Of Shutman Ruddie, Tarka Butt, Hairy So-so and Valium There-Pimple
I have never tried my hands at magic realism or lampooning of the kind that drips venom. But it’s worth trying. Deal with it.
General Shutman Ruddie had long abandoned his land of birth, Freeforallistan, to conquer the rest of the world.
The general, who had the good looks of a goblin, however had left behind trusted lieutenants, namely, Dammitava Bimar, Hairy So-so and Valium There-Pimple, and even acolytes in the android media, such as Tarka Butt.
When Ruddie was barred from visiting Freefallistan recently, sadly because not many want him there anymore, people like Butt and There-Pimple told us about Ruddie’s virtues, ad nauseum.
So-so told us Ruddie was a great general, who valiantly fought for people’s fundamental right to abuse. Butt almost wept and said Freeforallistan’s forcing Ruddie to abort his trip was almost “antediluvian”, referring to the period in the Bible between the Creation of the Earth and the great Deluge (flood). On a modern-day android news device, an editor cried, “Shame”.
Dammitava Bimar and Hairy So-so read out from General Ruddie’s historic manual on how to abuse effectively.
Are you b-o-r-e-d? Must be. By now you must have realised that I’m not very good at either lampooning or magic realism, the literary genre that makes Salman Rushdie the darling man. One is generally not good at something one is not very interested in. Frankly, I am not very interested in crude name-calling.
Having made the aforesaid admission, let me reveal who the characters of my aborted novel were based on: Tarka Butt was modelled on NDTV’s Barkha Dutt and Dammitava Bimar and Hairy So-so were writers Amitava Kumar (whose first novel I had reviewed) and Hari Kunzru. Valium There-Pimple is author William Dalrymple.
If I have to criticise these honourable men and women, it has to be in an honourable way and with the civility they deserve, even though I don’t think they can take offence at what I wrote because they worship the right to free speech (which Rushide says must include the right to be downright offensive).
So, let’s get real. Salman Rushdie wants to teach the world how to hate Islam without knowing whether Islam is a four-legged mammal or a tree. Trust a man who knows so little to tell us how we should reconcile a faith with our times.
Rushdie argues for Islam to be confined to utterly private spaces, in which case he will have no problems at all. It’s only fair to argue that Muslims too will have no problem if he kept his spiteful views on Islam private.
The Indian media’s coverage of the drama that followed from Rushdie’s aborted trip lacked what is often lacking in Indian journalism — the ability to hear both sides out.
Only in this case, the media mostly forfeited the views of Muslims who are opposed to Rushdie. Muslims who do not oppose Rushdie obviously do not count in this debate since their stated position doesn’t make them a party to the case.
There were no larger questions on the concept of free speech, which is hotly debated especially when it arises in the context of Islam and religion, and normally overlooked.
For instance, how many Indian journalists have, exercising their free speech, asked Rahul Gandhi — who could be prime minister — to clear the air on his socio-economic predilections? Is he a socialist or an advocate of free-market policies? It took a British newspaper – The Economist — to ask that question.
How often do we question the Prime Minister or the leader of the Opposition? Of course, I don’t simply mean asking questions, but ‘questioning’.
As far as Rushdie goes, seldom has a modern critic of Islam been as fallacious as him. His description of the faith, any day, would just about fit him well.
In other words, all the “regressive” qualities attributed to Islam — as it is understood today — are very much part and parcel of his ideology too. Basically, it is possible to argue that Rushdie’s ideology is capable of being all that he thinks Islam enjoins its followers to be: intolerant, totalitarian, tyrannical and hegemonic.
Therefore, Rushdie calls mullahs the “extremists of Deoband”. It doesn’t matter that they were not gunning for his head, but were demanding of the government not allow his visit, in the event of which they said they would protest.
Global terrorism, he asserts, is indeed about Islam (the New York Times). To think that global terror has to do with only religion, frankly speaking, is to act as a stooge of western conservatism. The only other reason for such a conclusion has to be plain rejection of Islam.
Rushdie and Deoband’s mullahs show “one another off” in the best possible way: neither wants to give the other any space. Rushdie must know that he has to acquire the same virtues he expects out of Deoband’s clerics.
The question that nobody in the Indian media asked is this: what gives Rushdie — as a writer with strong views – total immunity from criticism, a privilege even Socrates had been denied?
However “regressive” Islam may be, Muslims have a right not to be offended. And any protest of Rushdie is acceptable. Short of violence. For the record.
A close scrutiny of Rushdie’s views on Islam – mostly expressed in his articles and interviews — reveals one small change in his stand. From a total negation of the religion, he has veered round to tolerating Islam as long as it is in the completely private domain of its adherents.
Rushdie’s distinct weakness for laicite, the French concept of secularism, is clear. Both Rushdie and laicite, as a political concept, are intolerant — they do not tolerate religion. So, neither of the two can claim to be eminently tolerant.
Laicite, and therefore Rushdie, tolerate religion no more than law tolerates a prisoner condemned to life sentence. This cannot be fair treatment at a time when the world has far more people who are adherents of one religion or the other, compared to those who don’t.
In an earlier essay – “Rushdie is wary of absolutists” — I talked about how it is possible to argue that Rushdie is an “absolutist” himself. He takes the right to free speech to be an absolute entitlement, which cannot be subjected to “reasonable restrictions”.
However, Rushdie’s efforts to promote reformation in Islam is pitiable. (The Right Time for An Islamic Reformation; Salman Rushdie, the Washington Post, 2005). The challenging task of reformation of any system cannot begin with a vituperative step.
Imagine what would have happened if the great Hindu reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy would have launched his reform of Hinduism with a scathing attack directed at the heart of the Hindu belief, questioning if it is valid at all.
What Islam surely needs is an intense, critical debate, not a diatribe. Especially one that mocks it as a freewheeling figment of imagination of an Arab orphan, i.e Prophet Mohammed (Rushdie, the Washington Post). A man who sees nothing more in Islam than this is ill-suited to tune it up. Reforming Islam needs, first and foremost, a willingness to accept it, in all its beauty and horror.
Rushdie cannot aspire to be a reformer of Islam and at the same teach the world to hate it. Conservatives already despise the religion. Rushdie’s mission is to make Left-liberals hate Islam too. He has succeeded in Britain on that count. (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/christopherhowse/5344937/salman_rushdie_taught_liberals_to_hate_islam/). And with a media that have not yet learnt to question everything and everyone, Rushdie appears to be succeeding in India too. To ask people to tolerate abuse is to crush their self-esteem, a normative human quality.