Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Salman Rushdie attack: Religious disorder strikes again 

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By MR Lalu

Should the world have voiced its sentiments louder against the stabs that Salman Rushdie had on his neck and face?  The versatile author with critical wounds cautions the world about the extent into which religious fanaticism has stretched its ugly claws. Should there be a sensible effort to quell the madness that distorted spiritual theories pounce on the world with? Can there be a solution at all in this regard? I suspect the laxity with which the world deals such ruthlessness. Universal epithets to narrate freedom of speech and expression could be seen fading into insignificance. The effect of such live narratives is not probably meant for religions with exclusive mindset. The slow death of Salman Rushdie would accentuate the power centers that enjoy decreeing fatwas and essentially their belligerence would grow manifold and unquestioned.  The New York stabbing on one of the most celebrated writers would leave an ugly question destined to remain unanswered forever. Why do clerics go scot-free after every fatwa and the execution that follows? A life in exile since 1989, Salman Rushdie must have known the real threat that awaited him. The Ayatollah fatwa took 33 years to spill blood, slitting the old man’s wrinkled skin. Though he kept ascending to fame after every book that he wrote, the inner core of the writer must have sensed the dead man in him. Rushdie’s wounds would make people sense the abnormality that is plaguing the contemporary world. His book the Satanic Verses for which he was awarded a fatwa profoundly spoke of the anomalies and hypocrisies that the world of faith sinking us in. 

Another instance of brutality, loaded with religious madness was on 7 January 2015. This time it was Charlie Hebdo, the French Satirical weekly newspaper that had the darkest day in its history. 12 people were killed and 11 injured in a terrorist attack which was known to be a reaction on cartoons published on the Islamic prophet Muhammad. There are many examples of violent extremism to that effect and can be narrated here. But there is a question that significantly sticks out silently with remorse and reprisal. Is violence a legitimate response to religious offence? Can religions easily discard human rights in a world that stands more scientific than religious? A world mostly pluralistic in essence cannot justify disrespect of any religion. But why such instances should not be treated with civility within the framework of modern and available judicial processes? Of course the essential impact of a radical outrage by anybody cannot be narrated as the common behaviour of a particular community. The absence of a civil dialogue in a world of diverse tendencies must be seen as one reason. But the solution should not be limited to a controlled periphery but there should also be consistent cultural exchanges among diverse beliefs. What happened to Charlie Hebdo cannot be singled out. There were selective attacks on writers and news offices multiple times before.

The ‘Lajja’ author Taslima Nasreen also had the same fate. Her novel depicted the persecution ran on innocent Hindus by Muslim radicals during the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 in her home state Bangladesh. The price she had to pay for being truthful was heavy. She had to flee her country and later made many countries her home including India in exile for almost three decades. Feel the real sense from her words. She says, “I have lived in exile since I was banished. Now, this is how it seems my life will draw to a close as well, as if I am destined to live the rest of my life on foreign soil. Book bans, Islamic fanatics, fatwas and feminist silences-I bore the brunt, but nothing could force me down. But now I know I will never be home again.” For Muslims, Prophet Muhammad is adorned with a divine sanctity and questioning his greatness would bring wrath of the believers. Blasphemy against him is unquestionably punishable in Islam and the world irrespective of its secular credentials bows to the practice that a particular religion holds supreme. Though the Iranian government officially distanced itself from the recent attack on Rushdie, the festivity that the attack brought to many people in the country was actually provocative. Satanic Verses was published more than thirty years ago when Hadi Matar, Rushdie’s attacker, was not even born. So essentially, if the fatwa could not ignite fire of vengeance in the young man, what he was probably intoxicated by was the hallucinatory ideals of his faith which gave him the audacity of hope and a reason to plunge for the crime. 

Rushdie, one of the most celebrated writers with some of the finest writings, has been identified as anti-Islamic. The agony of the Booker Prize winning writer with his best ever written novels Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Moor’s Last Sigh and The Enchantress of Florence literally evokes the quest for freedom that no religion would probably dare to slit open to wounds. The Indian born writer’s misery is the price that he pays for his literary brilliance and eminence. The Rushdie experience and the exile that Taslima Nasreen was forced into pose significant challenges to all the liberal democracies across the globe. The idea of freedom among cultures and the freedom of speech that the world is blindly vocal about are seriously threatened and the effect of the sneaky Islamic fundamentalism is penetrating into the social jurisdiction of societies terribly pulling the edifice of coexistence. Is there a glimmer of hope when countries like Saudi Arabia steps in for elementary changes giving more freedom to its citizens to express and expose?  A religious ruling by Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Barrak calling for the execution of two writers for apostasy in Saudi was met with severe criticism. The act was termed as ‘intellectual terrorism by clerics of darkness’ and the criticism was documented with more than 100 human rights activists daringly putting their signatures from the region.  A world bouncing in tandem with the madness of radicalism is truly thickening around. The assassination of the Egyptian writer Farag Foda in 1992 was a result of a fatwa by radical Muslim clerics and an attempt to murder the Egyptian Nobel prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz in 1994 was the effect of another fatwa. With its largest pluralistic population, India should have reacted to what the Rushdie incident has provoked. But there was a studied silence among the political leadership in the country which probably thought not to condemn the brutal violence on the India born writer. We should have stood in solidarity with the writer. Our choosing to remain passive on the crime tells us those unwritten facts of compulsion that the world’s largest democracy is in. India’s celebrated ‘freedom of speech’ seems to have become a paper tiger.

(Author is freelance journalist and social worker based in Kerala. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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