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Rushdie episode: What's all this noise about?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012 - 9:00am IST | Agency: dna

Salman Rushdie apparently failing to appear at the Jaipur Literary Festival has caused a huge stir.

Salman Rushdie apparently failing to appear at the Jaipur Literary Festival has caused a huge stir. The media is busy in (hysterically) churning out heavily-loaded terms like ‘shameful episode’ and ‘freedom of expression under siege.’ Some known jaundiced writers have gone as far as ‘the betrayal of secular India.’

Casting imaginary horrific scenarios to improve readership or viewership, though distasteful, is an established norm.

Even surpassing the requirements of improving TRP ratings, the media overdrive on Rushdie’s fictional controversy at best, sounds to be frenetic.

Who stopped the overhyped writer billed as the supreme upholder of freedom of expression from visiting Jaipur? After all it was Rushdie’s own decision not to visit Jaipur: ‘While I have some doubts as to the accuracy of the intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances. It would be irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience and to my fellow writers.’

Threat to life, imaginary or for that matter fabricated as it looks to be the case now, can never be discounted. Nevertheless, had Rushdie decided to come, as a free citizen he is entitled to visit wherever he wishes or is required to — and as a person of Indian origin he needs no visa or permission to return to his roots — it was the first and foremost responsibility of the Rajasthan government to provide foolproof security to Rushdie. 

Evidently, due to vote bank politics, the centre and the state governments developed cold feet. And both the governments in collaboration decided to seek the help of the dirty tricks department of intelligence to fabricate a threat. If Rushdie, braving all threats — as a shining knight of freedom is ordinarily expected — had stuck to his original plan, barring a few protests — the hallmark of our noisy democracy — the heavens would not have fallen. It was quite possible for him to participate in the literary festival safely; the state security apparatus is not in such disarray that it cannot ward off a few imaginary threats. Despite the two-decade old controversy on The Stanic Verses, Rushdie in 2007 had attended the festival without any problem. His coming would have killed the news and silenced the screaming headlines. What suited Rushdie’s and the media’s best interest was the making of a controversy; a mundane participation was not worth any attention. Acting as elixir for Rushdie to keep him relevant, his non-appearance has prompted

The Wall Street Journal to pass a judgement: blot on India’s poor record on upholding freedom of expression.

In the age of Islamophobia, anything that relates to Muslims makes headlines. Particularly the ill-informed reaction of a half-baked Ulema on any issue is sure recipe for controversy. It is not the time to cite examples of identical controversies pertaining to other communities failing to draw a cursory interest of national and international media; it is a matter of fact that a minor Muslim issue is invariably tuned into a big controversy by the overzealous media.

Let us ask a fair question: Does this present controversy deserve such media attention? More than anybody else, like always, it is the Muslim clergy that is to be blamed for stoking an unnecessary controversy. By issuing a statement of disapproval on a nonissue, the clerics unwittingly became the whipping boys for the media ever eager to make a mountain out of a molehill. Even if it was difficult to maintain silence as Rushdie had hurt their sentiments; no Muslim worth his faith is ready to subject his/her reverence for Prophet to any ridicule. Still, the best option was to ignore the insult with stoic patience and maintain a dignified silence. A boisterous reaction only glorifies the contempt.

The freedom of expression in any society is not a free enterprise even not the so-called creative expression. Where on this earth freedom of expression is not constrained by law of the land, or the values and social customs of a given society?

Freedom of expression free from all social and legal bindings will only lead to anarchy. None is above criticism and the same applies to Muslims, yet a clear distinction has to be drawn between an objective critique and deliberate attempts of ridiculing an entire faith.

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