Indi-Ban-ization

Only 4 days back, I wrote a post on the growing religious intolerance in our country. I mentioned how we are banning books, writers (because, you know, Pen is mightier than sword and so the writer might hurt some sensitive people.. sob sob), art and movies, etc.

In just 4 days, so much more has happened that it is with great reluctance that I am writing this post. After all, you need a break from one single topic but India is undergoing its own version of Talibanization at such a rapid pace that would put Schumacher and Usain Bolt to shame. Before we know it, the Talibani leaders might start applying for Indian citizenships.

Pardon me if I miss some more incidents, but fresh in my memory are the following from the last 4 days:

— The Grand Mufti (head of Muslim clergy) in Kashmir has declared a “Fatwa” against singing (Yes, SINGING!) saying it is un-islamic and a shameful act. Yes, you heard (or rather read) me right. Following this Fatwa and a series of online abuses by its supporters against them, Kashmir’s first and only All-Girl-Rock-Band, Pragaash, has called it quits and given up on singing and performing out of fear for their lives. But, the ruling national political party has promptly, after a delay of 3 days, acted by – wait for it – CRITICISING the Fatwa. See? We support our women. Nevertheless, the Band is still banned (no pun intended).

pragaash

— Well, how could the Hindus be left behind? In yet another shocking (the magnitude of shocks now coming down with each case) incident, members of a regional (and religious) political outfit, desperate to maintain their fading (if not already extinct) relevance in Indian politics, have started protesting “democratically” in front of an art gallery in the capital warning of consequences (how democratic) if the exhibition is not shut down and some paintings not removed. Their problem? They think that depiction of bare human forms in art is derogatory to “our cultural values” and portrays women in an obscene manner. (Must be those devillish Westerners affecting our Art, I worry). How stupendous – political party, religious faction, art critics, all-in-one? I wonder where their concern for women vanishes when they and their affiliates beat up women for wearing jeans and going to parties.

— Further, BJP, a national political party, has also revealed their well known fascist and religious nature by invoking the Ram temple issue yet again just a year ahead of the upcoming national elections in 2014. To the unknowing, a piece of land in a town (or village?) called Ayodhaya has been the source of extremely dangerous tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities since decades over a conflict regarding whether a temple or a mosque should be built at that place. The BJP has, as expected, again raised the pitch in favour of temple instead of the mosque.

As I was about to sign off on this post, I have just seen in the national news channels that the same outfit that is protesting against art (above) has contributed to the Ram temple issue by saying they will agitate in favour of building of the temple and, if required, are even ready to display the Hindu might. Okay, so now they won’t even wait for me to finish my blog?

In our country, a huge section of our population is living below poverty line, are uneducated and illiterate and therefore find solace in anything religious. We don’t have enough food, clean drinking water, schools, hospitals, electricity, and jobs and our economy is in tatters, but we worry more about where a temple is being built, which art can be exhibited and which not, which book should be read and which not, whether muslim girls should sing or not, and to top it all, we are even willing to slaughter people for such trivial issues. And this is not going to fade away. The talibanization of our country is afoot.

Why? Because we are a nation of fools and those who are negligent of this rising foolery. We will curtail every form of freedom of expression, speech, etc. etc… Oh, did you say freedom? We will ban the word itself one day.No use invoking the constitution – it does not forbid us from being fools and idiots.

And, did I mention we are also secular? Ya, but our definition of secularism is not the same as that of the “morally deprived west” in that we do not consider secularism to be freedom of and from religion. We think it is the freedom of forcing a religion’s outdated and illogical decrees on to everybody else, and we welcome with open arms, the venomous and regressive ideals that the fundamentalists bring with them.

I wonder why atheists and secularists and scientists do not make similar speeches to say that we will “unleash science education upon those who dare to act stupid,” or “the Earth is suspended in the Solar System due to gravity and we will slaughter any artist that depicts it being otherwise,” or “if you show a ghost in a movie, we will get it banned because as per science, ghosts do not exist.”

I think that would be quite funny. What do you think?

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Religious Intolerance?

tolerance

If you ask religious people why religion is good, the first thing they tell you is that religion teaches tolerance.

What a shame! The reality is quite opposite.

