The beheading of the Parisian school teacher Samuel Paty and subsequent stabbing to death of three churchgoers last month are stark reminders that freedom of speech is still very much at peril. From Turkey to Bangladesh, reactionary elements in the Muslim world have seized upon the opportunity to make the most out of the Muhammad cartoons controversy. In their attempts to earn cheap political scores, authoritarian leaders like Mahathir Bin Mohamad and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are fanning the flames of the outrage and preparing the grounds for further terrorist attacks in the heartland of Europe. India’s Hindu-nationalist leader Narendra Modi has expressed solidarity for the French Republic — hardly because he is a believer in free speech, rather because it serves the purpose of his government’s anti-Muslim agenda. Even the French President Emmanuel Macron harboured no scruples about exploiting the issue to save his fading political career. Samuel Paty was posthumously awarded French Légion d’honneur. It took only three days for him to transform from a martyr of free speech to a martyr for the French Republic and its intolerant brand of secularism.
After expressing their faux outrage in the usual boilerplate language about the gruesome killings, Al Jazeera and Western pseudo-liberals are busy in equating the crime of displaying a few tasteless caricatures with that of medieval-style executions. In the meantime, around the world, it is the ordinary people who are bearing the brunt of this unmerited outpouring of emotions. In Bangladesh, a mentally challenged practising Muslim was lynched for alleged Quran desecration, and his body was later burned; minority Hindus are ending up behind bars and facing long prison sentences for reacting to Facebook posts. With religious paranoia galore, it is no wonder that people are suddenly moonlighting for the Thought Police, searching every nook and cranny of the real and virtual worlds for crimes that don’t even have any victims. This madness has to stop immediately. Prophet Muhammad’s reputation as a religious and spiritual leader is cemented in the minds of billions of Muslims and non-Muslims. The Islamist sophists who claim that a few cartoons will tarnish his reputation are fomenting the unrest to advance their own nefarious agendas. The same is true for the right-wing fanatics who are exploiting the terrorist attacks to foment anti-Muslim bigotry. Shuddhashar pays tribute to the martyrs of free-speech and extends its solidarity to those persecuted for exercising their inalienable right to speak out. We strongly urge the responsible authorities to immediately release those arrested on blasphemy charges from their inhuman ordeal.