Aug 10 happened to be one of the blackest days for Indian democracy. A lunatic fringe of cowardly, undemocratic and waspish legislators of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) made a travesty of law. While the country was on the verge of its 60th Independence Day, achieved as a result of interfaith concord, the hoodlums again proved with the attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen what havoc religion can wreak.
Owing to that, the image of India has been tarnished. The attack by the legislators is a shame on the values of democracy. As elected MLAs, they are expected to respect and protect the freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution.
For a law-abiding Muslim like me, it was embarrassing to see a lone woman in a foreign country being manhandled by the so-called custodians of law and Islam as well! I felt let down by these co-religionists of mine who turned into savages assaulting the author with files, bags, chairs, flowerpots or anything that came in handy -- that too ironically at the Press Club of Hyderabad.
What precedent are they setting for the Muslim youth? Their statement after the attack shows they have no respect for the law, let alone women. Besides, one also fails to understand why mainline Urdu dailies are berating the legislators for letting Nasreen go scratch free. Perhaps they expected her to be injured.
The MIM activists and their ilk represent the intolerant sections that do not believe in values of amnesty and mutual coexistence. They are in a minority now but if they go unpunished, the malaise of violence against voices of dissent will spread like a weed very rapidly.
Their leader, Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, went a step further by patting on the back the three legislators who vandalised and by threatening that if she ever came to Hyderabad, she would be killed. A similar diatribe came from a hysterical burqa-clad Muslim woman on the CNN-IBN programme. The way this veiled woman was baying for Nasreen's blood would embarrass all right-thinking Muslims.
Killing or threatening to kill is a crime in India, punishable by a life sentence. These legislators in their misplaced fervour claim to represent Islam while Islam forbids killing an individual, according to the holy Quran (Chap 5, Verse-32). Such people neither read nor understand the humane attitude of Prophet Mohammed, who did not attack those who insulted him, and there were many in Makkah at the time who did.
The guilty legislators should be barred from fighting elections in future, believes Mike Ghaus, a Muslim community worker. Let's put the blame squarely on the wrongdoer and not his family, town, culture or his religion. If we make the mistake of giving them a religious label, that in itself incites hatred; the mistakes were made by those men, not their religion.
Nasreen is a rebellious writer and raises her voice when something appears unjust to her. We do not condone any of her provocative statements against the Prophet as he was an embodiment of all that is virtuous and humane. However much we may disagree with her, her right to speak must be defended. We are a democracy and in a true functioning democracy criticism ought to be cherished, as it keeps the leaders on their toes.
Islam has an in-built system of incorporating new ideas through discussion and consensus called Ijtihad. Nasreen is in essence calling for Ijtihad, even though her approach is not on the right track. But that does not matter.
Eminent Muslim lawyer M. Atyab Siddiqui says while her lifestyle may not be in line with Islamic injunctions on women, she is well within her rights to do so. People rather than attacking should instead produce some good writers to counter her with better books, suggests Siddiqui.
Aziz Burney, a learned Muslim scholar and editor of the Urdu daily Rashtriya Sahara , opines that the best treatment to works like "Lajja" or "Satanic Verses" denouncing religion is to ignore them and leave the matter between the writer and god rather than taking the law into one's own hands. Such protests actually render popularity to otherwise sub-standard literary works.
Muslims have been put to shame by the remark of Akbaruddin Owaisi, an MIM legislator, who said: "We are least concerned about our MLA status. We are Muslims first and it is our responsibility to punish all those in any manner who have said anything against Islam."
This statement is like showing the red rag to the bull.
Such people fail to understand that these blatantly violent and anti-democratic expressions are the worst possible publicity of their faith. And owing to their zealous misdeeds, a common Muslim pays the price. As a reaction to this, without ado, the media will brand the entire Muslim fraternity as a lot of extremists and as usual indulge in Islam-baiting.
The problem with the media is that no platform is given to the voices of sanity in the community and only "patented brands" of rabble-rousers representing (rather misrepresenting) Muslims are given the dice. We Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, know that our culture and ethos are based on the foundations of a unique secularism originating from the concept of Sarva Dharma Samabhava - globally unique. It is time that all right-thinking Muslims condemn the attack on Nasreen, which is an attack on amnesty, humane attitude and the basic democratic and secular foundations of the Indian nation.