The World Has Become Adept at ChicaneryBHUPINDER SINGH MAHAL
chicanery - verbal deception or trickery, especially in legal quibbling; dishonest or sharp practice; a trick, deception, or quibble [Dictionary]
While people were still commemorating the 11th anniversary of 9/11 this year, the Muslim world spun wildly off its axis as rage-filled mobs stormed and scaled the high-walled compounds of western embassies in major Arab capitals, burning American flags and Obama effigies and shouting death to the infidels.
The US consulate in Benghazi was to bear the brunt of the attack by a unit of rogue Libyan militia; the US Ambassador and three other embassy officials were killed.
The Muslim rage was fueled by a film lampooning Prophet Mohammed. The film titled “Innocence of Muslims” was produced by a man identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Egyptian living in California.
The Muslim outrage was palpably obvious as evidenced by the offer of a bounty by a Pakistani minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, for killing of those involved in the making of the film. Another fatwa was issued by Ahmad Fouad Ashoushi, a Salafist cleric in Egypt, calling for the deaths of not just the makers but also promoters of the film.
Speaking ill of religious personages or the Quran is a blasphemy to Muslims. Slighting of Prophet Mohammed is the epitome of irreverence. Open ridiculing of Prophet Mohammed in the western media started in 2005 when a leading Danish paper published unflattering cartoons depicting the Prophet and at once ignited violence throughout the Muslim world.
Earlier this year protests flared in many towns and cities in the Muslim world over the burning of the Quran by US troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. And, now six months later, some Muslims are confronted with yet another blasphemous deed.
While the Muslim furor over the film multiplied, the Christian community was grappling with their own cause célèbre.
Karen King, a Harvard University professor specializing in Christian history, revealed a frayed fragment of ancient papyrus, of size of a calling card, with a partial text that made mention of Jesus having a wife. Although authenticity of the document remains to be established, leading Christian scholars have treated it with skepticism.
The marital status of Jesus forms one of the pillars of Christian faith. The gospels underscore Jesus’ celibacy. It is accepted creed that Jesus and the Apostles renounced family life and chose celibacy believing that the ministry of god would best be served by unsparing devotion and absolute commitment; a creed that the Christian priestly class follows to this day. Moreover, Christians believe that Jesus did not succumb to human fallibilities and desires and was sinless, based on the belief that sex is steeped in sin.
Christian indignation on the significance of the words of the papyrus is muted. That was not the case a quarter of century earlier on the release of Martin Scorsese's 1988 film, “Last Temptation of Christ,” that depicted Jesus struggling with human weaknesses, semptations and sexual urges. Protests broke out in major cities, the worst one in Los Angeles where about 25,000 protestors, led by a coalition of religious groups, staged a noisy demonstration in front of the Universal Studios, the distributor of the film. Some theaters refused to screen the film. But within a month the protest had died down.
The lampooning of Prophet Mohammed and the romantic linkage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is considered sacrilege by the Muslim and Christian communities respectively. However, the communal reaction is a world apart. The Muslim rage over the film about the Prophet has resulted in scores of deaths whereas the Christian anger was peaceful.
In his interview on CNN’s "GPS" with host Freed Zakaria, Salman Rushdie explained the inordinate rage and response in the Arab street thus:
RUSHDIE: The idea that there is this gigantic conspiracy in the West to defame, degrade Islam, you know, and that all these things, whether they're cartoons or videos or whatever, are evidence of that and that this conspiracy is engineered at the highest level. And that plays very well. It plays very well to the, you know, to the Arab street.
ZAKARIA: Why does it? Why does it work?
RUSHDIE: Well, I think it's clearly evidence of a kind of insecurity of culture, you know, that, because if you're secure in your sense of yourself, in your belief system or whatever it might be, you know, you can shrug off criticisms. You know, there’s a cartoon about the pope every day in the papers, you know, you don't have Catholics burning down newspaper offices. It's -- if you're secure in yourself and in your ideas, you can shrug things off. So this is partly -- it feels like its insecurity.
Writing in the Globe and Mail, Campbell Clark explains the dichotomy as “a clash between freedom of expression and outrage at insults to religious convictions ("Troubling Tensions Cloud United Nations", September 25, 2012).
In an interview with the New York Times, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, commented on the violence over the video about the Prophet by saying that “Arabs like Americans want to live free in their own land, according to their customs and values, in a fair and democratic fashion” and that Americans should not “judge Egyptian behaviour and decision-making by American cultural standards” ("Egypt to steer its own course, Morsi says", September 24, 2012).
The idea of applying sensibility to cultural sensitivity is not peculiar to the Muslims only.
