While I have to acknowledge that I am not the first to use the phrase, “I am Avijit”, when I say it, it is not a mere slogan for me. As I use this phrase, I mean real solidarity with what Dr. Avijit Roy stood for; and in one word, it is “Humanity.”
The usage of the slogan of “I am” in a large scale began shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, France, on January 7, 2015. In that horrible act, 12 people, including editors and cartoonists of the French language satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were murdered by two young extremist Muslim men. The reason behind this act was that the magazine had been publishing such cartoons of the prophet of Islam, Mohammad, that most Muslims would call “offensive.”
Much of the world was outraged by this senseless massacre, and the Twitter hashtags, #jesuischarlie and #iamcharlie became enormously popular. “Je suis Charlie” is a French phrase that translates to “I am Charlie” in English. Subsequently, a mass rally involving more than a million people was held on January 11, 2015, in Paris, where many world leaders, as diverse as the British Prime Minister, the German Chancellor, the Palestinian President, and the Turkish Prime Minister, were in attendance. The slogan, “Je suis Charlie” was used widely there as well.
Thus, “I am Charlie” became a slogan for supporting freedom of expression and speech, as opposed to for what it actually means, which is “I stand for what Charlie Hebdo (the “Weekly Charlie” in English) stood for.” To me, it was a craze, and not a well thought out expression.
I have no doubt, for example, that the Palestinian President did not support the publishing of naked cartoons of Mohammad. And my sense is that most Westerners also would not like such cartoons, which I call “bad jokes.” While I support freedom of expression and condemn the heinous crime of murdering the Charlie Hebdo staff, I would not express myself the way they expressed themselves. Nor would my taste allow me to make such cheap provocative jokes. In other words, I am not Charlie.
After the brutal murder of Dr. Avijit Roy on February 26, 2015, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by suspected Islamic hate-criminals, there were some Western media reports that compared that crime with the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The Western media coverage for Avijit has been miniscule compared to that for the Charlies. Is it due to the fact that it happened in Bangladesh, as opposed to in France? Or is it that the West is unwilling to tackle the real problem of Islamic fanaticism through demanding common sense goodness over following religion?
To me, while both were hate-crimes, committed very likely by the same kind of people, the victims in the two cases where quite different. The Charlies provoked, with no obvious intent of promoting humanity. Avijit argued with facts and logic for people to think about their senseless and flawed beliefs in religions, due to which they have been maintaining injustice and hatred between human beings. He criticized all religions; although Islam got much higher coverage due to what it is, and due to the fact that it has a lot more of blind followers. Even for the blind followers of Islam, he had no hatred. He clearly expressed that when Muslims were oppressed he was outraged, and when Muslims were happy he was happy. Obviously, criticizing people for being senseless is not the same as hating them.
From Avijit’s writings, it is clear that while he defended freedom of expression and condemned anything like the brutal murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff, he was not Charlie.
More recently, there was another “I am” rally, specifically “I am Farkhunda” rally, in many cities of the world. Farkhunda was a 27 years old religious Afghan Muslim woman, who was falsely accused by a corrupt Islamic cleric of burning the Quran. As the consequence, a Muslim mob savagely beat her to death on March 19, 2015, in Kabul.
This woman was actually an Islamic studies teacher who could recite the Quran by heart. She was no critic of Islam, and obviously totally in the opposite pole of where the Charlies of France were. Neither did she stand for what humanists like Dr. Avijit Roy stand for. She was most likely not for freedom of expression, and very likely against any kind of criticism of Islam.
So, what was the commonality of Farkhunda’s horrible death with those of the Charlie Hebdo staff and Dr. Avijit Roy? I was appalled to see the following headline of a Daily Mail news report: “Afghan woman beaten to death in the streets was murdered because she dared to speak out against superstitious mullah and NOT because she burned the Koran.”
Isn’t the Daily Mail in denial? Did the killers think that they were killing someone for speaking out against a superstitious mullah? No. They thought that they were doing their religious duty of upholding the dignity of the Quran (also spelled as Koran) by killing someone who had dishonored the Quran. Thus, the real reason for the brutality on her was burning the Quran, even when she very likely did not do it. To put it slightly differently, the real reason was the senselessness of people to think that they needed to punish people who had offended their holy book/prophet, as opposed to allowing the perceived almighty to do it. This kind of senselessness is a widespread chronic disease, the acute flare-ups of which show up through the barbaric acts of the extremists.
Doesn’t the world need to see the reality of the senselessness of Islamic fanaticism, and seriously attempt to educate these people, whose sense of reasoning is not really worth their human identity?
This article is dedicated to Avijit Roy, a remarkable free-thinker and human rights activist, and the founder of Mukto-Mona, who was recently brutally murdered in Bangladesh by suspected Islamic hate-criminals.