Archive for July, 2016

BANS!!: First Refuge of Rulers, Supremacists and Lazy.

14 July 2016
Ban on Peace TV and Banishing of Dr. Zakir Naik would appease constituencies across the spectrum, a Unity of Purpose unseen or unheard before. 
  • Indian Ulema would be relieved that they won’t be called upon to confront head-on the Dreaded facts about Islam and History of Islam.
  • Hindu Right would be pleased that it’s tireless efforts to equate Islam with Terrorism would finally receive rousing endorsement with the fall of a “popular” Islamic preacher.
  • Other political formations, made almost irrelevant by their collective lack of any vision or strategy, would chime in with impotent approval.
  • Modi’s government would be able to whet it’s muscular patriotism with “No Muslim-Appeasement” motto.
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Ban A Book! Ban An Idea! Ban a film or TV Channel! Banish A Person/s! These have been ready tools through the ages for Rulers or Religious heads to deal with “Seditious” Ideas or “Subverting” Truths. No society or region has been unaffected by this itch and it’s pernicious consequences. The Great Witch Hunts of 16th and 17th century Europe were directed at possessing and controlling the Female Sexuality and Reproductive Capacity along with Enclosure of Commons to meet the “requirements” of Rulers of the societies in transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. Even in ancient texts such as Ramayana, there is a story of Shambuka’s Beheading by Rama just because, though a Shudra, he had dared to do Tapasya [ austerities and meditation] permissible only to 3 High Castes.

क्लेशरहित कर्म करने वाले भगवान् राम का यह वचन सुनकर नीचे मस्तक करके लटका हुआ तपस्वी बोला – हे श्रीराम ! में झूठ नहीं बोलूंगा देव लोक को पाने की इच्छा से ही तपस्या में लगा हूँ ! मुझे शुद्र ही जानिए मेरा नाम शम्बूक है ७६,१-२.  वह इस प्रकार कह ही रहा था कि रामचंद्र जी ने तलवार निकली और उसका सर काटकर फेंक दिया ७६/४. शाश्त्रीय व्यवस्था है – न ही सत्यातपरो धर्म : नानृतातपातकम् परम ” एतदनुसार मौत के साये में भी असत्य भाषण न करने वाला शम्बूक धार्मिक पुरुष था.

British Rulers Introduced IPC Section 295A after the case that arose when the book, Rangeela Rasool, was published in 1927: the book was banned, it’s publisher was murdered, and the murderer was sent to gallows. Author Salman Rushdie invited the wrath of Ayatollah Khomeini -the Supreme Leader of Iranian Islamic revolution that dethroned dictator Shah Reza Pahlavi- because of the book Satanic Verses he wrote and was/ is under a ” religious death warrant [Fatawa]”. Author Taslima Nasreen, who wrote feminist essays and novels that are critical of the practise of Islam, had to flee her native Bangladesh in 1994 due to death threats from Islamists. Similarly, famous painter, M F Hussein, had to flee India to escape the wrath of Hindu Supremacists, who had been angered by his depiction of Hindu gods. India thus has a long history of banning books since the times of British Raj, and some of the recent celebrity cases included James Laine’s “Shivaji: Hindu King In Islamic India” [which led to the senseless vandalism unleashed on the famous Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute at Pune]  and Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” [The last was pulped by the publisher when threatened with a lawsuit by Dinanath Batra]. Bans are not an exclusive Indian feature, nor an invention of the soil. State Security, Blasphemy [mainly Christianity/ Islam, but off late followers of other religions, such as the Hindu Right, have avidly joined the game of Bans], and Defamation suits [principally by Corporates and the Well Heeled] are the overwhelming causes of official or unofficial bans imposed by State and Non-State actors. While the Hindu Right vociferously derides the Blasphemy Laws and Death-Fatwas issued by anachronistic Islamic religious preachers; in practise, it grabs every opportunity to “Ape those Precepts and Actions, which it purportedly despises“.

Pro-Hindutva leader Sadhvi Prachi Wednesday announced a reward of Rs 50 lakh to any person “who will behead” Islamic preacher and televangelist Zakir Naik. Prachi made the announcement while speaking to mediapersons at Roorkee in Uttarakhand. [comment: she is instigating an unlawful and unconstitutional act]

