It was shocking that three MLAs of Ittahidul Muslimin in Hyderabad gatecrashed into the book release function of her book Lajjai translated into Telugu on 9th August and tried to beat up Taslima and shouted slogans using unbecoming words, even using abusing language. And all this in the name of Islam as if Islam stands for such hooliganism.
The party leadership instead of condemning such wayward behaviour, approved of it and patted them on back. They were even given hero's welcome. One MLA even said that if Taslima comes to Hyderabad again, she will be beheaded. If elected representatives take law into their own hands, there cannot be greater tragedy. If they had done it without invoking Islam, it would have been a different story, though equally condemnable.
Was this for love of Islam? No way. It was love of power, pure and simple. The Party leadership thought it is good opportunity to strengthen and widen its electoral base. Human behaviour, especially political behaviour is extremely complex. Politicians, while acting in self-interest, invoke high ideals in order to cover up their utterly selfish motives.
Someone Imam even declared from Calcutta that he would pay Rs.50,000/- if anyone blackens Taslima's face. An Imam is supposed to be very respectable and responsible person who leads people in namaz (prayer) but also leads them in social and political matters. An Imam's behaviour should be highly restrained and responsible. I totally disagree with Taslima's views and think she is completely ignorant about Qur'anic teachings but that does not give anyone right to violently attack her or incite people to attack her.
Apart from the fact that such hooliganism is morally reprehensible it is unwise from the viewpoint of those who are opposed to Taslima's attacks on Islam.This gives her much more publicity that she deserves. Now this attack that took place in Hyderabad will give her worldwide publicity on one hand, and would make her celebrity in the eyes of those who are already hostile to Islam. Now reams and reams of papers will be blackened in her praise.
She would also be now much more hostile to Islam than ever before. She would really hate Islam because of hooliganism of some members of Ittihadul Muslimin. If we really love Islam than we should try to win her heart and soul through love and compassion. And that is what the Prophet of Islam did. It is well known story that a Jewish woman who hated the Prophet (PBUH) used to throw garbage on him whenever he passed from below her house. Once when she did not throw garbage on him, he inquired why she did not and was told she is sick. He immediately went to inquire about her health. She was so moved that immediately accepted Islam then and there.
What a contrast! Those who claim to love Prophet and Islam are attacking a woman and making her hate Islam more than before. This is madness, not wise behaviour and must be condemned as strongly as possible. These MLAs and crowd accompanied them have brought utter shame to Islam and Muslims. It is heartening that many religious leaders of Muslims and intellectuals have condemned it. Maulana Mustaqim of Jamiat –ul-Ulama-i-Hind, Shiah leader Maulana Ather Abbas Rizvi and several others have strongly condemned attack on Taslima Nasreen.
The book which was being released in Hyderabad had nothing to do with Islam. It was Telugu translation of her book on persecution of Hindu minority in Bangla Desh. After demolition of Babri Masjid like hooligans of Hindutva attacked Muslims all over India and engineered communal violence in number of cities and killed Muslims, the hooligans of Jamat-e-Islami of Bangla Desh attacked Hindus and demolished their temples and set fire to their houses. In Lajja (shame) she has condemned all this. Do we Muslims not heave sigh of relief when some fair-minded Hindus stand by Muslims when Hindu communal forces attack us? Should we not stand by fair-minded Muslims of Bangla Desh if they stand by Hindu minority?
It is true Taslima has written provocative articles on Islam. We must counter it by arguing on the basis of Qur'an rather than attacking her physically, and in very dignified language befitting a true Muslim. No one can cite a single verse of Qur'an or any hadith to support violence against others, even enemies, as long as they are peaceful. On the other hand we can cite several verses from the Qur'an, to support dignified behaviour.
The Qur'an says, " Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner" (16:125). Again what a contrast –the hooligans of Ittihadul Muslimin beat up a woman and other journalists and others present there. Also, Allah says in the Qur'an "..do not be aggressors, Allah does not love aggressors." (2:190). And even if a Muslim renounces Islam and becomes unbeliever, no one has right to punish him/her except Allah.
"Those who believe", says Qur'an, "then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah is not referring to any punishment for those who repeatedly believe and disbelieve and increase in disbelief, let alone human beings punishing them of their own. Even if Taslima has ceased to believe and has increased in her disbelief, no one has any right among human beings to punish her. It is matter of her conscience. All one can do is to dialogue with her in dignified way and then leave it to her conscience
Democracies in socially backward countries like India face an acute dilemma. The entire functioning of democracy depends on rights of people and freedom of conscience and right to believe or disbelieve. Both individual and collective rights are sacred in democracy. However, politicians greedy for votes of illiterate masses, and even educated middle class people, try to incite religious feelings and get their votes. Most of the politicians find this easy way to legislative assemblies or Parliament. They emerge as champions of this or that religion and grab their votes.
This is what the Sangh Parivar did by launching an aggressive movement for Ramjanambhoomi and demolished Babri Masjid and took pride in that act of lawlessness and destruction. The Sangh leaders launched not only aggressive campaign but Sangh leaders like Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara used abusive language against Muslims and the Government did nothing. They allowed hate campaign to go on.
If the authorities had taken stiff action against Uma Bharti and Rithambara, it would have sent a strong signal to all others that they cannot get away with such aggressive campaigns against all norms of democracy. Democracy cannot succeed without following rule of law. If Uma Bharti and Rithambara had been punished, MLAs of Ittihadul Muslimin would not have dared to indulge in this hooliganism.
However, as the Swedish scholar who wrote Asian Drama observed India's is the soft government and refuses to act until all damage is done. Taslima Nasreen's attackers also got away with symbolic arrest and were released on bail immediately thereafter. It speaks volumes about our indifferent approach and also fear of votes.
So many communal riots take place because no guilty in the riots is ever punished. All of them know this and have nothing to care for consequences. And riots keep on taking place. Mumbai riots more than 800 persons were killed, many of them most brutally, and yet state is extremely reluctant to act lest Shiv Sena may not approve of it. Can this ever be the reason for not acting at all for a democratic government?
This is indeed bad omen for Indian democracy. The people involved in such public crimes must be severely punished to send strong message that hooliganism will not be tolerated in any case. Rule of law must be applied under any circumstances. Politicians should not be allowed to incite people publicly to indulge in mayhem and murder. This is repeatedly happening in our democracy.
It is heartening sign that many religious personalities among Muslims and secular intellectuals among them have come out strongly condemning this attack on Taslima Nasreen. Still many columnists, even waiting for a day started demanding where are those Muslims and secularists who immediately condemn Hindutvawadis but keep quiet when some Muslim fanatics indulge in such extremist action. Many such columnists will come out with many such articles and further aggravate feelings in majority community.
We are not a mature democracy and should come out against any act of hooliganism and violence whosoever perpetrates it, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians. We must promote zero tolerance towards any act of violence. It should be our litmus test. If we want to enjoy fruits of secular democracy we must shed all forms of partisan feelings. Politicisation of religion in our democracy has already done enough damage. How much more damage we want to inflict?
Is any one listening?
By Asghar Ali Engineer