|Members of Islamic organisations holding a protest against the film “Innocence of Muslims” on Anna Salai in Chennai – The Hindu
5. Protests against “Innocence of Muslims” in India.
This is a current issue which has brought to fore front questions of censorship and limits of freedom of speech. After having seen the unremarkable piece which exemplifies the essence of lack of talent and waste of time and after witnessing the resulting riots which puts civilised women and men to shame I have made substantive changes in my views on what freedom of speech constitutes. Freedom of speech is as much as the phrase implies. It is the freedom to tell any bullshit and yet not be persecuted for it. In fact, I would so far go and say that even defamation and misinformation is allowed in the name of freedom of speech. What is important is the real impact this free speech has on the psyche of the general public. An offensive portrait, a blasphemous book, a distasteful movie, a baseless accusation – how serious an impact these have on a concerned community’s / individuals’ lives and on those who surround them determines the limits of freedom of speech. And only that limits the freedom of speech and nothing else, nothing should. An idea is only as credible as its source is.
Hence if someone influential, personality say the Prime Minister of the Republic of India, declares that all Muslims are fundamentalists then we have got a problem at hand, since the PM is the most important person in India, at least it used to be like that, and the idea he or she espouses will have a definitive impact. If Salman Rushdie has said something blasphemous according to Ayatollah Khomeini and in turn declared so by several little Khomeinis of the world, what is to be examined is how far an impact his work is going to have on Muslims and how far the perception about Muslims is going to change in the eyes of a non-Muslim. Are Muslims going to be looked down upon because Rushdie wrote what he wrote in his book? Rushdie’s should have been an old issue which ought to have been buried. But thanks to the secular leaders in and around the world we see the issue rising up every now and then, there by providing arena for these very leaders to prove their secular credentials. It is a goose that lays golden eggs and this time over the owner is not dumb enough to kill it at one go. It is in this context that Innocence of Muslim is to be examined. Is the average Muslim going to be denied his or her right to live freely with dignity and honour because a nameless faceless person made a tiresomely boring movie? Unlike Rushdie’s book which was popular in literary circles, the movie was and still is not a critical or commercial success. The gentlest of criticisms describe it as a painfully mind numbing experience while, of course, the harshest critics assassinate human beings with missiles.
- Protest in Tamil Nadu
For Muslims to display acts of such feigned sense of insult was a first in Tamil Nadu where religions have been coexisting peacefully. We witnessed a 5 day long protest in Chennai against USA at its Consulate in the city which included 2000 men representing 23 different Muslim groups. Similar protests were organised in Trichy Tirunelveli, Ooty and other parts of the state also. These peaceful protests involved pelting of stones, breaking of CCTVs, damaging buses, blockading railway routes and similar extra-curricular activities. Here also, as in the case of Ghaziabad violence, the police reported how the crowd suddenly swell to thousands of numbers in a few minutes. The claim of each such protest rally is to show the “strength of Muslim community”. In other words, these protests were nothing but futile show of muscle flexing there by affecting the day to day lives of people, for example the visa process in US consulate. What is ironical is how the leaders of these very people sent off their children to study in all fancy locations in USA, Germany and UK. That budding terrorists were nabbed from the south only a while ago and that only a few days ago an alleged ISI module in south India was busted with the arrest of Thamim Ansari, and that exactly in the same time period, protests of these kinds which have not been witnessed till date in Tamil Nadu are being displayed, raises serious questions as to how sincere these alleged show of strength is, and if there is not some sinister motive behind such sudden spurt of non-existent sentiments getting hurt enough to cause injuries to 19 police men, to bring cities and towns to a halt and subsequently causing transfer of a hapless IPS officer from Chennai.
The fact that these nth wave of radicalised protests happened immediately after the passionate rallies by these very same men who conducted “peaceful” protests in solidarity with the Muslim “victims” of Assam and Myanmar reaffirms the doubt that these are people who are in the lookout for anything which will allow them to get offended and who later on seek solidarity for imaginary victimhood and blasphemy. It is like deliberately going and smelling a pair of foul socks in a home two blocks away and complaining to the owner of the socks that he had intentionally kept the foul smelling sock there so that the offended person would go there and smell it. Nor has it got any logic, neither has any one the guts to infuse logic into it.
