Rushdie: Listen to what the good doctor says

Looking at all the shrieking and shouting on television (and reading the newspapers), it would seem as if the only people who have a view on the major debates of the day are: a) party spokesman with an agenda, b) fundamentalists with an agenda, c) party spokesmen and fundamentalists with an agenda masquerading as journalists and intellectuals without an agenda, and d) some extras who parrot out the most expected lines.

Communally sensitive issues like the Salman Rushdie episode, the A.K. Ramanujan essay ban, and the flight of M.F. Husain from the land of his birth, show how the nation’s discourse has been hijacked if not usurped by these “usual suspects”. It is as if the common men and women of India—Hindus, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs et al—do not matter if they do not have a microphone attached to their lapel pins.

Here, a smalltown doctor pens his thoughts on l’affaire Rushdie.

***

By K. JAVEED NAYEEM

It is sad that, thanks to pure vote bank politics, the controversial writer Salman Rushdie, without being allowed to visit India, was still allowed to stir the already impure and extremely murky waters of Indian politics.

Rushdie’s physical and even virtual participation at the Jaipur literary festival was reportedly cancelled at the last minute after Muslim groups reportedly threatened violence even if his image was shown in a video-conference.

But except for the stray pictures of slogan-shouting Muslims, very appropriately attired for the occasion in skull caps and jubbas, just like film extras, I did not even sense any tremor of opposition from any right thinking Muslims worth their name or salt against his participation at the litfest.

It was only the media which went overboard to give more coverage to Rushdie’s aborted visit to Jaipur, than what it would have perhaps given him if he had actually visited the place and the event.

For a five full days, more Rushdie and less literature was discussed at the litfest, which is indeed a shame.

It is now an established fact that the threat to Rushdie’s life was much magnified, if not fully concocted, by our intelligence agencies and vote-hungry politicians, especially at the Congress-centric government at the Centre and the governments of the two Congress-ruled States of Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Although he has been allowed to visit the country in the past without any problems, this time these three agencies decided to ban Rushdie’s visit clearly to appease the Muslim voters and impact the outcome of the forthcoming elections in the northern States.

That is why the threats to his life were ‘perceived’ in Bombay, the hub of all our terror threats, by intelligence agencies and conveyed to their counterparts in Rajasthan. Although the former deny their role, the latter reiterate that they have concrete evidence of the same.

The DGP of Maharashtra has said that they had not provided any input to Rajasthan in this regard while the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has insisted that his government had received six messages from them about the threat.

Rushdie has no doubt faced death threats from fundamentalists ever since he wrote the controversial book but to give importance to the largely imaginary story that hired assassins were going to kill him in Jaipur this time shows how low even governments can stoop for imaginary vote banks.

It actually portrays our security preparedness in rather poor and unflattering light.

The man has actually derived much mileage from being controversial and our government does not realise that it has just augmented it.

The organisers of the Jaipur literary festival would certainly have known that his visit could spark protests and should have acted with a little more common sense and foresight before inviting him. The government too should have conveyed this possibility to the organisers since the visit was not at all a closely guarded secret.

Inviting Rushdie to the festival was clearly a very reckless and irresponsible act as it would have painted the whole of India in very bad light if something untoward had happened.

That there is much vote-bank politics behind this whole issue is eminently clear from the utterances of Sheila Dixit, the chief minister of New Delhi two days ago. Earlier in the day, she had told reporters that “one may have differences with what Rushdie writes, but he’s a very eminent writer and a Booker Prize winner who was welcome to visit Delhi.”

Barely hours after she praised him as a gifted writer she changed her mind. Her office issued a retraction stating that there is no question of welcoming the author of the banned “Satanic Verses.”

This sudden turn-around could only have been the result of a sharp rap on the elderly lady’s knuckles by her much younger lady mentor who undoubtedly wields the baton and the sceptre too.

In reality, banning his book has not prevented any determined readers from reading it. It has been always available to all and sundry except to our government from the black market. In five minutes it can be downloaded from the net and this can never be prevented by any kind of ban.

