Salman Rushdie is right.
Those who perpetrated today’s brutal attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo may perhaps have thought that they were acting to defend Islam from gratuitous insult. However, in practice, they were defending a narrow-minded interpretation of religion that is well-nigh suffocating much of the Muslim world.
Everyone must have the right to satirise religions and religious figures – without exception. And that includes Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The freedom that makes it a pre-requisite to be allowed to satirise others is the very same freedom that protects fearless scientific inquiry and progress. It is the very same freedom that acts as a painful thorn in the backside of dictators and autocrats and two-faced politicians everywhere.
Now it could well be that today’s attackers – who are still on the loose and have not been captured at the time of writing – wanted to further inflame tensions in France and elsewhere with a view to increasing the polarisation and suspicion between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Last year, the British killers of the soldier Lee Rigby openly proclaimed how they wanted “to start a war in London tonight.” Fortunately, they failed in their ignominious aim and are currently cooling their heels in prison.
Just this week we have seen 18,000 people turn out for an anti-Muslim rally in Dresden, Germany. Today’s attack is a gift for such xenophobes.
Ultimately, freedom is very much in the interests of Islam and those Muslims who crave genuine progress.
The price of that freedom is that some people may sometimes say things you do not like and will find offensive. It is in reality a very small price to pay.