Cut! Or the fragility of Islam
As the backlash against Innocence of Muslims, a film on Islam, gains political momentum across geographies, I wonder whether the key driver of this violence, this intolerance is really a fragility, and not the protection, of the world’s second-largest faith. Why else would something so ridiculous that I had to invoke the gods of patience to sit through it be taken so seriously by Muslim leaders across the world?
The enthusiasm with which this idea has been hijacked by people who have gloriously worn the crown of protecting this great faith to push their retrograde and outlived political agendas, is unbelievable. Such actions belong to those who have little or nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with power grabbing, currently through a headline-hunting media. The good news is that the global press has lost interest. The bad news is that preventing the film from reaching our terminals and iPads, India is, once again, playing communal politics and leading this onslaught on freedom.
Muslims, who cry that not only the Prophet’s face has been shown (not allowed under Islam), he has been depicted as a thuggish womaniser, and so the 55-year-old Egyptian-American filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula must be killed, need to get real. “I issue a fatwa and call on the Muslim youth in America and Europe to do this duty, which is to kill the director, the producer and the actors and everyone who helped and promoted the film,” Hizbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, a Lebanese cleric said.
Coming 23 years after Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa that Salman Rushdie be executed because his book, The Satanic Verses was “blasphemous” and seven years after the Prophet’s cartoons in a Danish Newspaper and the resultant furor, there seem to be larger forces at play behind Islamic fatwas that meet the eye. So, on the one side we have a filmmaker whose creative effort has been to provoke. On the other, a reaction that’s brazenly out of proportion to the alleged “insult”. Caught in the crossfire are the rest of us.
Nakoula is clearly a mischief-maker. That he wasn’t aware of what his film would do can’t be accepted — just as free speech is an idea we fight for, there is no way he wouldn’t have known the repercussions and the international fame it would have brought to him and his preposterous film. However much I detest his film, Nakoula must get international protection.
But Salman Rushdie is as legitimate an author as can be. Before even beginning to shrug him and his work off, fence-sitters must read this autobiographical excerpt on how he lived through the deplorable and barbaric fatwa imposed on him by Khomeini. There is no justification, whatsoever, for such a fatwa. In fact, there is no justification on smothering any idea, howsoever irritating it be. On the other side, this one fatwa has contributed more to the rise of anti-Islamic ideas and virtually desecrated the religion than any number of books, cartoons and films ever can hope to. It has given the impression — faithfully being accelerated today — that Islam is a religion of violence, it is intolerant.
None of which is true. It is simply that vested interests have taken a narrow and conservative view of the religion. This view has now got political legitimacy in Islamic nations from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iran and Saudi Arabia. And it is not that they are only targeting other faiths — the status of women in these countries is unequal, if not outrageous. The centuries-ago, warlike context of the creation of Islam has been transposed on a time when religion itself is getting outdated.
Neither Nakoula, nor his mischief, nor fatwas are going to end — the fruits of instant fame are just to ripe to be avoided. Religious fundamentalism is on the rise and will continue to flower as one government after another — with India leading the brigade — cows down before vested interests in the name of security, growth, emancipation, upliftment, votes. At a policy level, religious fundamentalism is going to be a major challenge before man — how do deal with a fuzzy thing called faith without hurting a tangible idea called body.
But evolution will not stop simply because of fame-seekers or blasphemy-victims. Progress through science, technology and social institutions that protect individual rights is the new dynamic, the change-agent — the rajasic surge of humans. In this evolution, religion is a static dogma, holding people back — the tamasic retreat of nature that refuses to change. At some point, religion will have to embrace destiny and commit suicide. Until then, it will remain fragile.