After the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, France where ten journalists/cartoonists and two others were killed by two gunmen the news channels jumped into action.
Bill Maher, a renowned critic of Islam, was having a discussion with three people one of them was Salman Rushdie, the author of the controversial book Satanic Verses. Bill Maher, who is also renowned for his rhetoric, made a statement ‘if there are so many bad apples then there has to be a problem with the orchard’.
Sami Zeidan, an Al Jazeera English journalist, based in Doha, Qatar was having a similar discussion. In his panel he had even more interesting combination of guests. One of his guests was a Sudanese Muslim cartoonist based in Doha. He mentioned that being a cartoonist his works were routinely censored before they were published. But what appeared to be the most interesting was when he had mentioned that he was also subjected to self-imposed censorship. When the cartoonist was asked if he would draw a cartoon of the prophet of Islam, he said ‘no’. Very soon the discussion turned into attacking and defending Islam. Douglas Murray, who had joined the discussion from London and a French woman journalist named Catherine who had joined from Paris started attacking the religion stating that the religion was to be blamed for the attack on ‘freedom of expression’ and Sami Zeidan of Al Jazeera and the cartoonist started defending the faith. At some point Douglas Murray told Sami Zeidan that being based in Doha he did not enjoy any freedom of speech at which Sami Zeidan tried to protest but his protest was very weak because he knew that he did not have the freedom and the reason was not unknown to anyone. Even a partial freedom of speech is as bad as having no freedom of speech because it is not possible to ‘ring fence’ our thoughts and words while having a discussion.
But many of us have in our minds certain things which we knowingly or unknowingly consider to be ‘sacrosanct’. Imagine for example, that any Bengali had ever mentioned that Rabindranath Thakur’s writings or songs are ‘so-so’; what would happen to that person; there is a 99% probability that he/she would be ostracized.
If anyone had ever dared to mention that Swami Vivekananda’s knowledge of history was seriously lacking, the person would be hated all across India, not only by Hindus but by Muslims as well. Swami Vivekananda is a ‘hero’ in the eyes of people of both the communities.
If any Bengali had ever dared to mention that he did not agree that Subhas Chandra Bose was the greatest freedom fighter of India, he would be considered as a black sheep of Bengal.
I was following the news after the scientists at ISRO had successfully completed their mission to Red Planet. These were some of the interesting things I had observed. Many ‘coconuts were broken’ because it is considered to be religiously auspicious. At every critical juncture, take for example, when the satellite left the orbit of our planet and started for the Red Planet, our scientists were chanting verses from our sacred books. Everybody would agree that their mathematics was correct, engineering works were also perfect and let us also accept the fact that the satellite was not hit by any wandering stone from the Kuiper Belt, so we also got lucky. So after the grand success of the mission what should we call it, a scientific achievement, answer to our prayer or a combination of the both?
Author: Mintu Ghoshal.
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