On October 16, Samuel Paty, a history teacher, was beheaded by a Muslim man in Paris, France, over his use of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on the freedom of speech. On October 29, three church goers were also stabbed to death by a Tunisian man in Nice. These attacks have elicited a sharp response from the French President Emmanuel Macron who criticized not just the perpetrators, but Islam as a whole. Macron said that Islam is in a crisis around the world and also declared war on what he calls “Islamist separatism” in France. Macron also defended the rights of those who wish to satirize the Prophet. This incident is emblematic of the rising tensions between French secularism and multiculturalism. In an attempt to further understand the French ‘laïcité’, Shrishti Agrawal explores the historical context within which it was conceived and also comments on its contemporary relevance.
The comments by President Macron have been received with widespread criticism by leaders of Muslim majority countries like Turkey and Pakistan. Turkish President Erdogan also went far enough to question Macron’s mental health. Amidst the outrage, the Indian External Affairs Ministry came in defense of France and Macron, condemning both the terrorist attacks and the use of unacceptable language against the President. Many Indians also supported Macron on Twitter as #IStandWithFrance trended. Although these tweets supported the upholding of the freedom of speech and the denouncing of terrorism, it is hard to not read them as coded Islamophobia.
A quick look at India’s record on freedom of speech and violence renders the support hypocritical. Indian artist, M. F. Husain was famously forced to go into exile for his depictions of Indian goddesses in the nude. Statements denouncing violence were absent when M. M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh were killed for hurting Hindu sentiments. There have been multiple instances of mob lynchings over suspected beef consumption. Journalists and activists like Prashant Kanojia, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are imprisoned for criticising the government. Recently, the Netflix series “A Suitable Boy” also came under attack for depicting an interfaith relationship.
As Macron prepares to present a plan for Muslim integration to the French parliament, the BJP is also set to introduce Islamophobic laws. Various BJP ruled states in India have vowed to create strict laws against “love jihad”, an alleged tactic used by Muslim men to convert Hindu women by marriage. Professor P. V. Barua, in his article, asks whether such a law is possible.
In a context where globalisation is fuelling religious polarisation, the UAE might be an exception. Karantaj Singh in his article on the recent changes in UAE’s family law, explores how a predominantly Muslim nation, is updating its family laws in response to its increasingly globalised and diverse society.
This issue is our attempt to document a few ways in which we can analyse the events happening around us. Hopefully it encourages our readers to reflect and assess for themselves what the world needs working on.
– Nirvik Thapa, Pravish Agnihotri and Samyukta Prabhu