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Taslima, Hussein and Liberal Ethos
By Ram Puniyani

The reaction to the attack on Taslima Nasreen in Hyderabad, where she came for release of Telugu version of her book Lajja, (9th August 2007), led by three MLAs of MIM party of Owaisi came as a jolt to the liberal human values, to the values which Koran preaches and to the democratic liberal values which we cherish.

A section of Urdu media glorified the attack and chided the attackers for not going further than just throwing flowers and bouquets at her. The moderate and liberal section of Muslims strongly condemned the attack as reflected in the letters to the editors of major national dailies, the statements issued by various Muslim groups and the articles of prominent Muslim thinkers. From amongst the Hindu groups not much was heard. BJP, which has been 'defending' the rights of Taslima with great amount of zeal, as witnessed earlier at the time of ban of her books by Bangladesh Government and West Bengal Government did not come out with any statement. One presumes the BJP, in tune with its political contingency would have been strongly defending her. For parties like BJP the matters are simple, if someone is criticizing Islam and Muslims, defend them loudly and if the same thing is happening to the artists, who use Hindu motifs, imprison them as in the case of Baroda arts student Chandra Mohan or hound them out of the country as in the case of M.F. Hussein. The double standards driven by political goals are so clear that they do not call for any discussion.

The problem comes with the liberal secularists, who are the favorite whipping boys/girls of right wingers as well as those pretending to be liberal but are getting slowing bitten by sting of communal thinking in the face of global ascendance of anti Muslim and anti Islam feeling. Leading columnists are questioning as to where are these banner wielding groups and where is there writing condemning the attack on Taslima.

Factually speaking this observation is only partly true. One witnessed that in one of the less publicized morcha the democratic groups and individuals marched in Hyderabad itself condemning the attack on Taslima.  Also by now enough statements are already out criticizing the fanatic elements who insulted the brave Bangladeshi writer. Also some liberal groups are not only demanding the arrest of those MLAs, who tried to attack her, but also that they should be disqualified from the legislature. As such there is a deliberate ploy to project that those struggling for secular values are partial to Muslims and that they criticize only the Hindus While the Hindutva elements go to any length to abuse them and to assert that they are anti Hindus, even the liberal sounding voices are very critical of their efforts. This is even used as explanation for the anti minority pogroms by the followers of RSS ideology. Atal Bihari Vajpayee explained the Gujarat genocide by stating that since the secular elements and minorities did not condemn enough the incident of Godhra the Hindu anger came out in the form of this carnage.

This was a lie of highest order. Within hours of train burning the well planned pogrom was unleashed. In the mayhem created by the violence, the statements, the protests condemning Godhra were subdued and 'under projected'. Why this impression, that secularists are soft towards the Muslims and are anti-Hindus? The major question here is how do you quantify the condemnation? By the protest marches, statements, articles and letters to the editors. Now the social activists have always a problem that their events are not covered properly, the peace making efforts do not have much news value, while violence and sensationalism takes all the banner headlines. If one does a serious media exercise and adds up the unpublished articles, how does one trace them, statements and letters one should not be surprised that reaction is quite close to equal. But here what is visible is what is reported, and in this the secularists are on the receiving end as far as projection of their events is concerned.

One also recalls that the right wing is always harsh to those taking secular stance. The Muslim right wingers were extremely harsh on the Muslims toeing secular line, and also on Gandhi, who was a secular to the core. Same way Hindu right wing criticized him for being soft to Muslims. Not only that one of them, Nathuam Godse killed Gandhi as Godse felt that Gandhi is soft to Muslims and so anti Hindu.

One realizes that there is growing intolerance within the society and probably most of the sections are affected by it. The major example of that comes from comrades of West Bengal. Even they went on to ban Taslima's Dwikhandito, on the grounds of hurting of Bengali sentiments. This example apart as such the intolerance grows more amongst the threatened communities. This feeling of insecurity leads to conservative values and forms the base for the orthodoxy and right wing intolerant politics. The insecurity can be real or constructed, and both of them give rise to the retrograde narrow thinking. In Germany the insecurity amongst Jews was there for real. The success of Hitler was in the fact that he could make the majority feel that the miniscule minority of Jews, and than others, is a threat to them. So the German majority fell to most intolerant views and norms due to projected fear of the Jews.

In today's India, RSS-BJP's biggest success is that it has been able to manufacture insecurity amongst the majority, that the minorities, the Muslims, the Christians are posing a threat to Hindu religion.

Mumbai pogrom could be unleashed by Bal Thackeray as he succeeded in projecting that the Muslims are on the offensive and are a threat to Hindus. In Gujarat Modi succeeded in creating a sense of fear of Muslims amongst a section of Hindus, who than legitimized the carnage also. The violence does not take place in the vacuum it is the crystallization of Hate other ideas, precipitated due to some incidents presented in a particular way. So the aggressive intolerance exhibited in cases dealing with Hussein, Chandra Mohan, Deepa Mehta's attempt to make Water, attack on newspaper offices of Mahanagar and now on Outlook.

On the other hand the minority is gripped by the defensive intolerance, the intolerance which comes up due to their being bigger victims of the riots, due to their being sidetracked from the social and economic facilities in the society, due to their post carnage ghettoisation and all this resulting in relegating them to the status of second class citizens, by and by.

At no cost can any act of vandalism against our democratic freedom be exonerated. But the real fertile ground of minority fanaticism is created due to their feeling of insecurity. The real problem is the ascendance of politics deriving its legitimacy in the name of religion, this politics targeting the minorities and in turn creating responses which are deplorable to the highest order. In the face of the 'online auditing' by the liberal sounding voices, should the secularists put forward the balancing act?  While major sections amongst secularists do hold that the fanaticism breeds fanaticism, all fanaticism are dangerous, the impact of this varies from place to place. It is also true that Islamic fanaticism has eaten up democracy in Pakistan, and that it is a bigger threat in liberal values in Pakistan. Hindu bigotry, the politics of Hindutva is the threat to Indian democracy.

It is also true that fanaticism constructed by the political streams rooting in the majority are the one's who matter more and need to be engaged seriously while the minority groups indulging in such insane, acts should be condemned equally, while trying to provide that community a physical security, the lack of which causes the closing in of minds, rising support for fanatic elements and the consequent acts like attacking Taslima.