Saturday, February 25, 2017

Muslim organisation announces Rs 10 lakh reward for beheading Tarek Fatah // Self-Appointed Defenders of Islam must be careful (1994)

NB: The outrageous instigation to murder Mr Tarek Fatah by some Muslim clerics is an example of how low our standards of personal security, justice and public discourse have sunk. Not to mention what passes for religious belief. I post beneath it an article I wrote 23 years ago, when a similar situation had arisen with the controversy around Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. The article was a contribution to an ongoing debate in The Pioneer (then edited by the late Mr Vinod Mehta). It speaks for itself, and the relevance to the current situation should be clear.

These clerics may criticise Mr Tarek Fatah's ideas and beliefs, but they have no right to indulge in calls for murder. This is a criminal offence under Section 108 of the IPC and deserves police action. Murderous threats cannot be permitted to pass under the guise of an expression of hurt sentiment. (The vicious campaign against Taslima Nasreen by certain ulema and organisations of conservative Muslims is still going on). It is a favourite habit of communalists to resort to violence and/or violent intimidation if anyone challenges their so-called religious beliefs. A famous 'Baba' who is also a successful businessman recently announced his desire to behead all those who did not chant Bharat Mata ki Jai upon demand. Would these ulema approve of head-chopping in revenge for 'hurt sentiment' by the Hindutva brigade? 

Frankly it is a wonder to me that persons who are so consumed by hate and blood-lust are seen by any section of the public to be interpreters of religious truth. It is unbelievable that Almighty God could be so bloodthirsty. Does God have nothing better to do than wait for heads of blasphemers to roll? Hasn't enough blood been shed? There are many of us whose sentiments are outraged by the antics of nation-worshippers and communal fanatics. It doesn't give us the right to resort to or instigate violence. This has gone on for too long and we have to raise our voices against it, no matter which religious flag they wave. 

At the height of the violence of 1947, Mahatma Gandhi had said “it is time for peace-loving citizens to assert themselves and isolate goondaism. Non-violent non-cooperation is the universal remedy. Good is self-existent, evil is not. It is like a parasite living in and around good. It will die of itself when the support that good gives it is withdrawn.” The men demanding violence in the name of religion are a disgrace to whichever faith they claim as theirs. They can continue only because many of us remain silent or complicit in their misbehaviour. It is time that peace-loving persons of all faiths break their silence and withdraw co-operation with those who incite or indulge in violence - DS 
A Bareilly-based Muslim organisation has announced a “reward” of Rs 10 lakh to behead Islamic scholar Tarek Fatah for allegedly promoting “un-Islamic” views through his TV programme.
The All-India Faisan-e-Madina Council also demanded an immediate ban on ‘Fateh ka Fatwa’, a television programme hosted by Fatah on a private news channel. “Tarek Fatah is conspiring to disrupt harmony between Hindus and Muslims. He is as an agent of our enemies. He must be stopped at any cost and our organisation will pay Rs 10,00,786 to any person who will decapitate him,” said Moeen Siddique, head of the council.“He and his programme are being funded by foreign enemies of our country and the government must initiate an inquiry against him,” Siddique said. Fateh, a Canadian national of Pakistani origin, is known for his secular views against Islamic fundamentalism. “In his programme, he claims that it is not required to wear a burqa and terms triple talaq as haram. Muslims must not listen to his advice and come forward against him,” said Siddique.

Other Muslim social organisations too voiced their resentment against Fatah. Jamat Raza-e-Mustafa, another social organisation that works under the aegis of Dargah-e Ala Hazrat, has written a letter to the President Pranab Mukherjee, demanding a ban on the television programme and expulsion of Fatah from the country. “Fatwa is a religious edict, which can only be issued by a recognised Muslim cleric. Fateh is neither a cleric nor he has any knowledge about Quran. His programme has hurt the sentiments of the followers of Islam,” reads the letter sent to the President by Nasir Qureshi, the convenor of the Jamat Raza-e-Mustafa. Both the organisations have also demanded immediate ban on the private news channel that airs the said programme.
Self-Appointed Defenders of Islam must be careful
(Dilip Simeon in The Pioneer, April 27, 1994
This article was written 23 years ago, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the ban on The Satanic Verses; the victimisation of professor Mushirul Hasan for suggesting the ban needed to be lifted. (He was violently assaulted in December 1992). Soon after that, the hounding of Taslima Nasreen began in Bangladesh.

Mr Ajit Bhattacharjea’s article on the decline of Jamia Millia’s liberal tradition coupled with another epistolic exemplar of intolerance by Mr Badrul Islam (The Pioneer, April 14, 1994) between them herald the revival of a long and painful controversy. Mr Bhattacharjea is right to remind us of the humanist origins of Jamia during the first non-cooperation movement, and of the reformist aspirations of Dr Zakir Husain. Mr Badrul Islam, on the other hand, is still asserting his mythical and monolithic truth. At the risk of sounding trite, I shall use this opportunity to drive home certain arguments about minority rights. I write this on the assumption that Mr Islam’s views are not his alone, and that those who think like him are interested in the reactions of non-Muslim readers.