Then there is sheer ineptitude that prompts some others to demand bans. When Arun Shourie’s “Worshipping False God: Ambedkar and the Facts that have Been Erased” was published, my friend, then editor of Maharashtra Herald, decided to publish excerpts. Even well researched and heavily annotated books such as those of Shourie’s may not necessarily capture the whole or even substantial aspects of a historical truth or figure because narratives constructed from available archival material are after all heavily coloured by a presenter’s worldview. His idea was that Shourie’s book would provoke enough intellectuals to join debate with Shourie based on equally adept or at least convincing enough scholarship. My editor  friend was appalled that almost no one rose up to the challenge from among Dalit, Leftist, Progressive, or Dispassionate Intelligentsia; but he was soundly pilloried for his “retrograde”, “revisionist” action in providing free publicity to Shourie, who was incidentally manhandled in some other public forums where he was called upon to talk. A similar fate awaited Taslima Nasreen at the hands of intolerant Muslim organisations elsewhere in India. The persona of “Veer” Savarkar, who had tendered a Mercy Petition with a guarantee of good conduct and loyalty to British Rule for his early release from the penal servitude in Andamans jail, was challenged based on archival material by some researchers. Their challenge certainly cast a long shadow on the appellation “Veer” that preceded his name, but also called into question with good reasons his “devotion” to India’s freedom in subsequent years. Savarkar’s followers though explain his behaviour away as a “Tactical Measure” designed to fool the British and as a stratagem to be able to participate in the Freedom struggle, which he was deprived of incarcerated in Andamans. This may plausibly explain Savarkar’s actions; but, then, a choice has to be made based on Balance of Probabilities as to which explanation better fits the facts; and that becomes a matter of subjective judgment.  The historiography of Ambedkar too is amenable to such sound methods of competing interpretations notwithstanding the “formidable scholarship” of Shourie. The difficulty posed by supremacists is an altogether different game. Supremacists approach bans from the perspective of inventing Idealised, if Imaginary History. They want to present a Sanitised and Unblemished Version of History, Religion, Historical-Figure or a Cause, which squarely serves their Supremacist Cause. They are as such extremely allergic and trenchantly opposed to any alternate or counter narratives, which may remotely destabilise their claims or create a sore blemish in their Snow-white Monolithic.

This brings us to the ultra fresh demand of a Ban on not a Book but a TV channel, “Peace TV“, run by Dr. Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic Evangelist. Naik is described as “Superstar Televangelist”, who has united in common cause, quite unsurprisingly, Hindu Cultural-Nationalists and across the board Muslim Clerics, to demand this ban in the wake of reports of Naik’s alleged influence on one or two of the terrorists, who recently attacked an upscale Artisan Bakery in Dacca killing 20 people.
Superstar Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik claims to be a messenger of peace and harmony. Through his channel, Peace TV, he broadcasts his messages to around 200 million people across India and the world. Despite this, he has never been able to unite the different branches, sects and sub-sects of Islam in India. One sign of this is the fact that these various groups continued to celebrate Eid on different days earlier this month. However, Naik seems to have finally united India’s Muslim clerics. Showing unprecedented solidarity, Muslim clerics from all sects have come forward to urge strong action against Naik and his channel for misinterpreting the Quran and misleading Muslims with his evangelism.
Surprisingly, even secular forces from among Hindus, Muslims and other communities have made a common cause.
Let’s grant even the venom-spewing their freedoms. Agreed, freedom of speech is meaningless if there is no space for the offending word. No democracy can survive in the absence of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience,agreed. But should there be no Laxman Rekha that even in a democracy none must cross? If not instigation to hatred, could incitement to violence perhaps mark the boundaries of individual freedom?
So, let’s grant our home-grown televangelist, Dr Zakir Naik his freedoms. His freedom to hurt national sentiments: “If you (Americans) eat pigs you behave (wife-swap) like pigs”. His freedom to hurt religious sentiments: “Jews and pagans are the worst eternal enemies of Islam”. His freedom to outrage those who care about gender justice: “women who get raped are asking for it” (dumb woman,didn’t Islam tell you to expose nothing more than your face and wrists?). His freedom to condemn sexual minorities: “death for homosexuals”. His freedom to send fellow Muslims to the gallows: “apostasy is a one-way street”. His freedom to grant special privilege to the male gender: “Man is more polygamous by nature as compared to a woman “.
It must be granted though that Javed Anand, from whose article above is excerpted, has not called for a Ban, but what he says above brings us to two related but separate aspects of Naik’s Evangelism:
(1) The Constitutional and Legal aspect of whether Naik has crossed the proverbial “Laxman Rekha” or not is for investigating agencies and legal luminaries to probe thoroughly including the allegations that his sermons may have instigated terrorism.
Here, Sevanti Ninan seems to throw cold water on the “Open and Shut” Case made out by Media against the Press TV and Dr. Zakir Naik.