I certainly was very eager to find out what was bad in it and I found out very quickly too when I could borrow a copy from one of my teachers just a few days after it was proscribed. Since I have read everything that Rushdie has written, I feel it is not the ability to write well but his tendency to stamp on others’ toes deliberately which has made him famous.

This habit is the forte of all those without real talent. I do not endorse anyone making fun of Gods and Goddesses or revered personalities or the sacred texts of any religion. I have therefore also been very critical of M. F. Husain’s portrayal of Hindu deities in poor taste.

As a Muslim I would like to reiterate that The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction penned by Rushdie, certainly cannot shake our faith.

The history of Islam is full of instances where the prophet was subjected to much harsher criticism, including being dubbed an imposter for many years. But at no point of time was he ruffled one bit by such opposition or condemnation. He calmly went about his work with full conviction that what he was doing was in accordance with what Allah had ordained for him.

Let me reassure all Indians and all those anywhere in the world, who think that Indian Muslims are even slightly preoccupied with this Jaipur event, that I do not see it as anything more than a ripple on the surface of Indian politics.

It will certainly not shake our composure or patriotism.

It is actually time now for both Muslims and Hindus alike to rise much higher than being perturbed by what the Rushdies and Husains do in their free time.

This time a tottering Rushdie whose ink has dried up, has only used a lame excuse very conveniently to avoid attending an event which he was just frightened of attending like a timid boy. Let us not offer him a Jaipur foot to enter our minds and disturb our mindset.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Sir Salman Rushdie with television anchor Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur literary festival in 2007 (courtesy Shelly Jain)

Also read: A Hindu iftar for a good Muslim doctor at work

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26 Responses to “Rushdie: Listen to what the good doctor says”

  1. Mysore Peshva Says:

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I would say it a hundred times. :)

  2. White Calf Says:

    Am surprised by the Doctor’s assertion “Since I have read everything that Rushdie has written…”. How could you for someone whose talent is not up to mark. Personally I couldn’t go past 50 pages on Midnight’s Children. The other titles fared even worse: 2 pages on Satanic Verses, 20 pages on Moor’s Last Sigh. Didn’t bother any more titles after that! Felt could use that time on something else more valuable.

    All this when my wife read them cover to cover! :)

  3. pdk Says:

    Let me reassure all Indians and all those anywhere in the world, who think that Indian Muslims are even slightly preoccupied with this Jaipur event, that I do not see it as anything more than a ripple on the surface of Indian politics.

    So, here we have another storm in the tea cup raised by our over-vigilant media? Not surprising.

  4. MadGenius Says:

    “It is sad that, thanks to pure vote bank politics, the controversial writer Salman Rushdie, without being allowed to visit India, was still allowed to stir the already impure and extremely murky waters of Indian politics.”

    Why is it Rushdie’s fault? The organizers of a literary festival invited him, presumably to talk about literature. If you want to find fault with them, do so. IMO their stupid decision was to invite Kapil Sibal. If you consider Rushdie a bad writer, please read Sibal’s ‘poetry’.

    “..I feel it is not the ability to write well but his tendency to stamp on others’ toes deliberately which has made him famous.”

    No one has the ‘right to be offended’. If something offends you, learn to deal with it. Free speech is essential if you want a liberal, open-minded society. And free speech includes the right to offend/blaspheme.

    “The man has actually derived much mileage from being controversial….”

    Sure, he must have loved living as a ‘guest’ of the US/UK intelligence agencies because of stupid fundamentalists all these years.

    “Inviting Rushdie to the festival was clearly a very reckless and irresponsible act as it would have painted the whole of India in very bad light if something untoward had happened.”

    There a billion and one things that paint India in a bad light every day. And you want the organizers of a literary festival to make up for all that? My neighbour threw a lavish wedding for his son – should I have gone upto him and told him how badly it showed India as we have so many going hungry every day?

    “…I have therefore also been very critical of M. F. Husain’s portrayal of Hindu deities in poor taste.”