In 1996 Shiv Sena, an ultra-right Hindu party and a dominant voice in Mumbai politics, mounted a violent protest over artwork by the renowned painter Husain whom they accused of depicting Hindu goddesses Durga and Sarswati in suggestive erotic
poses - which, incidentally, were the same poses to be found in Hindu temples for centuries.
Another right-wing Hindu group, Bajrang Dal, stormed Husain’s house and torched much of his artwork therein.
In 2006, Husain was charged with “hurting sentiments of people” by his nude portraiture of Hindu deities. The man known as the “Picasso of India” fled to Dubai and although acquitted of all charges, chose to remain in self-imposed exile and died in 2011
of a heart attack in England.
In 2004 the Sikhs faced an attack on the iconography of their faith when Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England decided to stage a controversial play Behzti (dishonour).portraying sexual abuse in a gurdwara. Hundreds of protestors circled the
theatre, police were called; and, in “the ensuing scuffles with the policemen a handful of protestors were arrested”; and “death threats impelled the author, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, a Sikh herself, to go in hiding.”
Each incident of desecration in turn invoked the argument about freedom of speech.
Fareed Zakaria was to raise the question of the mocking of Prophet Mohammed with Salman Rushdie during his interview. Rushdie believes freedom of speech trumps everything, to wit:
ZAKARIA: You would have a unique perspective on this. When you look at one of -- this cartoon controversy in France, you will notice that CNN, for example, has not aired the video, (inaudible) a clip of it, and we have not aired the cartoon. Are we making the right decision, or do you think it is important to show the cartoons?
RUSHDIE: You know, you're -- it's a news organization. You have to report the news. You can't censor the news because somebody might not like the news. You go down that road, it's not going to be much to show.
ZAKARIA: And so we should be showing this?
RUSHDIE: Of course, you should. It seems to me very important that we need to stand our ground here, you know, that there is -- you know, I think the first amendment is one of the great treasures of western culture, you know, and one of the reasons why people like me, you know, end up making their lives in America is because of the freedoms enshrined in that. And, you know, most of the world doesn't have this. So if you happen to be in this bit of the world where we are allowed to say what we think, you know, we should, for goodness sake, use that freedom, you know, and not shy away from it. We should defend it and cherish it. And the problem with freedom is that there -- is that people will always misuse it, you know, because not everybody's a nice guy and not everybody is smart and sophisticated and intelligent. Some people are just the opposite of that, you
know. But that, you know, freedom means freedom for those people too. And so in order to defend the general subject of freedom, you have to defend the freedom of people you don't like or do things that you find ugly and cheap and tawdry like
this video, you know, which is clearly not a work of any merit at all, you know, and yet the point about freedom is there has to be freedom for work without any merit at all as well. And so that's the -- that's just the simple logic of it, and I think if we believe in this value, you know, of free expression, we just have to hold the line. We just have to say, this is what we do.
Those who advocate giving carte blanche to freedom of speech are blithely unconcerned about the sensitivities of fellow human beings. Freedom of speech should not ignore freedom from responsibility because a freedom irresponsibly exercised can result in unintended catastrophe.
Freedom of speech, therefore, has been tempered and balanced with responsibility in USA and other western democracies. Because “protection of free expression is not a license to incite (and) despite enshrining this right in the First Amendment of its
constitution – now the litmus to the existence of democracy – US Congress has over time circumscribed this immunity in the larger interest of public good. For example, USA Hate Crimes Prevention Act 2003 recognizes that the ‘incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability of the victim poses a serious national problem’ and provides appropriate sentencing guidelines.”
Again, “while championing the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Article 29(2) of UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, too, places a curb ‘for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and general welfare in a democratic society’
One needs reminding that senseless and gratuitous cultural and political chicanery intended to lacerate the psyche of fellow human beings warrants unconditional condemnation.
September 27, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Harry (Willowbrook, Illinois, USA), September 27, 2012, 10:27 AM.
I disagree with this article. People have the right to express their views - regardless of how offensive they are - as long as they are not justifying or inciting murder. No body has the right to not get offended.
2: Baljit Singh Pelia (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), September 27, 2012, 6:05 PM.
Freedom of speech should not be confused with freedom to hate and spread hate. Sensibility must prevail over hurting sensitivity. Try to call an African-American the N word or a Jew the K word and see what happens. I completely agree with the author.
3: Harry (Willowbrook, Illinois, USA), September 28, 2012, 10:18 PM.
Hate speech is protected in the US. It is not a crime to hate anyone.
4: Zarina Patel (Nairobi, Kenya), September 29, 2012, 8:08 AM.
And what about the fact that any questioning of the holocaust story or even criticism of the Zionist Jewish state is not allowed in the USA (and other western countries)- the so-called bastions of 'free speech'?