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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Of fanatic 'liberals', free speech flag-bearers, false journalism and Indian Muslims' restraint during Jaipur Literary Festival

1. Firstly, not a single person among India's nearly 200 million Muslims had issued any threat in case Salman Rushdie arrived here but a section of media portrayed it as if Muslims were hounding him and ready to teach him a lesson.

2. Just Deoband and one or two other groups had urged the government that he shouldn't be allowed to enter India. This is a pure democratic right, a demand.

Forget fatwas, no organisation had issued any warning or hinted of violent protest. Even government didn't say that it will stop him from coming here. A Muslim minister, Salman Khurshid, had gone ahead to say that it was Rushdie's legal right and he was a PIO and couldn't be stopped.

3. How much more responsible the community could be? But the blame is being put on Muslims and they are being termed as fundamentalists who are accused of harping over an issue even after decades.

Rushdie didn't come claiming certain underworld threat. He later accepted that he had been misled. Now who misled him, it remains unclear. He blames government but doesn't name any agency or person. Isn't it his failure that he didn't turn up. However, with the Congress-led UPA in power, the 'appeasement' theory has also been floated to defame Muslims.

4. After he didn't come to Jaipur, self-styled flag-bearers of free speech began reading excerpts from the banned book as a mark of protest. Even after this provocative act, much to TV channels' chagrin, no Muslim burnt any effigies or held any demonstration, which is also our democratic right. Just like free speech, these democratic rights should be protected as well.

5. If Jamat-e-Islami activist or any other worker said that he will oppose Rushdie, journalists with intellectual pretensions grill him asking 'how you will oppose'. In his response that 'it will peaceful opposition', the  interviewer goes ahead to ask, 'have you read the book', 'why you oppose it'. Of course, when you call Verses 'Satanic', we feel hurt, and if we simply say, 'we're hurt', you want to say, 'why you are hurt?'.

6. It was not courageous on part of Amitava Kumar, Kunzru and others to read the SV passages. If the writers had courage they should have stayed back and [possibly risked arrest]. That would have added to their reputation perhaps but they ran away. At least on this count one can recall Taslima Nasreen, who was threatened and attacked but still had the courage to stay in India for long.

Still, a section of pseudo-intellectuals have gone to absurd lengths to argue for freedom of expression. They are fighting a battle, which Rushdie backed out of. The fact is that everyone thought Muslim would protest or make an issue out of it but that didn't happen.

7. It suits their perception--either news channels or websites that publish false stories. They all were let down, so they joined the fake intellectual Jehad and tried to create an issue. There were regular reports for days that Rushdie had threat.

Who had issued the threat? Of course, there was none. Little opposition perhaps but that too not on street. And do you want to take away our democratic rights that we can't even say that 'we oppose him', almost a Nazi vision of liberty.

The fact remains that majority of this country remains moderate in terms of inter-religious issues. We won't support if they had ever tried to draw Husain's paintings again to express their solidarity with the late painter. We don't support reading the excerpts now. But we don't even create a scene after you read them out. This is our country, if we feel hurt, we will express it. That's all.

8. Sorry, I can't be liberal enough as per your wishes or your standards. In a foreign country you may burn your flag but this is not how we perceive freedom in India. I can't have gods [or deities] pictures on shoe soles or verses called as Satanic. I am not that sort of liberal.

As the ongoing issue over an Indian couple's children taken away by authorities in Norway because they fed them with their hands, suggests, there are different sets of standards--[cultural] as well as free speech]--in India and Europe.

Some of our self-styled 'intellectual' writers who still have inferiority complex fail to appreciate our diversity and freedom and get a bit too obsequious and servile when it comes to foreigners. For them Rushdie too is almost a foreigner. Thus they turn apologetic about the vast masses being 'poor', 'less liberal' et al.

