaidan wrote about it as far back as in 2007), it is no longer adequate for Muslim leaders or thinkers merely to denounce such attacks ex post facto or apologise for them publicly. Rather, and like Christianity before them, they should address the core issues that enable such vile attacks in the name of religion. This can no longer be swept under the carpet if we are all to strive and check a growing and uneasy sense of Islamophobia creeping into our Western societies.
• Meanwhile, we in Europe also have to reflect on our own actions. Why do such large numbers of Muslims - and non-Muslims for that matter - loathe our values so much? Why would they feel vindicated in attacking us so loathsomely and then have many ordinary Muslims across the whole world - and on social media - cheering them on? We too need to examine our consciences and look more closely at our politics in so many parts of the world let alone in our own backyards and the way they seem to mobilise all those jihadists and takfiris let alone the downright professional terrorists?
• Despite the cruelty of the pain inflicted upon all freethinking men and women by such attacks, we simply must not give in. That would be the best reward to such dastardly acts. Rather, we must show resolve and refuse to allow fear and uncertainty to infest our systems and take over our reactions. We must not be brought to a stage where we lose our own innate sense of liberty that would begin to make us doubt others just because they are - or seem - different from us.
• Painful though this might well be, we also ought to recall that this is not the first attack of its sort and will probably - alas - not be the last one either. As I surfed the social media last night, I noticed that some followers had mentioned the murder in London in August 1987 of Naji al-Ali, a Palestinian cartoonist, noted for the political criticism of the Arab regimes and Israel. His famous 10-year old character, Handhala, depicted the collective plight of Palestinian refugees. Also comes to my mind today Ali Farzat, the famous Syrian cartoonist, who was abducted in Damascus, beaten up almost to death and ended up with his fingers broken, simply for allowing his pen to challenge the Syrian regime. Nor do I forget the attacks on Danish and other European diplomatic missions, on churches or Christians, and the international boycott as a result of the cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in the Jyllands-Posten in Denmark.
• Finally, as a friend from Glendale in California poignantly pointed out to me this morning, the actor Mark Ruffalo had summed it up well when commenting that, 'a free press is our greatest weapon against tyranny, at home and abroad.'
I am not a politician and so cannot engage in grandiose statements. But I work with the Churches and so find the irony delicious enough to end this short and introspective reflection by quoting Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher who was also famous for his wit and his strong advocacy of the freedom of religion as well as the separation of church and state. In one of his more famous statements, he emphasised, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."