Defending Free speech
And Defying Fundamentalists in a sensitive nation.....
By Chris Emmanuel Dsouza
The Legendary French philosopher Voltaire demonstrating his solidarity with right of Free Speech wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” He didn’t stop there, he proceeded to write “Men who believed in absurdities committed atrocities” and apparently on both these occasions, Voltaire was referring to amazingly uncultured men affiliated to bullying gangs, who hauled with ire, every time their feelings were hurt.
Temperament is an unusual frame of mind; it can boil upto a certain limit, and at breakeven, when the very reason it purges seems skirmish even to the point of a debate, it deviates its direction and cools down , abnormally low, where it takes a humorous position. That’s precisely what happened with some of the literary masters over the years. During the dark ages of Europe, when societal stigmas, taboos, beliefs, practices, rites, customs and its effects transcended into a firestorm, leading to complete debacle of the European society, the only rescue mission emanated from the fraternity of artistic brilliance. The dogmas were too bitter to consume, as they went over the heads of literary world, tempting them to use provocative satires against it. The fanatics, unlearned and hardliners who couldn’t wait to handle any criticisms against their cults, turned themselves as self-styled crusaders and sought the heads of the literary world terming them as ‘Blasphemers’.
And thus arose a disturbing phenomenon of Sacrilege and Blasphemy, raging out from the veins of despicable extremists, who made it habitual to cry foul every time they felt like feeling offended. The weirdness attached to the term offensive is so great, that it erupts each time, it feels pinched. This occurred as early as 500 years before Christ, when an admirable Athenian philosopher was sentenced and poisoned, for his thoughts. The thoughts that went against the common beliefs of his period, and thus Socrates came to be regarded by modern writers as the ‘first prisoner of conscience’. In the 17th century, an Italian physicist and astronomer devised an innovative theory, which suggested that earth revolved around sun and rotated around its axis, contrary to the traditional belief. The fundamentalists didn’t spare him too; he was charged of hurting religious sentiments, and sentenced to prison. A few decades later, his theory was adopted in the mainstream and to this day Galileo has been hailed as the “father of Scientific Revolution”. Dating back to the mid-19th century, an English Biologist released a book by the name “Origin of Species” which explained a remarkable and an awe-inspiring theory of “Natural Selection”. The Biologist had penned down a theory on “Evolution of Mankind”, which didn’t go well with western conservatives of his era. Thus, he had to seek state protection and forced to move into hideout, due to fear from faith based hardliners and protestant fundamentalists. A Few decades later, his theory was seriously narrated in all schools around the world, and today Darwin’s theory and his other findings have been widely acclaimed in Academic circles, earning him the title of most important biologist on Evolution of Mankind.
In the recent times, when the world has taken progressive steps in protecting Freedom of speech and Expression, and most importantly the lives of artists, Scientists and literary icons; India has sarcastically remained primitive. This has been portrayed in recent times by the treatment presented to two iconic Artistic genius of this era Maqbool Fida Hussain and Salman Rushdie. The Indian government, greedy of power, spineless in heart, Timid in decision, fantastically coward and inexplicably corrupt has successfully created a vacuum for the rise of intolerance in the country. It is the Indian government’s capitulation to the fundamentalist nut-bags wandering with destructive weapons in the streets, which eventually resulted in blocking Salman Rushdie’s much awaited presence at the Jaipur literary festival, for a talk on the topic “chutnification of English Language”. The fundamentalists do not make an in-depth analysis on anything they do, and this proves on two hilarious cases. The first is that Salman Rushdie has made atleast five visits to India, after the “Satanic Verses” episode in 1989. The second instance makes their case excessively pitiable, widely exposing their ignorance on world affairs. Anyone in this planet, who has access to You tube, Facebook and English Dailies would have easily recognized the brutally fierce critique on faith and religion, The Patriarch of Non- Belief, the world renowned Biologists and author of ‘God Delusion’ Dr. Richard Dawkins. Some of us were shockingly astonished, watching Professor Dawkins making vehement statements against religion to a literary crowd, flanked by media at the same venue where Rushdie was supposed to have lectured! Now, for heaven sake, we shall not discuss about Dawkins’s ‘God Delusion’, its nature and content, because the book is available at every book store in the country. Neverthless, the man who bashes organized faith and rubbishes its claims, on a routine basis, is allowed to carry out his business as usual at the cost of a spectacularly creative novelist, and the street demonstrators are hardly aware of Dr. Richard Dawkins works, which would not only offend , but also intensify them.