If any Hindu complaints about Muslims being so touchy about the issue, the first counter is about how M F Husain the celebrated artist, “the jewel of India in the world of paintings”, had to suffer at the hands of extremists like RSS and VHP and BJP just because they found his depiction of the Indian gods to be offensive. But is it only as much as it looks like on the surface? Does that mean any one who offended the Indian gods were banished from India? Why it is then that Zakir Naik proudly displayed a poster in Facebook asking Hindus to prove Ganesha to be a god and yet none of the ambassadors from any Muslim nation to India was killed? Why is it that year after year the great benevolent asura king of Kerala, Mahabali, is depicted as a pot bellied bumbling uncle next door and still no one even raises a finger against it? Why is it that there is a constant insinuation about Babas and Swamis and Matas being fraudsters and yet there is no casualty? Why are secular politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav who proclaim “These babas are the real terrorists” still survive to tell the tale? So what is so horrifyingly special about M F Husain’s painting which irritated the Hindus, who generally are not so touchy about their own religion, to the point of asking for a ban on the secular artist and his secular paintings?
Fact of the matter is that people disliked the patronisation of M F Husain’s offensive paintings than the paintings themselves. You cannot have selective freedom of speech for different sets of people. It is disgusting and akin to prostituting your soul if you do so. You can’t just sit there and lecture the majority of the public that, “Look here people; this is a very important painting by a very very important artist from a minority community. Hence you must bear with it. We will celebrate it to be a masterpiece, will call it as an unparalleled work, will counter you by saying that there are sculptures in Konark temple which are way more vulgar than what our celebrated artist from the minority community has painted, will allege that Kamasutra and Hinduism are one and the same, and not only that we will repeat this in every news paper articles, every editorial, every TV interviews, every political rallies, and will repeat it until people believe this to be true, but yet you should not utter a word because freedom of speech is more important than anything else.” You just cannot do that and now keep quiet and make your silence credible with arguments about the necessity for a limit to freedom of speech just because “a particular community” is too touchy about criticism, because some XYZ religion is not ready for scrutiny by outsiders. Things do not happen this way usually. It was this tendency which demanded provocation from the majority of the Indians which resulted in such a drastic incident where in Husain was sent de-facto in exile.
But unlike the paintings, a majority had not known and still many do not know the contents of Rushdie’s book, an overwhelmingly large percentage of population from the non-Muslims find the movie Innocence of Muslims offensive, no one has supported the views espoused by it, nor has any one hailed it to be a masterpiece. It will not take more than a day for an informed critic to dissect the movie scene by scene and quote from Quran to substantiate a large chunk of what has been depicted in the movie. No one did that only because the OH-I-AM-SO-TOUCHY Muslim leadership were up in arms and people were rational enough not to add fire to the incident. On the contrary, everyone was unanimous in their condemnation. The movie was not declared a must – watch, it was not listed in any top 10 lists (assuming the lists were not about controversies), the movie was not given any positive publicity anywhere by any credible source in the entire wide world. And yet, in spite of all this solidarity and support provided by the unaffected men and women to the so-called affected group, Muslim leaders were already lining up in UN demanding that anything which offends religions should be made a crime. In spite of all this, there was staunch silence from champions of free speech; we heard sermons about what constitute free speech and what does not. Even the United States of America, a country which very dearly holds its prestige, which treats every attack on them in the harshest possible manner, faltered. The President of the United States of America began his response to the tragic murder of the US Ambassador to Libya with an apology. As a person who believes in free speech, this shook my belief on what this world has come to. A country like theirs, which supposedly is the “Mecca” of free speech, has been reduced to a level, where instead of condemning such acts of incurable madness, the first thing the leader of that nation utters is an apology. Is offending a religion a greater crime than taking away the life which has been supposedly given to us by the very same God / Allah?
Written on 2nd October 2012
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