Friday 18th Apr 2014
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Look, Who is Quoting the Scripture

Freedom Of Expression

By DR ASHFAQUE MEMON

As a writer the worst thing to do is to blame media for bias against Islam. I mean it is like committing a professional suicide. Majority of the people will immediately lose interest in what you have to say. But that should not prevent someone from writing the truth. So this piece of article is all about the rabid bias shown by most of media persons against those who opposed Salman Rushdie’s visit to Jaipur Literary Festival. Most of those who opposed Rushdie’s visit were called thugs, hooligans, fundamentalists, even idiots on national news channels which seemed to be so obsessed with the idea of freedom of speech that they conveniently forgot, or pretended to be not knowing, the difference between valid criticism and mindless slandering.

So a majority of news channels were concerned with debates on Rushdie’s right to freedom of speech. The strategy was simple: some Maulanas, half conversant in English, were invited for debate with the likes of Suhail Seth and Sidhart Singhvi, etc., who talk English, and these Maulanas were clearly seen grappling for words and were called thugs and hooligans, etc. One writer, Sidhart Singhvi got so agitated with Shahid Siddiqui that he started saying: “Who are these idiots and what they are doing on national television”. While Suhail Seth started shouting at Kamal Farooqui (one of the panelists): “You are not the Muslim India has any respect for, etc. etc.”

Even the anchor Arnab Goswami became so emotional that he completely forgot that he was n anchor and not supposed to be blatantly taking sides and went up to the extent of saying to Asaduddin Owaisi: “Don’t you think, Mr Owaisi, that you are working as force multiplier for those who according to Mumbai police is out there to eliminate Salman Rushdie.” I mean it was the height of ridiculousness on the part of an educated anchor of a major news channel to talk such rubbish on prime time.

The debates went on and on and nobody seemed to have cared about that fact that in a secular country like India everybody has the right to express his or her views. That’s what these news channels, these liberals, authors and gentlemen were concerned about. And this freedom of expression cannot be exclusive to Salman Rushdie; this is also the right of every other citizen of India. Having said there is a clear-cut demarcating line between freedom of speech and mindless slandering. Everybody has the right to express his or her views but nobody has the right to mindlessly slander. I have yet to meet a liberal who will not get exasperated if his or her mother is abused (needless to say Salman Rushdie abused Mothers of all Muslims).

I have a great respect for all those who valiantly tried to put forward their views regarding what they feel about Salman Rushdie but they were no match for the ilk of Suhail Seth who it seemed were out to defend the literary filth Salman Rushdie has created. They all talked about the supremacy of law in a secular democratic country like that of ours but they all conveniently forgot to even slightly criticise when Amitav Kumar and others read the sections of the banned book The Satanic Verses. Around four people not only committed an illegal act but to add insult to injury Amitav Kumar said on Times Now: “Mujhe jo achcha laga woh maine padh diya aur woh bada mazedaar section hai us kitaab ka” (I read the section of the book which I liked most and that is very entertaining part of the book).” Nobody had even the slightest honesty to say that whatever they did was an illegal act. In fact the media started portraying it as an act of rebellion against fundamentalists.

They not only failed to criticise those who broke the law by reading from The Verses but also were up in arms against the organisers of the Jaipur festival for not protecting them when these authors fled when an FIR was registered against them. The government also was a party to this double-standard behaviour by failing to take strict action against those writers who deliberately broke the law. The response of the government was quite different when in that same period Jay Leno offended Sikhs by saying that Golden Temple was Mitt Romney’s summer home. Everybody, rightly so, condemned his act.  ”Overseas Indian Affairs”, Vayalar Ravi, said:  “There is a difference. Freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others... This is not acceptable to us and we take a very strong objection for such a display.” Punjab CM has also strongly condemned it.

And all Mr Arnab Goswami of Times Now, who till yesterday was so fervently defending Rushdie’s right to freedom of expression, suddenly got a change of heart and started condemning Jay Leno and even the American government, ironically, for defending Jay Leno’s freedom of expression. Sheer double standards were at display day and night without being challenged by anyone, except by some of the finest debaters like Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi, who very intelligently exposed TIMES NOW for its double standards.

Double standard about the freedom of expression is not going to work. Neither granting someone freedom of abusing and slandering someone else’s mothers. Mr Rushdie has all the rights to do whatever he wants to do unless it is insulting me or my mothers. He married Clarissa Luard in 1976 and divorced her in 1987 then married Wiggins and then Elizabeth West and finally Padma Lakshmi; that was his freedom he enjoyed. Some of his wives like Lakshmi later had relationship with other men and had children; that was their freedom. But the freedom one has should not impinge upon our dignity is what we expect.

Lastly, I want to draw the attention of the readers towards what Rushdie has to say about his own bodyguard Ron Evans. When Evans wrote a book describing Rushdie as a  nasty, tight-fisted, arrogant and extremely unpleasant personality, the latter didn’t say that it was all about freedom of expression; he rather sued his ex bodyguard and said: “This is not a free speech issue, this is libel – there is a difference between those two things. I can defend the truth, I will not have my character destroyed and presented to the world as something that it is not. I am not trying to prevent him from publishing his stupid book but if they publish it as it is there will be consequences and there will be a libel action.”

Look who is quoting the scripture.

[The writer is a paediatrician and can be contacted at dr.ashfaq.memon@gmail.com]



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