Author: Saadut
•5:14 PM

Freedom of speech is perhaps one of the most abused freedoms that people have. Often taken as a right by many people to express without responsible self control or caring about social implications, freedom of expression is more often than not misused. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of India at 19 (1) (a) as “to freedom of speech and expression” extended with a rider at 19 (2) “Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect…….. public order, decency or morality….. defamation or incitement to an offence”,
The only problem with freedom is the tendency of people to abuse it audaciously. When expressions either in letter or words become detrimental to the society and are likely to cause disruptions or social frictions, people have to be reigned in. Collective good of the society is far important than the right of misuse of freedom of expression.

If freedom of expression was a limitless right then vandals disrupting or likely disrupt public property and peace should have been viewed as expressing under their inalienable right of ‘freedom of expression’, because they were only expressing their anger or a desire to vandalize, steal and cause public disorder. Freedom of speech comes with a heavy responsibility. But how many of the proponents of freedom of speech actually keep in mind and discharge that responsibility?

Against every right conferred upon an individual, weighs a responsibility to be exercised by him. Sadly people, who often sermonize about their right of free speech, circumvent of their responsibilities and social self restraint.  Free speech is in reality a right to speak as you want and when you want as long as it does not cause harm to others or result in social discontentment and disorder.  Blasphemy is often the extreme end of ‘freedom of expression’ with the likely potential of inflaming religious emotions and increasing the polarization between social and religious communities.

Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ has never been acknowledged as his best book by literary critics, but it gave him more fame than any  other of his writings, only because of his open blasphemy against Islam. In spite of what many self tagged ‘liberals’ may claim, the ‘Satanic Verses’ was an intentional attempt at blasphemy and vituperation. Rushdie had not created characters ‘Gabreel, Saladin and (the false prophet in the book) Mahound (his attempt at vilifying the Prophet SAW)’ out of ignorance but with clear intent, nor was the plot of the book a mere coincidence. All this blasphemous slander and smear was pitifully well thought of. The aftermath of this work gave him more fame in the west (exactly what he was vying for) and took many innocent lives of protestors in other parts of the world (12 protestors killed in Bombay on 24th Feb 1989 when police fired on protestors).
More than two decades later the Jaipur Literary Festival again resurrected the ‘Satanic Verses’ in word and spirit. Rushdie was invited as a speaker which was met with some protesting voices within India. While political parties wanted to make hay in this melee, many Muslims genuinely felt hurt by this news. A Rajasthan police blooper or Rushdie’s own reservations ensured that the writer did not come to India, but Rushdie was nonetheless read at the event. And it was only the ‘Satanic Verses’ of Rushdie’s works that were read by many writers at the event. Rushdie has written other books which stand much acclaimed, then why were only the controversial ‘Satanic Verses’ read at the venue? Surely even by the own admission of these ‘freedom of expression’ firing ‘liberals’ the ‘Satanic Verses’ was not even among the moderate works of Rushdie, leave alone being his best, so why did the ‘thrash’ of the pick make it to the venue reading? Was this reading inspired by the value of this work or by a confrontationist desire to walk over the emotions of the minority community, to make a show of ‘Literary and Intellectual aggression’ against an inflated Islamophobic sentiment? If they really wanted to bring in the literary works of Rushdie, they would have chosen his best works not his hate spitting attempt in paper. The brave act of reading the ‘Satanic Verses’ was ironically followed by a braver act of fleeing the venue by the ‘free speech’ protagonists.  

Many ‘Lie-berals’ on social networks and on media jumped on to the ‘Rushdie’sque’ promotion bandwagon, most of whom had either not read the ‘Satanic Verses’, ‘The Quran’, or the both. In their badly sought self promotion and PR opportunity they often claimed to represent everybody in the debate, yet speaking up for only confusion.  Everybody suddenly wanted to become a ‘Rushdie star’; many even would not have an iota of knowledge of the level of blasphemy that had occurred and the consequential repercussions that had followed for many societies worldwide. Modern modes of communication may have given us faster and cheaper mediums, but it also has given people more easy opportunities to readily abuse our ‘freedom of speech and expression’, vile that has become more deadly with the technological empowerment.  

If ‘freedom of speech’ was a limitless right, would the same champions of free expression dare to speak against the Armenian massacre in France or speak against the Jewish Holocaust elsewhere? Or was the ‘freedom of speech’ right to be used by these ‘Lie-berals’ in exclusivity against a particular religion only. Incidentally in the recent past when the state barred Human rights activist Gautam Navlakha from the Srinagar airport and send him back by the next available flight, or when US radio journalist David Barsamian was denied entry to India, it was an open infringement on their right to travel and free speech yet none of these ‘liberal’ champions raised a concern against this act. No ‘Intellectual’ protects, no scripted fiery TV debates were held for such ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of travel’ denial. Surely ‘free speech’ by the ‘Rushdie’esque’ champions was considered as a right of the privileged few.  

We have not forgotten when Mumbai University banned ‘Such A Long Journe’y (1991) by Rohinton Mistry, after Aditya Thackeray, grandson of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had raised objections about it. And none of these ‘Lie-berals’ could muster courage to defend the ‘freedom of speech’ here. Why? Was it the fear of Shiv Sena or the absence of an Islam bashing opportunity for these Lie-berals? D.N Jha (eminent Indian historian and member of the Indian Council of Historical Research) received death threats over his book “Myth of the Holy Cow”, where he proved that beef, which is taboo for Hindus, was once a part of the ancient Indian diet and has not always been held sacred. He also dispelled the popular allegations that “Muslims introduced beef-eating to the Indian subcontinent”. A court in Hyderabad banned the book and not surprisingly the Saffron parties demanded his arrest. But no ‘Lie-berals’ were seen in TV studios blowing their ‘freedom of speech’ trumpet and no rights activists saw this as an ‘act savior’ opportunity. Why?  Did these personalities have no ‘Rushdie’esque’ star value and hence not worth defending? I will not point out to the fact that Dr Zakir Naik was denied entry to Canada and UK, a clear violation of free speech. He was probably indefensible because he belonged to a particular faith in India, hence Indian media had no use pretending to defend him; no TRP’s for such a defense. 

As I write this blog, there is news that a video link with Rushdie is going to take place. No problems in that as long as the decent limitations of freedom of expression are adhered to.  But if the discussion again is going to revolve around ‘Satanic Verses’ we shall see it nothing but as a ‘Satanic Intent’ to incite religious passion with utter disregard for mutual respect , tolerance and a clear disdain against the rights of communities to exist and believe respectfully.

Islam has a rich history of dissent and discussion. Question it as you may, criticize it but please don’t use this right for desecration and profanity. Blasphemy hurts badly, don’t use the ‘freedom of speech’ excuse to indulge in such debasement. 

24th January, 2012