Religious people think that it is their birthright to be offended. If Salman Rushdie writes a novel, they get offended.  When MF Hussain makes paintings or some newspaper publishes cartoons, they get hurt. Kamal Haasan makes a movie in which a terrorist is reading a holy book and people get hurt without even watching it. Did any of those protesting people really read the book or try and understanding Hussain’s art or made sense of the cartoons or Haasan’s movie with tolerance? The answer is a resounding No. Then where does the hurt come from? Is it genuine or assumed?

To come back to the point of tolerance, I am convinced that religion does not teach any tolerance at all. At least, we do not see any real examples of tolerance being practiced by any religious groups. What it really teaches is to burn, ban, threaten, torture, and exterminate anything and anyone they do not like. If their feelings are really hurt by some book, they can simply choose to not read it. For instance, what is written in some portions of some scriptures really offends my intelligence and feeling of secularism, and some of the things the religious leaders say and do really bothers me a lot and I do not agree with most of what they say. Most of the movies make fun of non-believers and none of them touches the possibility of atheism being one more point of view. But I and other non-believers (or liberals as some might call us) do not get offended and threaten religious people in return. We do not burn scriptures or threaten godmen to be silent. We do not desecrate temples and mosques or call for the beheading of secularists who convert to some religion. We simply choose to ignore such texts and people and mind our own business.

We never force others away from following whatever books or people they want to. Why? Because we acknowledge that everybody has the choice. That is the most logical and tolerant view. But for the religious fraternity, even if someone else reads a book by someone they dislike, it offends them. How unbelievable! My reading a novel somehow magically hurts someone else? Incredible!

Tolerance means giving others the space and the right to say, read or write whatever they want to regardless of one’s own opinion on the matter. One doesn’t have to accept or even respect the beliefs of others in order to be tolerant. One just has to accept that everybody has rights and we should agree to disagree.

Upon being offended, the first thing believers do is threaten havoc and violent clashes if what they demand is not fulfilled. Is that tolerance or intolerance? I think the believer’s version of tolerance ultimately means this: We will do the nice thing of tolerating you and your freedom of expression only as long as you say what we approve of, but the moment you say something we do not like, we would be forced to get appallingly violent.

So, as long as someone is saying and doing what only the religious fraternity likes, where is the question of tolerance in that?

Banning and Burning Books

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of America, once quoted: “I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too.”

Today, it is not uncommon to hear that a certain book has been banned in some countries across the world. Take, for instance, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. This book was first published in 1988 and is said to be inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. Though I haven’t read this book myself, I do consider this as an important example in the context of this topic.

Protests against Rushdie and his “The Satanic Verses”

“The Satanic Verses” has been banned since 1988 in Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan and many other countries. Copies of the book were burnt across the world, amazingly by people who either never read it or did not know how to read. The reason for the ban, we were told, is that this Novel (its Fiction guys) is alleged to contain blasphemy. Notwithstanding the fact that this book went on to become a 1988 Booker Prize Finalist and won the 1988 Whitbread Award for novel of the year, the ban on this 24 year old book still prevails in many countries. Not only that, the outrage among some Muslims resulted in a Fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran in 1989. To top it all, Rushdie, who should have been a national asset, was even forced to flee from his homeland and he now lives in exile in the UK.

Those who are in favour of banning this book claim that this violates their freedom of religion by being blasphemic, the opposite point of view simply states that works of literature and fiction should not be judged against blasphemy based on the interpretation of some sections of a religious group.

For those who might think that banning this book was no big deal, let us take a look at some of the other more surprising examples of books that have been banned in the past for some reason or the other:

  • The Rights of Man– by Thomas Paine, who is one of the founding fathers of America.
    This book was banned in UK.
  • Lolita – by Vladimir Nabokov
    The book is widely critically acclaimed and was ranked 4th on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.
    This book was banned in France, UK, Argentina New Zealand, South Africa.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel – by George Orwell
  • Animal Farm – by George Orwell
    This book was widely censored in US and UK for being critical of USSR. It is a political satire and one of my favourite reads.
  • The Da Vinci Code – by Dan Brown, and now a major Motion Picture
  • Alice in Wonderland – by Lewis Caroll. Surprised?
  • The BibleNow surprised?
    Censored in dozens of countries, both historically and in the current era. Currently, the Bible is banned or greatly restricted in a number of countries including North Korea and Eritrea. Sometimes, the ban is on distributing the Bible in certain languages or versions. In 1234, King James I of Aragon ordered the burning of Bibles in the vernacular.
  • … and so many more.