    You might consider Hussain to have poor taste, but you have NO right to deny his freedom to express his ‘poor taste’. If you are concerned that the work of some people might ‘inflame passions’ and lead to violence, I would suggest that you first hold our many politicians to task. They have (and will in the future) be more direct in inciting violence/disharmony.

    “As a Muslim I would like to reiterate that The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction penned by Rushdie, certainly cannot shake our faith.”

    Then why don’t you ask for the ban on The Satanic Verses to be lifted? I’m not targeting the muslim faith – let’s lift the ban on every so-called ‘blasphemous/seditious’ works.

    “This time a tottering Rushdie whose ink has dried up, has only used a lame excuse very conveniently to avoid attending an event which he was just frightened of attending like a timid boy. Let us not offer him a Jaipur foot to enter our minds and disturb our mindset.”

    Fine, Rushdie is a timid boy and was afraid to come to India. go out on the streets and distribute a few ‘banned’ books to people – we’ll see how brave you are.

  5. Dr KRS Murthy Says:

    Dear Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem:

    You write well. I still doubt why you wrote this very article, if the JLF and Rushdie debacle did not stir you!

    The more people like you talk, write or make more waves like this, Rushdie, MF Hussain and the like live long even after they die; even after Rushdie goes to Islamic hell according to Muslims and MF Husssain goes to – well he may not believe in going to Hindu hell and may be welcomed to Islamic heaven according to Muslims for upsetting another group of people, in case Hindus.

    For an agnostic like me it is all a joke.

    Now all religions have to ban me and issue Fatwa, for being an agnostic!

    Dr. KRS Murthy

  6. the colonel Says:

    i join you mysore peshva

  7. Anonymous guy Says:

    Does not matter in the larger scheme of things what shakes your faith or does not. It is not about you.

    It seems majority of Muslims appreciate the ban on the book and would love for Rushdie to be killed just for what he wrote. I doubt if even 0.1% of these people wanting this have read the book. The government is playing to this sentiment and is sure to reap the benefits in the elections. We know where the majority of Muslim votes will go. Maximum mileage at no cost.

    Here is a timeline of the fatwas, threats, bombings, rioting and other sundry things unleashed in opposition to the book:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Satanic_Verses_controversy#Reception_timeline

    In India Syed Shahabuddin petitioned the book to be banned and from what I remember most Muslims supported the ban. The follow-up riots showed the kind of violence folks would resort to, causing several deaths and considerable damage. All to get a book banned, which they likely never read.

    I read the book too, and found it fascinating. The chapters on Jahilia were especially entertaining. I couldn’t find anything in there which should make you want to announce how strong your faith is, how bad a writer Rushdie is, how timid he is etc.

    You can blame him all you want, but don’t close your eyes to how the fanatic forces which caused the book to be banned and fatwas issued have played the part on this whole mess. It is obvious to everyone and wont be covered up by calling Rushdie names.

    In all this the ones looking bad are the Muslim groups who have caused this whole situation at the threat of violence (and resorted to violence whenever necessary) and the Congress governments whose intention is obvious. All to keep Rushdie out of the event. Is the fatwa still in effect?

    ***

    Dr Murthy,

    In hell you will have the company of Rushdie, MF Hussain and the like. In heaven you will be in the exalted presence of all the book burners, fatwa issuers, rioters and politicians who have done the right thing in the eyes of god.

    Would you rather go to hell or heaven?

  8. FirstReality Says:

    1. Threat of islamic extremists is real. Threat to rushdie’s life in india is real whether indian police have proofs or not. Anyone saying otherwise is living in fool’s paradise. A overwhelming majori of muslims want to see his head roll (and a significant number of hindus wanted to see the same happening to mf hussain, ncase anyone gets pset for not mentioing that)
    2. Doctor seems to be closet islamist who wants the same stuff that mullas want, but afraid to say so. So he instead chooses to attack his literary skills, which btw is not the topic of debqte?

  9. Dr KRS Murthy Says:

    Dear Anonymous Guy:

    Your parents have given you an interesting first name and a last name!

    Heaven and hell are for the people like you who believe it.

    Agnostics do not have either.