Well, How to go about this part- pathetic and part- sinister case? It is the vindication that Radicals and hardliners stretching their necks out from the safe nest of Political Parties or Religious parties (Politics likes to blend with religion) are appallingly retarded. They have absolutely no right of any say on anything in a Secular democracy. Because, a secular democracy by definition, lays down the red carpet for Sane and civilized people, and rejects those who fail to qualify to its definition. The same mobs that burned down and decimated MF Husain’s paintings and museums were involved carrying out angry demonstrations against Salman Rushdie’s visit. These hooligans and lynch mobs shouldn’t be isolated nor should they be patronized, instead they must be ridiculed, for their common sense and stupidity. They have not attempted in least to understand Husain’s art or Rushdie’s novel, and perhaps they could never have understood Rushdie’s Novels, because they couldn’t read out a word from them. The leaders of these bullying gangs are the only role models these impatient followers have. The leaders are enraged by the passages in the book, but their followers are frustrated because they are unable to read.
Why don’t the most important community on this planet, those of who believe in the powers of reason and science, or in other words the enlightened ones, organize a lynch mob, burn streets, vandalize public property and riot in fury? Why don’t these individuals retaliate with force, threatening people of serious consequences for offending their sensitivities? Why don’t such sadistic thoughts creep into their minds? It should be noted that being a humanist in everyday life is not a cake walk, our sensitivities are hurt from the time we read through the front page of morning newspaper to the time we return home and find undeserving candidates seated on the debating panel on prime time newsshows. The slangs they use, the ignorance they expose and the obscurantism they vomit deserves attention only from chimps wandering in African bushes.
The fanatics and retarded extremists, who claim that they have the veto power to dictate terms to government and to national events, (which they would find hard to pronounce), should be conveyed that they are not the only people to feel offended. Sometimes, we too are offended with absurd practices, undue hero-worship, irrational beliefs, and glorification of myths. The secularists and liberals in India are offended to the extreme, when women are beaten by drunken mobs for the crime of passing by a pub, or going out to a restaurant with male friends. In some places of India’s Coastal belt, the fundamentalists decide what attire a woman should wear, the way she should behave in a society and interfere in their Personal relationships. But, it’s interesting, that we don’t see artists, musicians, novelists, journalists and other faculty of arts parading to the streets with outrage and creating atmosphere of chaos. We have to put up with this madness and cruelty, and claim that our sensitivities are not hurt.
The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that "everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice".
It is high time, some of our politicians; begin to understand the sanctity of Free Speech. Our government must lead the way for righteousness and not fall prey to the vices of the society. The sensitivities of masses are too high and too far, to be tranquillized, it certainly won’t by banning visits of eminent artists and writers. If this abnormal excitement and lunatic outrage for hurting sensitivities of foolish crackpots, proceeds with thrust, well then, chances of encounter between the secularists and fundamentalists is high. The best thing our political leaders could do to calm down the hurt sentiments of intensified mobs is to play the world’s smallest violin. If that can’t easily soothe their hurt feelings, then they are in the verge of intimidating secular patience. The swords may not be out at once, while the pen is still mightier than the sword. This reminds me of the Great French Revolution of 1789, the ever-inspiring principles are still alive. The call for future sacraments of Secular fundamentalism and Muscular Liberalism must be inscribed with utmost brutality to avoid further catastrophe.