Two men, across two two continents, were murdered for the same crime: insulting the Prophet Mohammad. But the reactions to the two murders couldn’t have been more different.
France has posthumously given its highest civilian award, the Legion d’Honneur, to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was murdered by an Islamist for showing the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to his class. Paty had first asked Muslim students to leave the classroom before showing the pictures to his students, but was beheaded all the same by an 18-year-old teen a week later. Paty’s death set off a wave of intense condemnation in France, and huge rallies were held in his support.
The opposition to the murder hadn’t been limited to a public expression of outrage. France’s President Emmanuel Macron too had boldly spoken out against the crime. “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country,” he’d said. He had denounced a trend of “Islamist separatism” that flouted French rules and seeked to create a “counter-society”, holding its own laws above all others.
There had been immediate action on the ground too. A mosque, which had highlighted Paty’s showing of the cartoons, was shut down for six months. “I asked the prefect of Seine-Saint-Denis to close the mosque of Pantin since its leader relayed the message saying that the teacher should be intimidated and published the school’s address.” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin informed a local television channel.
The reaction couldn’t have been more different for Kamlesh Tiwari. In 2015, in response to a Samajwadi Party leader calling RSS volunteers a slur, Kamlesh Tiwari had repeated the same slur for the Prophet Mohammad. There had been an instant outrage at his statement, and one lakh Muslims had protested in Muzaffarnagar and demanded the death penalty for him. Many had openly, and without fear of repercussions, demanded he be beheaded for insulting Mohammad. Tiwari was arrested and spent a year in jail, chiefly over charges of promoting religious enmity.
But the calls to the beheading came true — on 18th October 2019, Tiwari’s throat was slit by assailants, who later admitted they’d killed him for insulting the prophet.
Unlike with Samuel Paty, there had been no rallies. The Prime Minister of India had not issued a statement. There had been no condemnation even on social media. Tiwari was quickly forgotten, and India had busied itself with trying to prove its secular credentials.
France is widely thought to be amongst the most secular countries in the world — pupils aren’t even allowed to wear religious symbols in public schools — yet the nation stood together as one to denounce religious extremism. France realizes that secularism doesn’t give religions a free pass to be offended as they please, and then take the law into their own hands. France’s reaction to the Samuel Paty murder has shown that it regards its core values of secularism and free speech as not being subservient to trying to appease a minority, and its citizens, police and government are coming together to make sure such crimes don’t happen again.
India needs a similar reaction to such murders if we’re to uphold our values of democracy and secularism. Silence on such crimes is no less than complicity, and we will not be forgiven by future generations if such murders don’t even register on our national conscience. The normalization of religious violence is a slippery slope, and India needs to look at France to learn how to respond to crimes that have no place in a civilized society.