The two camps emerging out of the debates since the attacks in Paris seem to discuss the issue in either of the two frames - the first damns Islam and the other denounces power structures. The common thread running through both these mutually exclusive arguments is the circularity of the cause-effect or chicken-egg phenomenon.
The debate around Islam and extremism has been confusingly conflated with the debate around Islamophobia. The merger of these two separate discussions on a skewed and borrowed platform of Western secularism dilutes the seriousness of two independent concerns. So each time someone tries to raise the issue of Islamic fundamentalism after these acts of terror, the arguments are systematically sidelined through a linear narrative of Muslim victimhood. Therefore, while there is enough discussion on Islamophobia, for instance, there is almost none on Kafirophobia. This organised lopsidedness of the debate is so pronounced that even if there are attempts to prise open debates around the sharia or interpretations of the Quran, those endeavours are thwarted by ideologically motivated monolithic voices glorifying Muslim victimhood in perpetuity.
The recently concluded India Ideas Conclave 2015 in Goa, for instance, attempted to define the ambit and direction of the Islam and extremism debate in the wake of the Paris attacks through the session on "Rise of Radicalism - Future of Civilisations". However, in a day and age of increasing intellectual intolerance from the "other" side of the government, this conclave, by and large, went unnoticed by most of us. Some self-proclaimed and politically aligned media pundits categorically denied any discussion on the content of the conclave and instead merited attention to hypothetical conjectures on what the conclave could mean. Even when boundaries of coverage were pushed, sound bites from ministers made guest appearances here and there.
There are three situations that one cannot ignore while discussing the growing scourge of religious intolerance. First, most of the reported acts of terror are rooted in the manipulation of Islamic laws. Second, after an act of terror, heavy criticism of the act comes primarily from non-Muslims with an increased pitch on the need for more and more "moderate Muslim" voices. And third, Muslims across the world have suffered far greater damage to their lives and identities because of the acts of terror and their aftermath.
It takes much gumption for radically progressive Muslim intellectuals like Tarek Fatah to not just speak against their religion but also express something as blasphemous as "ban the sharia". It is our collective shame that despite the symbolic and representative gestures of outrage against acts of terror, we fail to do justice to the few moderate Muslims who choose to speak and express logically against the preposterousness of the various religious diktats. It is deplorable that the liberal intellectual space where there should be excruciating clash of arguments on religion, there is instead a systematic and systemic alienation of any dialogue around Islamic verses -their layering and wrinkling over the ages gone by.
In the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, authors Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz quote an independent survey that 40 million Muslims across the world support active jihad. It implies that the entire population of world's 31st and 32nd most populous country - Argentina or Sudan - might be seething with the agenda of blowing up the world and/or themselves in the name of one of the fastest spreading religions of human race.
No religion, in essence, teaches to kill and maim others. Historically, religion has been misused and abused by the powers that be, to suit the supremacy of one ideology over the other. These two articulations have become increasingly tautological in the recent past. In the event that a space for a liberal and scathing critique of various interpretations of the Quran is almost absent, the highly emotive and rhetorical lamentation over millions of lost lives has not achieved much - either in abetting these acts of terror or even softening the positions of the hardliners within various power structures or beyond.
The liberal sensibilities in us must warrant the actual progressive thinkers and rebels within Islam at least one concrete gesture - a free, responsive and unbiased debate platform without the haste to bracket and slot the articulators for our short-term and myopic political (most often electoral) motives.