For a more comprehensive lists of banned books that might surprise you, visit:

http://www.spaciousplanet.com/world/new/the-21-most-surprising-banned-books

Now, the question one needs to ask is this: Who decides what is offensive? And who decides what others should be allowed to read and what not? For instance, I might find a certain book offensive but what right do I have to deny others access to it?

After all, it’s not that a book is ever offensive. What people, who frequently get offended, really fear is an idea. It’s always an idea that they are uncomfortable with. For instance, the book, “Uncle Toms Cabin – by Harriet Beecher Stowe” was banned in southern US for its anti-slavery content. Yes! You heard me right, its anti-slavery content.

Galileo’s Mistake?

It is true of the history of our world that all great and revolutionary ideas are first met with resistance from the highest of quarters. It is only after they spread to the masses and people start to understand them that some sort of acceptance starts to come in. Take, for instance, the ideas of Galileo Galilei, the father of modern observational Astronomy, also considered widely as the father of science itself. Amongst his other accomplishments in the field of observational science, Galileo also championed the idea of heliocentrism – that the planets all revolve around the Sun and not around the Earth. This concept is, beyond any doubt, the universally accepted model of the Solar System and no one in their right mind would dare to challenge this idea except if they were insane. However, the same idea, led to Galileo’s being tried by the Roman Inquisition. He was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” due to his observations, was forced to recant his scientific findings to avoid being burnt at the stake and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. And all this, for observing the most basic of natural phenomenon.

It is to be noted that finally in 1992, Pope John Paul II formally acknowledged in a speech that the Roman Catholic Church had erred in condemning Galileo over 350 years ago for asserting that the earth revolves around the sun.

My point of giving this example is that in every age, most of the people of a society will have only a low intellectual capability and the ability to think for themselves. It is only due to the revolutionary ideas of some great thinkers and their perseverance against resistance by this multitude that societies are able to grow out of one dogma after another.

Imagine what would have happened if the heliocentric model of the Solar System was never allowed to be accepted. Would humanity have moved forward and made all its advances or moved backwards? What if the ideas of Independence and self-reliance continued to be crushed under the pretext of being offensive to the ruler? Would we have known the USA as it is today? Or the independent India as it is today? One of the most important contributors to the French Revolution was the same “The Rights of Man – by Thomas Paine” as mentioned in the list above.

Now, some people might argue that they do consider some literature to be offensive in a genuine sense. Definitely, it is possible that there might be some bad ideas. For instance, denying that Jupiter is just another world (planet), like the earth is, is a bad idea today. Slavery? Bad idea. Alchemy? Bad idea. But what we do need to note here is that none of these bad ideas were purged by banning books that talked about them, they were replaced by allowing the free flow of ideas that replaced these bad ideas. For instance, Alchemy was replaced by allowing Chemistry to be discussed and not simply by banning the thought of Alchemy itself.

Therefore, my point is that those who consider some ideas to be offensive or hurtful should endeavour to expose the fallacy of those ideas by writing about them through the same medium and presenting a strong case for their stand. If not, then nobody should hold people’s lives to ransom and demand that others’ ideas be forcefully suppressed. At the worst, if a book offends you, just don’t f****** read it.

“Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.” ― J.K. Rowling

Next question that one must contemplate is: whether these bans actually make any difference anyway? In today’s information age, it is virtually impossible for governments also to stop anyone from gaining access to any idea, thought or book, whatever strategies they may try. It is just useless and therefore the civilized society should continue to allow free flow of ideas in order to remain truly free.

After all, there are millions of people like me who hate the idea of having even a single book banned. Yet, we do not take to the streets massacring hundreds or thousands, burning buildings and demanding the heads of those who did not allow us access to a book that we want to read in our own personal time. What we do is we talk about our opinions and blog about them because we know that our idea is simply better that their idea and that it will ultimately prevail.

Burning books has never been the answer to anything and can never be acceptable to a civilized society. Because at the end of the day books won’t always stay banned. They won’t always be burned. Ideas won’t always go to jail. In the long run of history, censorship and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is good ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” – Oscar Wilde

The sooner we realize this, the better we become.

 

Notes:

List of Books banned books: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments

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