9. We can't be Europe overnight. If you feel as an urbanised upper middle class Indian, you have the right to look contemptuously towards the rest, this is also bigotry. Amitava Kumar, did you utter a word when journalist David Barsamian was evicted from India?

Yes, just months back Barsamian was deported. Where were you Mr Kunzru when Husain's house was attacked and his galleries ransacked. Ruchir Joshi, whom I hadn't heard of this 'author' till recently, and who is now defending free speech in studios, wasn't seen when James Laine's book was banned by BJP-led NDA government. Later the ban was revoked.

10. Mercifully, Muslims don't have any Bajrang Dal, VHP, Shiv Sena or even Ram Sene to go to a venue with 'lathis'. I am sure, if a Muslims had even gone and raised a slogan during the course of festival, he would have been termed as a terrorist.

The writers--Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru and two others--Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi,  who tried to suck up to Rushdie without any real threat to freedom of expression or censorship were simply playing to gallery at the fest. But it was no cause. Rushdie hadn't arrived and they also didn't dare to stay back.

11. Why these writers all these years never thought about a legal battle to get the ban on Satanic Verses upturned in India. They are liberals but the arm-chair liberals who would simply enjoy celebrity status just like film stars who can't take to streets or fight for cause, and vanish if their is a slight chance that they might face discomforting situation.

12. Freedom of expression comes with enormous responsibility. In fact, every freedom. As a person tweeted, 'You hurt a billion and you want freedom of expression but if any of those hurt by you air grievance, their freedom of expression is bigotry'.

Jaipur has over half-a-million Muslims. In the season of throwing shoes, none of them even held a demonstration or protest. Because the section that is pompous enough to consider themselves as liberal and the rest of Indians as 'traditional' or 'non-progressives', don't know an iota about India or its culture.

The vast millions in India are not intellectual bigots like you. That's why this multi-cultural nation has survived despite conflicts. Rushdie's visit was a non-issue. As an Indian Muslim, I had no interest at all. But again it was turned into a 'minority issue'.

France is secular and liberal to an extent that a Sikh can't wear turban and Muslims can't wear their skullcap. In Britain, it's different. Scandinavian countries have their owns standards. The laws are markedly different in America. India can't be France or Norway.

See examples of Muslim's indifference and apathy to the issue on one hand, and on the other hand dirty journalism practiced by sections that tried to link it to UP elections. The words like 'appeasement' and 'vote bank politics' were used, even when Muslims remained silent.

Fatwa or No Fatwa, Deoband will be blamed every time
In India, even if a Hindu says 'Ram', Muslims would say Lord Rama or Ramachandra Ji as a mark of respect. Pick up any Urdu daily newspaper and you will find deities and religious heads of other faiths addressed respectfully. Similarly Hindus always use the term 'Paigambar Mohammad'. This is our culture of mutual respect.

13. After false reporting on Deoband's fatwa, Rediff again continued its unethical journalism. Read this interview with a Jamat-e-Islami leader.

They couldn't get anything sensational from Saleem Engineer and hence began the interview with a introduction, '...is national secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami....the organisation which is an offshoot of the...party whose  objective is to establish Islamic rule in Pakistan and enforce Shariah'.

14. How shrewd and how subtle! Rediff is not alone. Many TV channels and their loud anchors did the same for TRP, as it made news. Newspapers gave similar headlines. On one hand, Muslims didn't protest, uttered no irresponsible word. On the other hand, they are still being branded as 'fanatics' and 'fundamentalists'.

15. I think I have made myself clear. I oppose MF Husain's nude painting and also the attack on galleries featuring his paintings or his house. I oppose Rushdie's offensive writings and also condemn if someone threatens him. Indian Muslims have shown remarkable restraint in dealing with this controversy.

Despite the TV channels, 'intellectuals' and 'liberals' trying their best to make an issue out of it, the community remained largely silent and avoided taking to streets. I am a moderate Indian and I refuse to be judged by your fake standards of liberty or freedom.