Monday, January 18, 2016


Testing boundaries to the limit

At a recent party the hostess’ neighbour, a much coiffured woman without eyebrows, entertained the other guests for more than an hour with stories relating to various absent persons. Actually ‘entertained’ is not the word since her stories had a malignant touch and Lahore being what it is several of her targets had a friend or relative in the room. The lady on the sofa next to me sat silently through a richly embellished account of her grandfather’s supposed peccadillos. A man across the room betrayed his annoyance only by his tightly crossed arms during a distorted recounting of an incident featuring his uncle’s controversial financial policies. Another guest struck up a loud conversation with the person next to her in the midst of a story focusing on a very dear class fellow’s reputed ill-temper. All told, you had to admire the forbearance and dignity of everyone in that room; not a single person reacted beyond what was unconsciously conveyed by his or her body language all the while the neighbour spoke. Really, nobody needed to react because the people targeted by the lady’s stories were all well respected figures who had achieved great things, and their reputations were easily able to withstand one or two, even several malignant tongues.
It wasn’t until the lady started talking about the small disabled child of a missing guest that anyone betrayed a reaction. The poor hostess tried to change the subject as she had several times that evening but her neighbour continued speaking about the little child’s lopsided face and uncoordinated movements. By the time she began dwelling upon the string of saliva, that still at the age of five, dribbled from the corner of the child’s mouth and the financially ‘despicable’ condition of his parents, the guests had all left inspite of the arrival of the coffee tray, and the neighbour, having lost her audience, left soon after. Only I remained with the lady of the house, a close friend, thinking to console her. I found she didn’t need much consoling.
‘She’s a horrible woman,’ she said in a low voice. ‘Stupid and nasty. But today she hurt only herself, most of all when she started talking about that poor child.’ She shivered and sank into a chair. ‘Now I don’t need to invite her ever again and no one can accuse me of neglecting a neighbour.’
Stupid and nasty. Bête et méchant. That was Charlie Hebdo’s slogan until it was replaced by ‘I am Charlie’ after twelve people were shot dead at its Paris office in January 2015. Like my friend’s neighbour the magazine tends to be inflammatory and obnoxious. Unlike my friend’s guests though, certain people reacted violently to cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) printed by the magazine sometime ago, and they shot some of the magazine’s staff to death. Like the people targeted by the neighbour at the party that day, only much, much more than them, the towering personality and incredible achievements of the Muslim Prophet (PBUH) are not easily dented, and the respect in which he is held cannot be eroded by one or even many malicious tongues or cartoons. It would have been far better if those people had stuck to the Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings of peace and forbearance than to abandon those teachings for acts of violence that went against everything he stood for.
Charlie Hebdo’s most recent cartoons however are not just inflammatory, they are nauseating, seriously sickening. The Guardian says it quite well that ‘the French magazine may have wanted to give prejudice a kicking but it ended up giving it a platform’, although I’m not sure if Hebdo ever wanted to give prejudice a kicking either with its earlier cartoon or with these. It seems to wish only to test tolerance to the limit and gain a larger, more twisted readership.
Several weeks ago, the world was shaken and grieved to the core by a photograph showing the tiny drowned body of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, washed up on the beach. I can still hardly bear to see that picture of the little boy as he lies face down in the sand, his arms by his side, his little feet shod in their small shoes facing the viewer. It speaks more eloquently of the refugee crisis and of the misery of the dislocated families than anything anyone could say. And Charlie Hebdo’s recent cartoons feature this toddler. Each cartoon is more horrible than the other, one showing a figure representing Jesus walking on the water beside the tiny drowned body with the caption: Proof that Europe is Christian – Christians walk on water, Muslim kids drown.
If I were that child’s mother I would wish to use a gun.
Please, Charlie Hebdo, do not presume to speak for the Christian world, just as no terrorist can speak for Muslims anywhere. I know many Christians, enough to know that most Christians, like most Muslims, possess more intelligence, greater sensitivity, and infinitely more compassion that you have now or ever displayed.
The best reaction one can display to such provocation which is like the result of eating something rotten at a restaurant, is calm disdain. Hebdo reminds me forcefully of the woman at that party, and also of a python in a story that in showing off how large a prey it could swallow gulped down a cow and died of lactose intolerance. You can only say amen to that.
No violence required. Simply avoid that restaurant and ignore all arrogant snakes.

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