The Salman Rushdie controversy is getting more and more intense with no signs of ceasefire in the near future. The term Freedom of Expression has been on debate since centuries with varied viewpoints - both in favor of it and against. There are those who say that an artist must be culturally sensitive in his work of art and should not intentionally try to hurt the cultural or religious sentiments of others. There are others who deny the concept of "culturally sensitive" at all arguing that in a plural society like ours, there are thousands of cultures and to keep everyone happy is not an artist's job. There are also those who argue that it should be at the discretion of the individual as to whether he would like to refer to the so-called "blasphemous" content or not, i.e., if a person feels offended, he must not buy that particular book or watch that particular movie or picture. I somewhat agree and disagree to all the above-given arguments and would leave the debate to the intellectuals and activists to speak on it.
Yet, one thing very interesting and equally threatening comes along the way. In an article published today, January 25, 2012, by DNA, named "Cultural Terrorism" where the writer argues that the Muslim groups have overstepped their right to democratic protest. In the closing line of the article, the author has almost threatened the community that this is " a danger to Muslims as much as others."
Very interesting to see that the word "terrorism" has been so conveniently linked to the protests here because the outrage was against the author who had allegedly "dishonored" Prophet Mohammad. The same term of terrorism was never used when Anna Hazare not just overstepped but totally dismantled his right to democratic protest by threatening the supreme institution of Parliament of "grave consequences" if his version of Lokpal Bill was not passed. When Shiv Sena threatened to kill Late M F Hussain, forced him to go to exile where he eventually died, no one linked the Hindutva to terrorism. Nor was it called terrorism when the same right-wing "terrorists" outlawed Fire for it showing a lesbian relationship but never created a havoc for gay relationships shown every now and then in mainstream Bollywood movies.
Just like Anna Hazare and others took advantaged of the already vulnerable political class who are always at the radar of corruption charges, the same way we are blaming the Muslims of cultural terrorism when they are already charged with actual terrorism by the world media. The Muslims of India already suffer from constant insecurity when almost every second day, the headline of the newspapers portray some or the other Muslim youth as the kingpin of some bomb attack. Now, the community is charged of cultural terrorism as well.
Whether the fight between Rushdie and Islamic religious leaders remain a matter within them or it becomes a bigger matter of freedom of speech versus fundamentalism, it is important that we do not start stereotyping the entire community. Fundamentalism is an inherent feature of any religious community. Blasphemy remains a debated subject in all the civilized societies. It is important that in our fight to outcast fundamentalism and revive freedom of speech, we do not become fundamentalists ourselves by branding one community as terrorist over others. Whether we stand for cultural sensitivity or freedom of expression remains a secondary issue.