Even before Europe had time to mourn the Charlie Hebdo killings, the Danish capital Copenhagen woke up to the sound of gunfire on Valentine’s Day. A civilian was killed and three police officers injured after gunmen opened fire at a freedom of speech event. Reports suggest that the shooters fired approximately 30 shots at the Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression event, which was attended by a famous cartoonist who drew the Prophet Mohammad as a dog. Subsequently, the suspected gunman was shot dead by police after two more people were killed in shootings at a cafe and a synagogue in Copenhagen. The attack on both the event and a synagogue were acts of unbridled terror. Like all violent reactionary attacks, the gunman sought to clamp down on liberty, freedom of expression and the basic democratic right to speak the unspeakable. The greater worry, however, is the claim made by religious extremists that they are defenders of Islam. It’s a must repeatedly be stated that it is a patently false claim, since the faith, despite its Koranic origin, is a sum total of the beliefs and practices of those who follow it. Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, only a handful think it’s fair to kill because someone has offended your deeply cherished sentiments. The shootings at Copenhagen and the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris represented an attack on the idea of free speech and expression. One must reiterate the central rationale behind free speech, which is no figure, human or divine, however sacred, is above ridicule.
The perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo killings and possibly the Copenhagen shootings, the self-proclaimed vigilantes of a faith so abused and misrepresented, had clearly expected the climate of Islamophobic backlash to intensify, so that it becomes easier for them to justify their existence. Moreover, such attacks form the underlying rationale on which the European Far Right brigade, such as UKIP in Britain, Le Pen in France, or Pegida in Germany will hang their patently racist ideologies, which range from declaring the need for a greater clamp down on ‘immigration’ to other modes of wholesale discrimination of Muslims world over under the garb of fighting terror. It is but natural that the extremists, whether of radical Islamic origin or white and brown-skinned fascists in Euro-America or India, are in a mutually symbiotic situation, where they inflame passions in an equal and opposite manner. Such attacks in Europe, however, are not just restricted to extreme Islamists. Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks, who killed 80-odd innocents, is a case in point. On the day of the attacks, Breivik electronically distributed a compendium of texts, describing a worldview encompassing Islamophobia, support for “far-right Zionism” and opposition to feminism. As extreme forces on both sides of the divide continue to accentuate the atmosphere of hate and suspicion, the space for free speech and expression continues to dwindle.