‘Us’ or ‘the enemy’
By Javed Anand
In their attitude towards notions of freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, the right to dissent or the right to be different, there is little to choose between the Hindu Taliban and the Muslim Bajrang Dal. There is perhaps some advantage in this ‘mix-up’, if only to underscore the point that the Taliban and the Bajrang Dal are mindsets as much as they are organisations.
In the black or white mental universe of these self-proclaimed crusaders, no shade of grey is permissible. Since they are the sole defenders of faith, they alone must have the unquestioned right to interpret it. Because their belief system is forever in danger, in the eternal ‘Holy War’ they are engaged in there can be no neutral ground and the distinction between friend and foe is critical. You are either "us" or "the enemy".
It is therefore not in the least surprising that in the last few weeks, under cover of a motley crowd of bearded men in flowing robes, pompously projected as Hazrat Maulana so-and-so, plus some truly pseudo-secular politicians from the Congress and the Samajwadi Party with an eye on the Muslim vote (assembly elections are around the corner in Maharashtra), the Urdu Times published from Mumbai has launched a jihad against the less than year-old Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD).
The Urdu Times’ hostility towards MSD since the latter’s inception on Gandhi Jayanti Day (October 2, 2003) has been evident from the twisted logic emanating from the warped minds of several of the columnists and editorial staff of the Urdu daily. That this should be so is also not surprising.
MSD stands committed to equal citizenship, rule of law, fundamental rights, gender justice and an emphatic ‘No’ to both ‘Mob Violence’ and ‘Bomb Violence’. What the Urdu Times stands for, on the other hand, is best understood from how it celebrated the devastating earthquake that took a huge toll on life and property in the Latur and Osmanabad districts of Maharashtra several years ago, as Allah’s revenge on the infidels.
"Delays there may be, but Allah’s ways are always just… We Muslims are of the firm conviction that Allah’s curse is sure to fall on those who have made life miserable for Indian Muslims. Latur and Osmanabad are districts from where many villagers had sent a number of kar sevaks to Ayodhya. They participated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6… Praise be to Allah Almighty who has reduced to dust those who committed sacrilege on the sacred soil of the Babri Masjid" (Editorial in the January 22, 1994 edition of the Urdu Times).
On the eve of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s Kanpur meeting (July 4), MSD held a press conference in Mumbai to reiterate its demand for an end to the inhuman and anti-women practice of triple talaq and for gender just reforms in all existing personal laws, including the Muslim Personal Law. This is the ‘provocation’ for which the Urdu Times, dismissed as a communal rag by many sensible Muslims, has launched its jihad against MSD since early July.
It has published articles delving into the personal life of MSD’s president, Urdu poet and lyricist, Javed Akhtar, in very distasteful and extremely offensive language. Far more insidious, however, are the other ‘news reports’ and articles published by the daily, inciting hatred and instigating violence against Akhtar in particular and MSD’s office bearers and members in general. Akhtar was warned: "Remain in your senses… the day is not far when you too will be counted amongst infamous blasphemers such as Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen…"
The "Hazrat Maulanas", who, according to the Urdu Times, held an emergency meeting to serve the ultimatum on Akhtar and the MSD, also appealed to all Muslims to impose a total social boycott against the likes of Akhtar.
In other reports and articles, MSD and its members have repeatedly and variously been described as "enemies of Islam", "munafiqeen" (dictionary meaning: hypocrites, infidels, atheists, despoilers), a communist-led outfit that is part of an international breed of Muslim traitors, who while pretending to be Muslims are in fact "pro-US, pro-Zionists, pro-sangh parivar".
But the most shocking instance of the daily’s inflammatory and highly irresponsible writing assumed the form of an orchestrated campaign against Sajid Rashid (executive chairman, Maharashtra State Urdu Academy, editor, Hindi eveninger, Hamara Mahanagar and vice-president, MSD), for allegedly "insulting the Koran". That this campaign against Rashid could incite some hot-headed Muslims into violence against him makes the bogus allegation despicable; else it is so frivolous as to be laughable.
On July 19, a delegation of MSD office bearers, accompanied by Teesta Setalvad (secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace), Nikhil Wagle (editor, Mahanagar), met the Mumbai police commissioner, AN Roy to demand criminal prosecution of the editors, publisher, proprietors and certain correspondents and columnists of the Urdu Times for inciting hatred and instigating violence against Akhtar and Rashid in particular and other members of MSD in general.
The delegation told the commissioner that the voice of MSD would not be stifled by threats or the use of violence and that MSD would hold Urdu Times solely responsible should there be any incident of violence against any member of MSD in the coming months. They added that they expected the police force in a secular society to stand by those who stood for fundamental freedoms rather than those who threatened violence to silence a dissenting view.
The police commissioner assured the delegation that he would immediately ask the legal department of his police force to examine MSD’s demand for criminal prosecution.
(Javed Anand is general secretary, MSD).
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.