Tag Archives: islam

Willful blindness

C. P. Surendran thinks the protest over Rushdie’s aborted India visit is without merit, and that it the invite to him might even be a cunning publicity stunt on the part of the organizers of the lit. festival. He then uses the stale and irrelevant why-didn’t-the-protestors-protest-this-or-that argument to dismiss the legitimacy of the protest. Apparently, unless people who believe in freedom of expression are willing to be beaten up by Sena goons or thick-skulled members of the Hindutva brigade, they cannot earn the privilege to protest Islamic censorship. Better still, die at the hands of the (“idiot[ic]”) terrorists in Kashmir to prove your beliefs/credentials-

The actual test for literature is outside Diggy Palace, far beyond the ramparts of Jaipur Fort and DSC largesse. How about getting off the plane at Srinagar, standing in the town square and reading passages from The Satanic Verses? In the process, some idiot might cut you down with an AK-47, but what could be braver and better than dying for the words you believe in? Or better still, why not sacrifice one’s bleeding, agonised word-hungry soul for the freedom of speech in Kashmir, where if you throw a word at the State, you gets bullets in your mouth in return?

Forget all that Rushdie went through for a moment. Despite the best efforts of a now-dead Iranian lune, he is alive, for now. Theo van Gogh is not. And so many people have faced death threats and have had their lives permanently disrupted for having the temerity to “offend” Islam that glib commentary of this nature on the issue is not just regrettable, but condemnable more so because it recommends self-censorship.

All religion is based on faith in some nebulous, fictional entity. Some people believe in God-by-any-name; others swear by Batman. And offering protection to the “sentiments” of such people is not good jurisprudence, but lunacy.

Greenwald writes about the perennially stamped-upon US Fifth Amendment-

The Indictment is a classic one-side-of-the-story document; even the most mediocre lawyers can paint any picture they want when unchallenged. That’s why the government is not supposed to dole out punishments based on accusatory instruments, but only after those accusations are proved in an adversarial proceeding.

Whatever else is true, those issues should be decided upon a full trial in a court of law, not by government decree. Especially when it comes to Draconian government punishments — destroying businesses, shutting down websites, imprisoning people for life, assassinating them — what distinguishes a tyrannical society from a free one is whether the government is first required to prove guilt in a fair, adversarial proceeding. This is a precept Americans were once taught about why their country was superior, was reflexively understood, and was enshrined as the core political principle: “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” It’s simply not a principle that is believed in any longer, and therefore is not remotely observed.

Subterfuge

Nicholas Kristof attempts an undisguised defense of Islam-

The New York Times reported recently on a Pew Research Center poll in which religious people turned out to be remarkably uninformed about religion…. And atheists were among the best informed about religion.

So let me give everybody another chance. And given the uproar about Islam, I’ll focus on extremism and fundamentalism….

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

[…]

[T]he point of this little quiz is that religion is more complicated than it sometimes seems, and that we should be wary of rushing to inflammatory conclusions about any faith, especially based on cherry-picking texts.

The answer to the question: “3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.”

Which proves what, exactly? I wrote a post against such facile arguments, which conflate the incidental with the significant, in late ’08-

About not referring to terrorists by their religion – ideology, what the ‘liberal’ media and other ‘liberals’ do is indulge in semantic warfare. The statement “All Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims” is blatantly false. But that does not mean that we don’t label outfits according to their ideology – the Naxalites are called Maoists because their ideology derives from Mao; the ULFA are called separatists because their terror is based on nationhood for Assam; Sikh terrorism – the one related to Khalistan – is called that because their ideology revolved around a separate homeland for Sikhs. So, if a terror group fights under the banner of Islam, regardless of how many Muslims actually support them, not calling them Islamic or at least Islamist is dishonest and an act of deluding oneself. And if someone calls the ULFA or Maoists “Hindu terrorists” – to make a point – they basically have their head up their arse, or as the BJP would say, they are being pseudo secular, or as Benkin says, they are creating a moral equivalence that is non-existent. Before labeling someone – look at the ideology, then look at the scale.

The Hindu-ness of the LTTE or the religious affiliations of the various sides to the Irish conflict are of secondary importance; these conflicts were about ethnicity and nationalism, not religion. Which cannot be said about Islam, barring minor exceptions such as Kashmiri separatism.

Christianity and Islam are religions that were born in conflict. The former has grudgingly accepted the idea of separation of church and state; the latter hasn’t. It was, is, and will always be political unless it is seriously reformed. When Saudi Arabia becomes a secular state, one will know that the movement was a success. Till that happens, pretending that it’s only the odd Bin Laden who is perverting an innocent religion is like adopting the mentality of an ostrich. This is the mentality that results in Orwellian newspeak like “‘man-caused’ disasters.” On 9/11/01, some man-caused-disaster-causing-men caused a man-caused disaster…

PS: While tagging this post, I very nearly used “Nicholas Ostrich” before correcting it. The subconscious at work.

