The right to critique and the right to renounce

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo happened on Wednesday. Armed gunmen killed 12 people, including the editors of the satirical weekly newspaper, because their religious sensibilities were offended. Because protecting an ideology is more important than human life. The satirical newspaper was not just anti-Islam, it used humour to criticize other ideologies as well.

There is one and only one response to such an act: that it was a horrific crime, the perpetrators of which should be brought to justice. That's it, nothing more. There must not be a 'but' attached to that statement.

In Pakistan too, a man was killed yesterday because two years ago someone thought he had committed blasphemy. He was released from jail a few days ago and was subsequently taken from his house and shot. Because if the guardians of the law of the land will not kill him, the self-proclaimed guardians of Islam will happily take on that responsibility.

As human beings there is no way anyone should be able to justify such atrocities. Freedom of expression is a universal human right. Take offense if you must, that is your right. The reaction however must never be murder, nor should it be apologia for murder. Your faith should be strong enough for you to not be bothered with a cartoon. Your outrage should be better directed at forced marriages, FGM, violence against other sects and violence against homosexuals and transgender people.

In Pakistan not only is the blasphemy code an instrument of punishment and revenge, apostasy and hence atheism is equally punishable, often by death. In the last few days an atheist was threatened by a "reformist" over a disagreement. The threat was to expose the atheist's name in a blog, which would have definitely put his life in danger.

Another atheist actually got death threats for blasphemy, with special pages being made on Facebook to spread vile messages.

So, on the one hand Muslims in Pakistan (and elsewhere) cannot tolerate critique and satire, and on the other hand, they also feel threatened when someone abandons their personal religious beliefs. Why such insecurity and oversensitivity? Critique of any ideology, whether political or religious is what makes the human race progress. It is because of such critique that other religions have long abandoned persecuting and killing those who differ from them. It is due to humour such as that shown in Charlie Hebdo that we do not see the slaughter of 'unbelievers' by other religions anymore.

Pakistan has massive human rights issues regarding sects, minorities, women, transgender people and others. People are killed just for believing in a different prophet or imam, so I am sure a question I will be asked is "why worry about the nonbelievers; the atheists?"

Well why not? Someone has to speak for them. They live in fear and cannot reveal their lack of belief. Their lives and their freedoms are equally important. It is critical that we accept that people have a right to criticize and make fun of things we hold dear; that people can change their minds and as adults get rid of the indoctrinations of their childhood.

It is important for Muslims as well as the rest of the world to realize that if criticism of Islam is not allowed, we will continue to see such acts of terror. If people are forced to go through rituals they no longer believe in, Muslims will not become part of the modern world. And most importantly, the denial that this had nothing to do with Islam, and the tagline that the killers could never be Muslims, must be abandoned.

For me the right to critique/satirize and the right to renounce are the same. They both point out the radicalism and the anti-human aspects of fundamentalism. They both must be cherished and promoted if Muslims globally, and especially in Pakistan, want to contribute intelligently to a progressive, modern and humane world.

The most extreme act in the name of the religion of peace should be peace and not murder. Therefore, learn to say a friendly goodbye to those who abandon their beliefs, learn to accept criticism and most importantly learn to take a joke!

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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