Jamia provides Prof Mushirul Hasan with his bread and butter, says Badrul Islam, and he ought to maintain its decorum by repecting “the sentiments of the Muslim majority”. (How does he know what these are?) He adds that Prof Hasan ought not to have spoken out in favour of Rushdie’s book, demands an apology, and ends on the grand note of magnanimity. Prof Hasan did not speak in favour of the book (which he had every right to do). He merely opposed the ban. Why do persons like Mr Islam insist on deliberately misreading Prod Hasan’s words? In any case, by what norm does the airing of opinion become a violation of decorum? If Jamia provides Prof Hasan with a livelihood, by the same token the Indian Constitution provides Mr Badrul Islam with the freedom to air his own illiberal and often disgusting views.

If, say, the Bajrang Dal were to ask Mr Islam to maintain the decorum due in the Indian polity by keeping his mouth shut, would he not seek protection under the democratic Constitution rather than from Islamic commandments? Democratic values would prompt me to come to his defence, even though I detest his views. But conservatives like him must consider the implications of their beliefs more rigorously. Islam, we are told, enjoins the “taking to task” of Prof Mushirul Hasan for the sin he has committed. What sin? Who decides what a sin is? To say that the ban should be lifted is not the same thing as abusing the Prophet of Islam. But even such abuse can-not become the occasion for threats of violence. I insist on the right to blaspheme, and to criticise the contents of all texts, religious or otherwise.

Dogma of Internality: Ambedkar’s Riddles of Hinduism was said to have hurt the sentiments of Hindus, and the Quranic injunction to destroy idols and attack idol worshippers might have the same result. Satyarth Prakash by Swami Dayanand Saraswati contains uncomplimentary references to Jesus Christ and Guru Nanak. The Ramayana recommends the thrashing of women and Sudras, and the Bible proclaims the permanent collective guilt of the Jews for Christ’s crucifixion. Can Mr Badrul Islam state why these texts should not be banned?  Or why those of us who object to any of the contents of these texts should not start beating up those who revere them?

What constitutes “taking to task”? Mr Badrul Islam must remember that Prof Hasan was brutally assaulted December 4, 1992. After the communal tragedies we have witnessed in recent years, it is shameful for him to condone such violence. He criticises The Pioneer for interfering with “the internal matters of Jamia”. His entire argument is loaded with the dogma of internality. Even his commendations of forgiveness imply that no one else is capable of being forgiving. In a recently published interview, a Jamia student leader threatened to “hack Mushirul Hasan to pieces”. Would Mr Islam consider this an example of an internal matter? He refers to Prof Hasan as “a known Marxist”. Apparently, known Marxists with Muslim names are not free of religiously motivated accusations. I submit that the violent attacks on Hindu journalists by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992, was not an internal matter for Hindus alone to react to. Along with the destruction of the Babri Masjid, that event too, was my concern, as an Indian citizen.

Concepts such as human rights and constitutional liberties may not be found in the Quran. Yet Mr Islam seems to take them for granted he talks of minority rights. The question he should confront is: If the “Muslim majority” (his phrase) will not grant democratic rights to minorities within its own ranks (reformers and liberals), how may it expect minority rights to prevail in the policy as a whole? The Assamese journalist, Mr Amin-ur Rehman, has recently been subjected to death threats by fundamentalists. Will Mr Islam speak out in defence of this man, even though he might disagree with his ideas?

Pitfalls of absolutism: In the end, it all boils down to the question of violence and civilised conduct. We are living neither under Sharia law, not the codes of Manu. Mr Badrul Islam is free to condemn apostates, blasphemers and Marxists. But quotes from Quran and Hadith cannot justify the instigation of violence against those whose opinions he finds outrageous. It is a crying shame that Government ministers too have indulged in such instigation, and that, far from protecting Prof Hasan, the administration shielded rank communalists who were and still are in clear violation of criminal law.

We must now demand that it provide due protection for him to resume his functions. Even those who publicly endorse the fatwa against Rushdie are guilty of murderous incitement. If, after December 4, 1992, the anti-Mushir lobby in Jamia have spoken of minority rights on a single instance (which I am sure they did on December 6), they will have transgressed their own communal logic. For they will have admitted that a sense of virtue and non-violent conduct among non-Muslims is the only stable basis for the safety of the minorities, and that therefore their monolithic doctrines are not the only fount of virtue.

The same points may be made differently to highlight the pitfalls of philosophical absolutism. Is it reasonable that those who practice spiritual apartheid (by harping on communal internality), should demand or expect social and political equality? Is it fair that persons or groups who disdain democracy as a value should take advantage of it to undermine its scope and content? Anyone who believes himself to be in possession of the Absolute Truth (which comes in various pigments), is walking in the footsteps of the Inquisition.

With the judgement over talaq, we will hear a new outcry about Muslim (read Muslim men’s) rights. I hope that the self-appointed defenders of Islam restrain their verbal and physical expressions in the coming weeks. There are many citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim (and I count myself among them), who will support the liberation of Muslim women from the conservative straitjacket. Mr. Islam might pray for our eternal damnation. I shall still defend his civil liberties against the designs of the saffron brigade. But he may not commit, or instigate, violence against us. In such an even, democrats will have to ask for the strictest possible action under the law to restrain him and his kind. Insh’allah, matters will not come to such a pass.

see also

The Broken Middle (on the 30th anniversary of 1984)