You cannot make a point about peace through violence
Both family and friends said that the issue of Prophet Mohammed’s caricatures has been done to death in the media and I should not get into it. I agreed. Partly because I was not very clear where I stood in this whole debate of freedom of expression versus religious sensitivity, East versus West, clash of civilisations and so on. I agreed with almost all viewpoints arguing one side or the other. I endorse freedom of expression, but I also endorse the need to exercise caution when dabbling with sensitive issues. Since I had nothing new or informed to contribute I felt it was best that I focus on something else, where perhaps I can make a point, for instance, my favourite subject, democracy and terrorism.
Yet, I changed my mind. There were two reasons for this. I stumbled upon the controversial caricatures on some vague blog on the Internet. I was not amused. They were neither funny nor creative. But I did not get angry either. Strangely, they evoked no strong sentiments in me. A few of them were offensive no doubt, but did they hurt my religious sentiments? Was I outraged at this mockery of my religion? Honestly, no. The second reason why I finally chose to write this was more important.
My younger school-going sister told me a few weeks back that these days children in her tuition class often crack jokes and immediately pull a straight face when she looks at them with comments like, ‘We shouldn’t have cracked a joke in front of her. She is a Muslim yaar, she can get us killed.’ They say it in jest and the first few times my sister also joined in the collective laughter, but they do it all the time. They are not cracking Muslim jokes, like the Sardar jokes, but they are making fun of a Muslim’s inability to take a joke. According to my sister, this never used to happen earlier. “Muslims have a very bad image,” she rues. “Everybody thinks that they are very violent.”
I do not agree that Muslims cannot take a joke. And in any case, these caricatures were not meant to tickle your funny bone. They were meant to offend the common Muslims and they succeeded in doing that. As I said, I found the caricatures in poor taste, but they did not anger me. What angers me is the blatant abuse of power by an arrogant state; and when that power is used to humiliate and subjugate the weak who quivers in helpless rage. What angers me is when you strip a person not only of his clothes but his self-respect as well and laugh at his expense. Hooded men slashing the throat of a shackled person kneeling at their feet outrages me. The grandiose and presumptuous operations like Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom anger me. When I see images of wailing parents by the bodies of their young children killed either in crossfire or through a bomb that missed its target, I shake in suppressed rage. The most recent trigger for my anger was the public announcement of bounty to anyone who kills the Danish cartoonist by one fringe minister in the Uttar Pradesh cabinet. The publicity that this minister (I refuse to give him anymore publicity by naming him) got ensured that many more wannabes emerge with several outrageous offers, all for their fleeting moments of glory. I am also angered by the governments who are fuelling these hate sentiments, in Europe by their foolish, self-righteous attitude and in the Middle East by arresting journalists and authors for criticising the violent protests by their mindless brethren.
But most of all, I am hurt by this upsurge of protest and its destructive nature. I feel that if anybody is insulting or harming Islam, it is these so-called believers who by their insane behaviour are damaging its reputation. By their despicable placards and sinister threats of violence, they are defacing not only the religion but its prophet as well. Why didn’t the cartoons hurt me? Well, for many reasons, the most important being that I believe that a religion that is so profound that it gives succour to billions around the globe cannot get affected by such things. In my moments of weakness, I draw comfort from my religion. Can my religion be so fragile that it needs protection from a weakling like me? And if it does, how can it then comfort me? How can something that is in my heart get dishonoured by physical actions of some people? If it is in my heart then only I can dishonour it by losing faith in its capacity to support me.
Having said this, I must also register my protest against the cartoons. I feel it was a completely pointless exercise carried on at the most inopportune time. We are still grappling with international terrorism; the entire Middle East is in a state of flux; the militant organisation Hamas has swept to power in Palestine; Iraq is on a verge of a civil war; the US and Europe are hardening their positions on Iran; the European Union continues to refuse admission to Turkey fuelling stories about EU being the exclusive Christian club; and several European countries including France saw racial violence recently, caused largely by unemployment in a large section of its population. Was this the best of times to show that Muslims are an intolerant lot?