Good Sacrilege Versus Bad Sacrilege by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (APRIL 3, 2010)

The contrived controversy over Tasleema, Rushdie and Hussein refuses to die.

If one looks at our media (especially Hindi and English) one gets the impression that there are two different classes of sacrilege – one good, that needs to be defended as freedom of speech and artistic expression and the other bad, that needs to be condemned or silently allowed to be persecuted.

In the first, privileged category come the works of the Bangladeshi author Tasleema Nasreen and British national Salman Rushdie lampooning Islamic faith. There is a large number of supporters of these two people in this country vehemently justifying their right to ridicule Muslims. Virtually the entire Hindi and English media is committed to welcoming these two to India and providing asylum to Tasleema Nasreen.

Sometimes anti-Muslim groups are using them in ways that they are no always aware of. An example is the publication of Ms Nasreen’s writing in Kannada translation by a Karnataka daily last month. Clearly, in the political climate of BJP rule in the state it was meant to humiliate and provoke Muslims which would have ultimately benefited the BJP by polarising Hindus. Thankfully, that did not happen.

Later Ms Nasreen clarified that she had not given any of her writing to the Kannada daily and the publication of the writing was carried out without her knowledge. We do believe what she is saying is right. Such enthusiasm for “freedom of speech” is not about freedom of speech but for something entirely different.

Then there is the case of Mr Rushdie who is forcefully backed by a section of powerful media that also backs Narendra Modi. Even Mr Rushdie does not see any similarity of views (or anything else, for that matter) between Mr Modi and himself. One can very well guess what the ultimate agenda of this particular section of the press could be.

That Mr Modi and Mr Rushdie are made of different stuff was evident recently when the latter defended MF Hussein’s right to artistic expression at a conclave organised by one of our – major media houses. Mr Rushdie rightly identified the exile of Mr Hussein with a growing communalisation of India’s polity, its power elite and its public discourse.

It is interesting to note that like Babri Masjid, Mr Hussein got a lot of lip service, but when the crunch came there was no one to protect him, not even the mighty Indian state. He had to run away to safety and seek shelter for years in Dubai. Seeing no possibility of a peaceful return and settling down in India, Mr Hussein, who is in his late 90s, wisely thought of accepting an offer of citizenship in Qatar.

That could have settled there, but for the duplicity of the same section of media that supports Mr Rushdie and Ms Nasreen. One old worthy of India journalism (Kuldip Nayyar) pontificated in his column that Mr Hussin should not have accepted Qatari citizenship. He went on to say, “One should not leave one’s country in any situation”, or something to the effect.

Mr Nayyar should have been the last man to sermonise as he himself left “his country” to come and settle in India when Pakistan came into existence and life became difficult for Hindus in that country. The situation which forced Mr Nayyar in his 20s to run to India, forced Mr Hussein in his 90s, to run to the Gulf. Also, Mr Nayyar must be knowing hundreds of Indians who have left India to settle in the US, UK, Canada and Australia even without any threat to their life here. Did he ever told them that what they had done was wrong?

Then there is another fallacious argument being forwarded by the pro-Nasreen, pro-Rushdie anti-Hussein stalwarts. They are saying Hussein would not have painted nudes of Muslim holy figures. That argument is based on the ignorance of Islam. Painting or making statues of Muslim religious figures was never a tradition of Islam. However, in Hinduism and Christianity there is no such taboo and it has been a common practice.

On nudity, Hinduism is closer to the Greco-Roman tradition in which the beauty of human form is celebrated in art and literature. In Hinduism it is not always a matter of shame to be hidden as is evident from the world-renowned sculpture of Ajanta and Elora, to name only two of them. One of the greatest literary works of the world, Kalidas’s Abhijnana Sakuntalam, is a celebration of the beauty of human form and the divine nature of sexuality.

To conclude, the enthusiasm being show about the freedom of expression in Modi-loving media is not necessarily about freedom of expression.  

(Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam)

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