By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam
24 January 2012
Salman Rushdie was not allowed to speak to the litterateurs, and their fans gathered at Jaipur literature festival even through a video link today. This is a shame for our country and even more so for our community. Shame for our country because we do not have the resources or the will to protect a literary festival, the best of its kind in the world, from gangsters and Mafiosi and their threats of violence. Shame for our community because we have religious thugs among us who would threaten an innocuous event just because an author who is supposed to have blasphemed our prophet – something we keep doing every day, every minute, routinely, without even realising it, by just being the kind of corrupt people we are, by defying God and giving Islam a bad name through our misconduct. The event was going to be harmless because Salman Rushdie was not going to raise any controversial issue, speak about or read from The Satanic Verses.
It is unfortunate that politicians and media treat as our leaders intellectually-challenged bullies who are, unable to read and appreciate literature or arts. One such bully was asked at the Festival why did he not challenge Rushdie to an intellectual debate on the Jaipur platform. This was actually a question he could not possibly have an answer for. If this person were capable of appreciating the beauty and majesty of Rushdie’s prose, he won’t be there threatening the organisers with violence, though, of course, he did that in a very peaceful manner and language, as all Mafia dons do.
At a panel discussion at Jaipur Festival following the announcement of Rushdie’s video link too not being allowed, Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal asked the Maulvi: “Can anything that any one can say might even begin to dent the glory and beauty of Islam?” Is Allah threatened by even a virtual presence of Salman Rushdie, asked Tehelka’s Shoma Chaudhury, who was moderating the discussion, when the bearded bully could not understand Tejpal’s question. Of course, he could not possibly have had any answer.
NDTV group editor Barkha Dutta said the decision of the police to not allow even a video link was a gross disservice to the Muslim community as she thought the people creating this problem were a lunatic fringe and the vast majority of the Muslim community was not with this threat of violence. Later on talking to Barkha Dutta in an NDTV interview, Salman Rushdie too agreed. He said: “Exactly, I would have said that the vast majority of Indian Muslims really, frankly, don’t give a damn whether I come and go. They have more pressing problems.” And yet the only person the media can find to represent the liberal Muslim voice is the ubiquitous and genuinely liberal poet Jawed Akhtar, who clarified he was not a secret atheist, and one or two other such intellectuals.
NDTV tried to find someone else to articulate the liberal view from the vast masses of Indian Muslims, who are supposedly not illiberal. It came up with a theatre personality who came up with the defence of God-knows-what, with the remark: “Salman Rushdie is a boring writer; I could not go beyond one chapter of his celebrated Midnight’s Children, so he should be …” I couldn’t quite understand if he wanted Rushdie banned because he was boring or not banned because he was too boring any way. This liberal Muslim, of course, did not know that he was commenting on his own intellectual challenges rather than on Rushdie’s boringness.
Does this mean Indian Muslims are an illiberal community? If one were to consider the Muslim Press as a measure, then certainly one could say without fear of contradiction that there are hardly any liberals in the community. The few there are have been bullied into silence. Too scared to speak out. Mullahs, Maulvis and Maulanas, with or without beards, dominate the Muslim media, perpetually concocting conspiracy theories of various sorts.
But liberalism is not the issue. Not many among Muslims would even know what it means to be liberal. The main problem is lack of education. We are not an educated, even a literate community. Illiteracy, the world should realise, is the biggest weapon of mass destruction. Authorities are happy to be bullied and blackmailed and sort out their short term administrative problems. Every time they do so, they think they have solved their problem and moved on. But a long term problem is building up. A time bomb they are leaving unattended. It’s not without reason that the same religious gangsters and bullies who stopped Salman Rushdie from coming to the country of his origin are opposing tooth and nail the Right to Education (RTE) for Muslim children. They know they would be able to maintain their hegemony over the community, keep them involved in non-issues like Salman Rushdie’s video link presence, only as long as they are not educated. It is not just a coincidence that among the scores of agitated Indian people the media interviewed after the video link fiasco not one was a Muslim. Had there been Muslims present in that troubled crowd, the media would have singled them out to know their views and broadcast their concerns.
Salman Rushdie is not banned in this country, his book is. So why should he not be able to come, even virtually, and talk to us. But how can you make an illiterate community and the religious Mafiosi understand the difference?
Jawed Akhtar asked the bearded bully from Jamaat-e-Islami, how come Muslim women can be divorced in one sitting through a triple talaq in India, an ignominy that they do not have to face even in Pakistan or Bangladesh. It’s not for Jamaat-e-Islami, however, to answer this question. They have a stake in keeping women in bondage. That is their religion. It is indeed for the government to answer Jawed Akhtar’s question. Why do our governments give in so easily to bullies, whether from the Hindu right or Muslim right. The founding fathers of our republic bequeathed us a constitution that sets a common civil code as one of our goals. Admittedly a common civil code is a difficult proposition for India, given the scores of civil codes that function simultaneously and would be difficult to be harmonised. But what is stopping us from adopting the Muslim Personal laws that function in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Obviously the government cannot stand up to the religious bullies who use the validity of triple talaq in one sitting as a means in many cases to rape women in the name of halala.
I hope the government and the media do not allow anyone to say they are hurt by a book unless they can prove they have read the book and indeed are capable of appreciating literary books, even if they can read them. At any rate people should not be invited to speak about a book unless they can prove they have read it and are capable of understanding it. One of the two people invited by the electronic media most frequently to represent us is a chartered accountant and the other a lawyer. I should not be advising lawyers and chartered accountants how to run their law firms and accountancy businesses. Similarly they should not be advising me and other lovers of literature what to read and what not to read and what to make of a certain book. How on earth you can be offended by a book if you have not read it. If you don’t have strong enough faith in your religion or in your sect’s interpretation of your religion, don’t read books on religion written by people not belonging to your sect. Fiction in any case is not a book on religion. But you have to be an educated person to see the difference.