Points of view

Pakistan has gone crazy after the cartoon “event” and is supposedly censoring anything and everything. Two comments on a BBC news article, one very sane, the other not so much-

No. It is a wrong decision. Ban does not do anything. Are you going to ban eveything on the internet that inflames someone’s sensibilities? Stupid! If someone is inflamed and feels hurt, then do not go to that website.

and-

People should respect each other’s beliefs and exhibit tolerance. We, as muslims, hold nothing dearer than our Holy Prophet and such a disrespectful, blasphemous act would not be ignored or tolerated!

Dissonance, or is it reciprocity.

“Silence is a sanction”

Cline writing at The Rule of Reason

[The ”South Park” imbroglio] is not just about displaying images of Mohammed or offending Muslim religious sensibilities. It is about freedom of speech.

As evil as government-enforced censorship is, self-censorship is arguably a worse evil. It means that a government bureau needn’t threaten you with punishment if you refuse to wear its gag; you volunteer to fix the tape over your mouth (or your mind) yourself. The speech police are not meant for you, but rather for those incautious fools who insist on indulging in what former president Bill Clinton called “careless language” that hurts or offends. Self-muted, you are merely a neutral, blameless spectator, watching those efficient SWAT teams descend on the perpetrators and roust them from their beds, jobs, rights, and futures.

[…]

“[C]ensorship” is the wrong term to employ when judging Comedy Central‘s actions. Only a government can impose censorship on state matters (spy secrets, military matters, etc.) or on citizens to stop discussion or disclosure of the truth. Hugo Chavez shutting down private Venezuelan newspapers and radio and television stations is censorship. He employs force. Comedy Central’s executives did not employ force. They edited.

[…]

Comedy Central’s executives did not employ censorship. They exercised their right to edit. We can fault them for the reason — which may have been cowardice — but not for the action. If the cartoonists quoted in this story wish to accuse anyone of censorship, they should focus on Islam and Muslims. It is Islam that sanctions gagging, by lawsuits, by intimidation, or by direct force. And while most Muslims wouldn’t think of sticking machetes into Trey Parker or Matt Stone, they remain silent, for their creed forbids them, under pain of a similar fate, to object to that form of jihad, or because they agree with permanently silencing the blasphemers. Whether out of fear or agreement, silence is a sanction.

Wimps

That’s what they are – the Indian media. Its been three days since the “secular” communist government of West Bengal arrested (and then released on bail) the editor and publisher of “The Statesman” because of “Muslim anger,” and barring very very very few exceptions, the whole Indian media is absolutely silent – as if nothing has happened at all. 20 people barged into a bar, and the Hindu Taliban is born; 4000 people riot in Calcutta and everyone behaves as if nothing has happened. Why is the Indian media silent?

Some decent “Indian” coverage from-

Johann Hari, the man whose article made the mob go crazy for its Prophet, says he stands by his article

A religious idea is just an idea somebody had a long time ago, and claimed to have received from God. It does not have a different status to other ideas; it is not surrounded by an electric fence none of us can pass.

That’s why I wrote: “All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.”

An Indian newspaper called The Statesman – one of the oldest and most venerable dailies in the country – thought this accorded with the rich Indian tradition of secularism, and reprinted the article. That night, four thousand Islamic fundamentalists began to riot outside their offices, calling for me, the editor, and the publisher to be arrested – or worse. They brought Central Calcutta to a standstill. A typical supporter of the riots, Abdus Subhan, said he was “prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet” and I should be sent “to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol? He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech.”

Then, two days ago, the editor and publisher were indeed arrested. They have been charged – in the world’s largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech – with “deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings”. I am told I too will be arrested if I go to Calcutta.

The foreign media has covered it pretty decently (see my original post) and this is from The Telegraph (Britain)

Religious leaders – often self-appointed – are easily outraged and mobs easily incited into action that sees them torch public transport, block crucial nerve centres of already chaotic traffic systems and even bring about total city shutdowns (locally called bandhs).

But does that mean bowing before the diktats of a handful of fundamentalists at the cost of curbing free speech?

[…]

This was the first time that an editor of a respected daily was arrested for “outraging religious feelings”, which incidentally is an offence under the Indian Penal Code.

When I called The Statesman, they did not seem very keen to discuss the matter and pointed me to their and the Independent’s website.

But a former colleague at a senior editorial position of another city English daily (who wished not to be named) provided some insight. Despite “liking the logic of the article”, he admitted that his paper (with a significantly higher circulation than The Statesman’s) would not have reproduced it because it was simply “not worth getting into the trouble”. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for press freedom. But when you know the possible outcome, it’s best to be practical and avoid these situations.”

He also assured me that very few if any at all among the protesters had bothered to read the original article or were expressing anger they genuinely felt. That job was left to the religious bosses who pulled their strings. The demonstrations had only started after local Urdu papers picked up the issue and urged fellow Muslims to take action over it. The result – protests, clashes with the police and the subsequent arrests of the Statesman duo.

“Practical.” Figures. I am waiting to see what MJ Akbar’s take on the issue is – in tomorrow’s Times of India is – if he bothers to touch it. The next time an Indian newspaper or television channel editor talks about “the freedom of the press,” spit on his face.