  10. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    It is a sad comment on our lives that the good doctor’s common sense critique of l’affaire Rushdie should come across as profound.

    MadGenius has carefully catalogued fallacies in Dr. Nayeem’s pronouncements. Perhaps the doctor should spend more time on studying Rushdie’s works in order to support his dismissive remarks on the man’s works. He might then see that Rushdie has something to offer non-specialist readers as well self-important post-modernists.

    Dr. Nayeem’s claim that Indian Muslims are secure in their faith and therefore are unruffled by works like “The Satanic Verses” is belied by the history of the country from the 8th century C.E. onwards.

    Unless something miraculous happens to obviate the need for Indian Muslims to live in their own enclaves, their perceived need for reservation quotas, and the power of the mullas from Deobandh and Delhi to regulate their lives, we will all continue to waste millions of precious moments of life on interfaith strife.

    As long as the inhumanity of Hinduism keeps providing reasons for religious charlatans to exploit an array of already exploited groups in our society we will continue to strengthen the hand of Hindu and Abrahamic fundamentalism interfering with our lives.

    If we could break the spell of purohits, pastors, and muezzins, we might be able to get on with our lives and literary festivals might be just what they claim to be. Rushdie’s works would not be banned in India then; M. F. Hussain would not have to banish himself in his last days. And perhaps there would be no literary scams like “Tippu’s Dreams.” Perhaps we might not even be hearing Justice Dinakaran proclaiming that his misfortunes are a result of society’s hatred of his origins.

  11. shankar Says:

    @ Mad genius – bravo.

    I am willing to donate 500 copies of Satanic Verses to Javed Nayeem , if he promises to personally distribute the same to his fellow muslims, outside his closet masjid after the next fridays prayer.

    Doctor javed nayeem is no timid boy like rushdie & does not need jaipur foot ..so he should be able to distribute the books easily.

  12. shankar Says:

    also Islam has a long tradition of killing Poets / writers critical of it., right from times of Mohammed. Asma bint marwan , a poetess critical of islam was killed while she was sleeping in night , when a child was sleeping at her breast !! this is the religion of peace.

    Read more on “Mohammeds dead poets society ” here http://www.americanthinker.com/2006/03/muhammads_dead_poets_society.html

    The protesters in jaipur were just carrying forward there glorious tradition.

    Had docor javed nayeem heard of theo von gough ? he was killed by islamists recently. was he also a frightened timid boy like rushdie ?

    Javed nayeem is practising “taquiya” here, Which is lying for the cause of Islam, gain approved in Koran.

  13. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Looks like the good doctor got a ‘Jaipur Foot’ in the mouth?:) LOL

  14. Chidu22 Says:

    Interesting to see if Dr Nayeem responds to some of the counter debate put forth here. Otherwise his argument lacks conviction and some of them here have already pointed to the fallacies.

  15. Mysore Peshva Says:

    @MadGenius — I loved your analysis, sir.

    Nothing is more important to sustain the human condition than freedom of expression — the ability of an individual to speak/write/practice his or her mind or heart regardless of whether the state, or powerful entities such as corporations, agree with that expression. So it turns out that nothing is more insidious to the human condition than the mandates of Abrahamic religion.

  16. nilesh Says:

    dear Doc.

    In the movie shootout at lokhandwala there is a popular song, ‘a ganpat daru la’

    just for a second, substitute the word Ganpat with moh and sing it and see your brethrens response.

  17. harkol Says:

    Dear Mr. Javed Naeem:

    I am surprised by your offense against Salman Rushdie(SR)! He is an acclaimed author, irrespective of individual opinions.

    Your notion of SR as someone who ‘stamps on other people toe’ is rather strange. You also say that you don’t endorse folks who make fun of other religions etc.

    So, would you endorse the actions of Islam’s holy prophet, who preached against the Pagan polytheistic and idolatry practices? What about so many Islamic preachers and invaders who enforced the commands of the Prophet by breaking so many idols, and converting folks by force? What about Islamic teachers in India who continue to preach against idolatry and polytheism? Aren’t they stamping on Hindu toes?