First of all this channel seems  less a messianic outlet than  a family enterprise. Whatever else Zakir Naik inspires, fire and brimstone zeal that will provoke young men  to go out and kill seems most unlikely… Peace TV, at least to the casual viewer, is more about being a suffocatingly good Muslim rather than a murderous one… Spending a few hours watching Peace TV’s claustrophobic  prescriptions for being a good Muslim is not long enough to gauge whether that qualifies as vitiating the atmosphere of society.   But nor is there  enough official  evidence on offer to substantiate the charge…

(2) The other aspect, which is of concern to this blog, is how does one challenge battles of Ideas and Ideologies? Is Ban the answer? Or Is it the First Refuge of the Supremacists and Lazy, who seem to be together in this? Here, one needs to revisit the statement: “Muslim clerics from all sects have come forward to urge strong action against Naik and his channel for misinterpreting the Quran and misleading Muslims with his evangelism“. If Naik is indeed “misinterpreting” the Quran, then it is the foremost duty of Ulemas to prove -based on Quran, Hadith and Islamic tradition- to Muslim Community at large and particularly impressionable young minds as to how and where Naik is misinterpreting and thereby discredit his preaching completely.
Why are they shirking this honourable route and eschewing their responsibility? One reason could be that many of them fear Naik is better versed in Quran and Islam than they are or are lazy to take up the onerous challenge of thorough research of Islam’s theology and history. But a more likely reason is, many of them fear that such an exercise would expose unpalatable truths about Islam and Islamic tradition, which make Naik’s or ISIS’s Interpretation of Islam fit like an Extremist Hand into the Islamic Glove. The fear is about the public exposure of “warts” and “blemishes” that support the supremacist interpretation of a religion; and this is a common fault line running across supremacists’ interpretations of all hues and persuasions. Sultan Shahin raised this issue head on in his article, “Why Are Indian Ulema Silent Over Islamic State’s Challenge: Unwillingness Or Inability?“. He challenges Indian Ulema specifically, but his challenge rings true for all Ulemas, save except Saudis, who have been propagating precisely the same intolerant and regressive interpretation of Islam for decades under the loving care of Saudi Monarchy and the tacit support of successive US administrations. That brand of virulent Islamic ideology has been used by USA to help create first Al Qaeda in 1980s and later ISIS in 2014 to subserve her geo-political aims from Central Asia to Middle East and North Africa: Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya and to Syria. Coming to Salafi/ Wahabi/ Tafkiri version of Islam,  Shahin says,

They {ULEMA} would need to argue with ideologues of such distinction as Imam Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyya, Mujaddid alf-e-Saani Shaikh Sirhindi, Shah Waliullah Dehlavi, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, Syed Qutub and Abul A’la Maududi, to name only a few. It was the theologian considered next only to the Prophet in his understanding of Islam, IMAM GHAZALI WHO SAID “MUSLIMS SHOULD GO ON JIHAD AT LEAST ONCE EVERY YEAR.” Clearly he meant offensive Jihad for the sake of Islam’s domination.

The Indian ulema’s fatwa is basically a one-liner, depending entirely on a verse from the Holy Quran: “Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (5:32). Other fatwas quote other similar verses from the Quran. There are at least 124 early verses of Meccan Quran teaching peace and pluralism, patience and perseverance in the face of adversity and persecution, to choose from. The question then is inevitable: in the face of such overwhelming evidence in favour of peace and pluralism from Islam’s foundational scripture, how can a Muslim ideologue openly preach terrorism, xenophobia, intolerance and then get a positive response from such a large number of Muslims from across the world? And how can the ulema remain completely silent? How can neo-Salafis taunt our ulema as being evil and from the Munafiqeen (Hypocrites), for whom the lowest depths of Hell are reserved in Islam, and get away without even a tepid response from our ulema?

From all these eminent theologians, the religiously inclined Muslim youth gets the same message of Islam supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia, intolerance and his duty of Jihad in the sense of Qital (armed struggle). It was the theologian considered next only to the Prophet in his understanding of Islam, Imam Ghazali who said “Muslims should go on Jihad at least once every year.” Clearly he meant offensive Jihad for the sake of Islam’s domination. Highly revered eighteenth century Indian scholar, theologian, Muhaddis and jurist, Shah Waliullah Dehlavi had said: “It is the duty of the prophet to establish the domination of Islam over all other religions and not leave anybody outside its domination whether they accept it voluntarily or after humiliation…” Which Indian aalim today would have the guts to contradict Imam Ghazali, Ibn-e-Taimiya, Abdul Wahhab and Shah Waliullah Dehlvi?  

Today, this appears to be a purely Islamic issue. But, if divisive supremacists forces of other Religious or Racial or Civilisational persuasions are not challenged head-on, then this virulent creed wouldn’t take long to spread far and wide destroying all that we cherish.
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