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Rushdie row: fought on TV, by the mullahs

Afsar Ahmad

Updated: January 24, 2012, 6:47 PM IST
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For the last few days, Salman Rushdie is in the news. Some are speaking in his favour and some against. A controversy is on. His book The Satanic Verses has suddenly come 'alive'. Suddenly, a few Muslim clerics make Rushdie's attendance of a literary festival a prestige issue. On the other side, several writers ask the cleric: "Friends, when will you learn to stop making noises on such issues?" The cleric always begins with "Islam khatre main hai...."

Just the other day, a hot discussion was on between Sheeba, a writer, and Muslim cleric Firangi Mahali. Mahali was categorical that Rushdie must be stopped from coming to India. Sheeba nudged him for being over-sensitive with a 'meaningless' issue. Sheeba further asked him why he didn't show such aggressiveness on the issue of Muslim education. Sheeba was of the opinion that this controversy had brought the writer and the book under renewed focus.

The lean voice of Sheeba shows the reality of the community. This is the Muslim voice which we rarely watch on TV. There are two things that come to my mind when thinking about this Rushdie issue. One is about TV and the second about the Muslim community. First, we will talk about the TV people.

Whenever TV channels require a representative from the Muslim community, they quickly find out Firangi Mahali or some other Imam-type people. It means they represent Muslim thinking on TV. The orthodox and the intolerant thus come to represent Islam in India.

When you introduce Praveen Togadia or someone else professing his views, you are sure of the reaction. And, by the same yardstick, if the media repeatedly picks some Maulavi and religious leaders, it should not be offended when Justice Katju says that the media portrays Muslims like militants.

I am also a journalist. When Katju raises a finger at the media, I too feel bad. But my question is how can one channel repeatedly select a certain kind of people and pass them off as representatives from the Muslim society. Is this not a farce?

This means that a person like APJ Abdul Kalam, an entrepreneur like Azim Premji, a writer like Sheeba are not the flag bearers of the Muslim community but Firangi Mahali certainly is. It is criminal to bring in a maulana every time there is a discussion on Muslim issues and show him to be the sole representative of Indian Muslims.

Now, let us turn our attention to the Muslim community. It is strange and amusing that whoever comes on TV starts behaving like the saviour of the community. I have seen loud protests for 'insult' to Islam but I have seen no one raising slogans on the issue of better education for the Muslims. The way Rushdie became the darling of the West, no other book, barring The Satanic Verses, would have made that possible. Fanatic admirers would not have gathered at Jaipur. The game is to become controversial and garner quick fame.

I have no doubts about the aim of Salman Rushdie and that of the religious leaders too. Both are roughly on the same track. But their styles are different. One is the 'defender' and the other the 'offender'. If Rushdie writes, what is the harm? They are his views. If someone has a problem, he can counter it by writing another one.

The way people are protesting Rushdie, imagine how much money a campaign on the same scale for Muslim education can raise. But well, this just will not happen. Again some Rushdie will come. The TV channels will again be hungry for easy TRPs. The Mullahs and Maulavis will again be called. And again the entire Muslim community will be ridiculed. Again, again and again.

This chain can only break if TV channels decide to give more space to modern Muslim voices, if Muslims realise that education, and not Rushdie, is a serious issue. The Muslim society will then change and so will India.

First Published: January 24, 2012, 6:47 PM IST

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