Rushdie Is Unacceptable. Deal With It!

24 Feb 2012

Syed Tausief Ausaf

While the Manmohan Singh government's recent electoral gimmick of not allowing British writer Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival may have won the UPA votes of some gullible Muslims in the coming elections in four states, the episode also brought in focus a regrettable trend in the Indian electronic media of completely ignoring religious sentiments of the country's principal minority while endlessly promoting and glorifying the author whose one-point agenda is vilification of Islam. Self-censorship was thrown out of the window in order to be seen as the champion of the freedom of expression.

Media's role in a sensible society is to report objectively without being bitten by the bug of bias. The moment channels and newspapers, websites and radio stations start taking sides completely disregarding the other side of the story, they become liabilities for right-minded people.

Last week it appeared top TV anchors were in a competition to idolize Rushdie a 'poor' and 'substandard writer' who would have remained largely unknown but for his 'Satanic' book, in the words of Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India.

Rushdie's only notable contribution to the civilization is his highly controversial novel that has brutally attacked Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his family and companions. The book that is full of filth has been the cause of several violent protests all over the world. And the unrepentant India-born author, after several successful affairs and failed marriages, still lives under police cover because of self-invited dangers to his life and limbs.

The NDTV's Group Editor Barkha Dutt and Times Now's Editor in Chief Arnab Goswami top apologists of Rushdie in India seemed more worried and anguished over the Jaipur fiasco than the writer himself. Neutrality was the last thing on Arnab's mind during his live shows on Rushdie. He began programs with a preconceived notion that protests against Rushdie were wrong. The impression his shows left was that Rushdie's right to insult is fine, but the aggrieved party is not justified in voicing its displeasure in an organized way. Arnab's refusal to listen to the popular Muslim viewpoint makes one believe that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Times Now is the Indian version of Fox.

Andn to Barkha, it seemed the darkest day in the country's history. Perfectly playing the devil's advocate, she took Rushdie live from London and started: "I can't even imagine how angry and disappointed you must be." She was almost in tears over the government's inability to guarantee Rushdie's security and repeatedly called it a "disgrace." Emboldened by Barkha's continuous prodding, Rushdie called preachers of Darul Uloom Deoband "dreadful people." As if the affront was not enough, Barkha headlined her hour-long show: "I will come back. Deal with it" although the interviewee never exactly uttered those words.

Rushdie, who admitted he is no big fan of organized religions, asked India if it wanted to become a totalitarian state like China or go in the "right direction." Calling self-censorship the "death of art," he termed the government's decision of not allowing him "gangsterism," "black farce," and an "invented threat." Lo and behold, Barkha asked the rabble-rouser how he managed to look "remarkably calm" after such a terrible tragedy before saying she "looks forward to seeing him in India soon."

A Padma Shree awardee, Barkha, 40, is not a rookie. It was highly unprofessional on her part to rub salt on the wounds of the one fifth of mankind. The avoidable drama was an outrage to Muslims on every continent.

For the uninitiated, in Islam the Prophet is infallible. And any attempt to challenge the Prophet's infallibility is seen as blasphemy. Any disrespect for the Last Prophet would always make the Muslim blood boil. And all Muslims are not capable of exercising restraint

Rushdie and his likes -- Ayan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Ali Sina, Taslima Nasrin to name a few -- thrive on controversy or blasphemy. Level headed Hindus, Jews, Christians, Buddhists and even atheists understand the sensitivity of the issue and never try to cross the red line. But unfortunately some over ambitious and shallow journalists love to extend their brief. Only they know what kind of India they want to project to the outside world with their horrendously lopsided coverage about such delicate matters.

Barkha, the self styled guardian of the freedom of expression, is not even fair in granting everyone that freedom. Sometime back, in her chat show with Muslims from different walks of life, she ridiculed televangelist Dr. Zakir Naik whose Peace TV is banned in India. Barkha gave Dr. Zakir little time to make his point and brazenly allowed other "enlightened moderates" from the community to prove that vibrant Islam is a problem. Her "Come oooon, Dr. Zakir" suggesting that the scholar was uttering absolute nonsense is still fresh in mind. Does anyone remember Barkha ever campaigning to have the ban on Peace TV lifted?

Today, Rushdie's advocates are pointing fingers at Indian democracy. Where were they when Dr. Zakir was banned from entering the UK in June 2010 and later by the US. British home secretary of the time had said: "Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right, and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter the UK." Did Rushdie register his protest with the secretary over that outrageous attack on the freedom of expression of an Islamic preacher from Mumbai?

And if Britain could do that without any remorse, what is such brouhaha if India did something similar? Barkha, if our memory serves us right, never took Dr Zakir live on NDTV and shed a tear over the UK and US ban on the preacher. Dr. Zakir is passionately hated by a section of society, but that does not automatically seize his right to express his views. Moreover, the preacher has not written substandard sacrilegious books. He has on his fingertips every verse with its contextual meaning from the Bible, the Quran, Gita and Vedas and he answers quoting from different those books.

The NDTV is considered a balanced, secular and unbiased channel that grew under the wings of Prannoy Roy, a doyen of TV journalism. Lackadaisical handling of sensitive issues by an anchor not only affects the credibility of the NDTV, it also puts a question mark over its secular credentials. How Barkha was allowed to agonize 18 million Muslims in India and many more millions abroad is beyond comprehension. The channel certainly blew the issue out of proportion by turning a questionable writer, whose works border on pornography, into a celebrity.

Channels play a big role in forming public opinion. Thanks to Barkha and her ilk, a large section of society today thinks Islam is intolerant and Muslims are by nature bloodthirsty. Readers' comments on Indian media websites about the Rushdie episode are full of hatred against Islam and Muslims. They have expressed deep pain over the Jaipur debacle. The only logical reason for this seems they take sadistic pleasure in everything that hurts India's largest minority. Ironically, these people, in their comments, denounce the late M.F. Husain for portraying Hindu goddesses, but would stampede to welcome Rushdie who takes pride in ridiculing Islam's holiest figures. Islam does not condone any act that hurts people of other faiths.

One can take a Muslim out of India but can't take India out of an Indian Muslim. Indian Muslims give color to India's democracy. It is they who complete India's secular character. They are an inseparable part of India's pluralistic mosaic. Whipping up passions against them would only create more Akshardhams, Godhras and Gujarats. Peaceful coexistence is only possible when the media act responsibly by not playing up stories that are communally sensitive. And Indian Muslims have always been grateful to secular forces that never failed minorities in the country.

Overzealous pseudo-rationalists masquerading as journalists must understand that lapping up Rushdie nonstop in India to become famous in the West only shows their colonial inferiority complex.

As long as India is secular, there is no question of allowing the Rushdies to be glorified.




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