The words of the title are those of Boubaker el-Hakim, mentor and model of the two Kouachi brothers responsible for the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre. In an interview in Baghdad on the French radio RTL in March, 2003, the young French fanatic called on “all his friends in the 19th arrondissement of Paris to come and join the Jihad”. He said he was ready “to blow himself up … Boom, boom ! We want death, we want Paradise !”.
Some of the five million Muslims in France are saying, since the seventeen murders last week, that they are ashamed to be Muslims. Many more are saying they are afraid. Already the expected and feared backlash has involved attacks on mosques and on individuals and families. If even the government admits that surveillance of known terrorist suspects is a “Mission Impossible”, it is even more self-evident that the protection of so many innocent Muslims, like that of the hundreds of synagogues and Jewish schools in France, cannot be guaranteed in face of irrational, racist, criminal “vengeance”. The vast majority of Islamic believers disassociate themselves entirely from the murderous and suicidal fanaticism of the extremists who read the Koran and who pray five times a day as they do, claiming to share their belief that God is great and that Mahomet is His Prophet. But not a few non-Muslims question this too facile denial of parity in faith. The result is that some anti-Muslim radicals feel they are justified in following the terrorists’ example by persecuting and killing the “enemy”, identified, without nuance, as anyone who practises the Islamic religion.
There are right-wing extremists in Judaism, in Christianity and in particular in Catholicism as well. They are, in all three monotheisms, a minority, but highly vocal and disproportionately present in the media. It is absurd not to distinguish them from the moderate, “normal”, believers who would never practise or approve of fanatical extremism.
However, one must recognize that all believers in all three of these religions believe in an after-life, and hope, after this vale of tears, to enjoy the Paradise which Moses and Jesus and Mahomet promised would be God’s reward for the righteous. (It is pointless here to godologize about the fifty shades of grey in the fine print of the different dogmas.) Only Islamic fanatics, however, believe that they have the right to accelerate their own enjoyment of Paradise and its delights, including the famous 72 virgins (with or without the burka), by blowing themselves up or getting shot to pieces as they assassinate the “infidels”. They want to die, not live. Unlike Jewish and Christian martyrs they do not merely accept death as the price for remaining faith-full. They seek it, insanely believing that it is God’s will that they sacrifice their lives as they destroy those of their innocent victims.
The difference is clear. But both moderate and extremist believers of all three faiths share the same belief, the same myth, the same illusion about the existence of life after death and the supposed reward that is Paradise (whatever about the punishment that is Hell). Without the myth there would be no basis for a paradisaical pie in the sky, no reason to terminate one’s life and the possible pleasures it could still provide, in favor of imagined, non-existent ones.
It has become urgent for thinking people to challenge this central tenet of all religion. The conversion of just one fanatic, one terrorist, would mean saving the lives of many others. We cannot destroy religion; we cannot convert everyone who believes that death is the doorway to Heaven. But we can continue to try to get them to see that they have no evidence, no valid reason to believe such a patent absurdity. We can, if we have the courage, question the credulity that people of all faiths have in their so-called Sacred writings, which promise a life after death. We must continue to repeat the question : “But on what basis,for what reasons, do you claim that God is behind such a ‘revelation’ when His very existence cannot be proven ?”
Few, we know, will be troubled by the doubts we try to sow. It is so much more comfortable not to look reality, and death, in the face, and to live in a dream-world. But, as dangerous as it is, it is worth the effort, the frustration and the risk to let the light in. To do less would be unworthy of the human condition. In this sense not only France but every country is “Charlie’s Country”. Rational people everywhere should all be Charlie.