    Would you say Prophet did all he did because he didn’t have any talent, so he had to be controversial? How about Christ? Was he a man of no talent so had to be controversial? How about Raja Ram mohan roy, who argued against the Hindu practices of Sati (an established religious practice at the time)?? Was he being controversial because he didn’t have any talents?

    In short – one doesn’t know what will be crossing the line and when one is trammeling on other’s toe. But, without someone doing so, there won’t be any fresh ideas. Which is precisely why we shouldn’t ‘ban’ or seek to suppress other’s work, even when we disagree.

    We should fully endorse their right to express/make fun on/oppose or offer alternative versions of existing faith system.

    Your article betrays your disbelief in the system of free speech and true secularism.

  18. MadGenius Says:

    @shankar @Mysore Peshva

    Thank you.

  19. White Calf Says:

    @nilesh

    What are you trying to prove?

    Okay…you replace Ganpat with your mother/wife/sister. If that still doesn’t stir replace “daaru” with condom/viagra or whatever… If that still has no effects, hats off to you Sir! I respect your argument for free speech with all civility.

  20. harkol Says:

    White Calf: I think you missed what Nilesh was referring to. Ganpat is reference to Lord Ganapati and he was asking that to be replaced with ‘moh’mmad instead. It indeed would’ve been a national incidence, with digvijay singh calling for a ban, Mulayam singh actually banning the movie in UP with his goons attacking theaters etc…

    Nilesh wasn’t arguing for it, he was pointing out the reality of secular India. Which is competitive vote bank politics making political parties behave in a churlish manner.

    What we need is govt. being truly secular and backing freedom of speech. Providing security to those who may speak unpalatable thoughts to a section, as long as they aren’t hate speech calling for persecution of communities.

    What we have is exact opposite, where folks inciting violence are goign scott free, folks who just air their opinion are victimized.

  21. Nastika Says:

    A very lame attempt at justification by Mr Javed. I mean Islam is such a violent religion, throughout its history there isn’t any peace, just violence both in public & family. Its not that with such pain, sacrifice & violence, they have achieved something great.

    What Islam needs is reforms. But any act of reforms or mention of reforms is dealt with death.

    Hinduism was reformed by Budda, Basavanna, Raja Ram Mohan Roy et al.

    In Europe. people had conflict with Christianity. till church learnt to mind its business.

    When does the time come for Islam?

    ~*~

  22. nilesh Says:

    @ Harkol you got it right
    @white Calf.

    The fact is Hindus do not get offended at face value, Hindus have the confidence to call their gods as thieves viz krishna, coward viz rama.

    Does the so called religion of peace have the same confidence, or do they know in their hearts. It is all bogus, as every religion is

  23. Anonymous Guy Says:

    nilesh,

    Why drag xyz other religions in here? What is the point in showing who has a bigger d*ck? Or as Doctor sahib would say, why murky the already impure waters?

    There may be any number of reasons why Hindus allow gods to be called thieves and cowards:
    1. Crores of gods, so who can keep track of every insult to every god. Every word will have some god’s name in it.
    2. Hindus are themselves cowards (timid boys?).
    etc.

    This will lead to a never ending argument. Rushdie’s and other writers freedom on speech and movement does not get any respite.

    Your last statement makes sense though: It is all bogus, as every religion is.

  24. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    The conversation here will someday appear in a future work by Rushdie in a suitably altered form. Titillating to think of what this or that character might say about “the good doctor.”

    Incidentally, “The Satanic Verses” mentions Maysooru in the context of Indian literary politics.

  25. Nastika Says:

    3 tweets on Prophet:

    “On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you,”

    “On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more,”

    “On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more,”

    And Saudi king issues arrest warrant !

    Fatwa Against Saudi Writer Hamza Kashgari: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/08/twitter-aflame-with-fatwa-against-saudi-writer-hamza-kashgari.html

    ~*~

  26. Sudhir Says:

    Folks Give Dr.Nayeem a break. He’s speaking for progressive Muslims and don’t read too much between the lines

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