Where creative activism is headed: The Tribune India
The attack on Salman Rushdie is just one encounter in a larger world war. It took me back many years to a party at the Oxford University Student Union where Rushdie was invited for a public reading session. He then accepted the invitation for the sole purpose of defying the fatwa and sending a clear message that he was coming out of hiding, whatever the consequences. It is to his credit to come out openly with guns pointing at fundamentalism, thus declaring that literature is secular and not sacred. Who could say that the specter of the fatwa hovered relentlessly nearby, waiting for the right moment to strike.
The attempt to scuttle dissent and free thought grows day by day in its ferocity. The global rage and alarm sparked by Rushdie’s attack underscores the state’s inability to provide safety to anyone who believes in speaking truth to power, even if it is against religion or belief. ‘State. The explosion of ethnic, religious and nationalist conflict has resulted in a deeply troubling violation of the essential right to freedom of expression, a value and privilege we should all cherish as citizens of a democracy. “Everyone”, according to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through all media, regardless of frontiers.
It is a disgrace that the free speech debate has become fodder for callous political gain. Democracy is anxiously beleaguered, forbidding creativity and liberal activism to coexist. We are at a moment of crisis when the free citizens of the world are wondering if the imaginations of their ancestors surging towards the frontiers of freedom have not been trampled upon by the power-hungry state that sanctions indefensible intolerance to overwhelm the world. . As Nadine Gordimer wrote to Rushdie shortly after the fatwa in 1989, “We are returning to a time when persecution is tolerated if supported by religion.” The accusation of “medieval war dogs, blasphemy and heresy”, in Rushdie’s words, cannot be used “to chain and muzzle the human spirit”.
We have come a long way from the early days of the Rushdie Satanic Verses burning to the current state of fear and censorship. Rushdie’s constant advocacy of non-acceptance of any irrevocable boundaries or interpretations helped sabotage established harmonies, stubborn thinking, and institutionalized hegemonies. The very outlawing of The Satanic Verses was therefore tantamount to the abrogation of social and moral obligations to the fundamental principles of debate and tolerance, a tangible scenario of declining democracies and unabashed right-wing populism. The problem facing us today is how long can we endure this condemnation of public acts of memory and resistance to the blind acceptance of religious “truth”? Can the burning of books or their prohibition be legitimized by the debate on the preservation of an intact and primitive religious identity or thought? “The constant reshaping of meaning that the artistic process insists on,” writes Rushdie, “cannot be entrusted to any police gang, no matter how big their guns.”
At the heart of these shocking acts of violence is the rise of a fundamentalism that finds common ground among nations in literal submission to Holy Scripture, with total faith in the infallibility of hermeneutics, emanating unilaterally from dictate of religious leaders who, in collusion with political leaders, seek power to create a theocratic nation-state. Any stance of opposition is branded as blasphemy, a crime in the eyes of the state that swiftly reprimands and executes brutal punishment.
The daily bloodshed of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians is a strong indication of the seriousness of the ongoing threat from ideologues who shamelessly use religion to justify the indefensible. The important question to ask here is: what threatens those fundamentalists who are willing to kill in defense of their religious identity? The answer lies in building groups and versions of the “other” with the aim of excluding them from the opportunities of social welfare schemes, as well as holding them accountable for all social and political disruption.
The dogmatic or orthodox tension present in every religion cannot be ignored if we are to grapple with the intricacies of cultural identity and ethnic violence. Yet the problem in the world is that Western liberal discourse constructs the idea of the orthodox or superstitious East as a fiercely fundamental entity and thus ignores the human and human forces of the marginalized who indeed have the potential to emerge from their own leader. The effects of discrimination therefore have a brutal fallout in the hegemonic imposition of one’s opinions on the other. On the other hand, recognition of the hybrid nature of all cultures or religions that differ in nature from the fiction of a pure or authentic national religious identity facilitates more robust integration, resulting in a politics of difference broad enough to alert humanity on a broader view of religion that is inherently remote from any dogmatic element or universal moral philosophy. The stereotype of different religions or minorities gives them a dogmatic or sectarian character in defiance of their fundamental cosmopolitan nature. The process of homogenization itself goes against the very essence of religion which encourages debate and questioning for the betterment of knowledge and reason.
Needless to say, Rushdie has always believed in public participation in the affairs of the state, which is the mark of an egalitarian society where open debate and difference of opinion invite the vigorous presentation of opposing points of view, enriching our understanding of the challenges we face or the petty wars we wage. A collective defense against sectarianism, religious extremism, the brutality of war and the terrorism of exclusion has all the moral and intellectual legitimacy within a democracy. When oppression becomes particularly acute, or expectations are mostly deceived, people have risen up as progressive actors opposing any form of unanimity or blind obedience. This, according to Rushdie, is “the will to resist tyranny, libel and murder: the will to win”.
The more one thinks about the “Rushdie affair”, the more it highlights the insecurity of religious institutions and political structures that take an unequivocal position against freedom of expression and refuse to recognize the function of art in maintaining civilizations. The barbaric fatwas and extreme positions in recent debates on freedom of expression only show the fragility of the notion of “sacred”. As Rushdie argues, “the idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, as it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.”
— The writer taught cultural theory at the University of Panjab