Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And Yet It Moves

I have carefully avoided saying anything about JLF, Rushdie, and the whole free speech vs. censorship clusterfuck that chewed up most of the end of January. If I'm talking about it at all, it is to point everyone to the one piece that I want to keep and remember.

And the reason I'm doing this at all is because today - Valentine's Day - has been designated #flashreads for free speech day.

Whatever. When - if - you organise readings in the public spaces of your city, I hope you will take, along with the piece you plan to read aloud, some of the nuance of Deepa D's post (Deepa was at Jaipur). In fact, perhaps someone could read her piece out loud. I just want to say 'What she said'.

Here's some of it:
It's not Rushdie's fault or responsibility that growing up in a Hindu-dominant culture reading mostly English I had not been exposed to any writings about early Islam and the Prophet's life. Nor is it his fault that while cultural osmosis around me gave me sympathetic factoids and apocryphal anecdotes and reverant narratives about Krishna and Buddha and Mahavir and Nanak and even Jesus, so that I could understand how they fit into the context of religious veneration--the anti-Muslim bigotry around me was insidious and pervasive enough so as to strip any such dignity or familiarity away from Mohammad. I was lent Martin Ling's book by a Muslim friend at a time when I was just beginning to unpack how very communal and anti-Islam the default culture around me was. We discussed The Satanic Verses briefly; it was an emotional experience for him to try to explain his dislike of it. I am better equipped to empathy now, after having been exposed to how a wider world chooses to talk about and treat the gods and mystics that matter to me.

I defend the rationality of being offended by a misrepresentation of what one holds sacred. I defend the right of those in the marginalised, threatened or oppressed position in a hierarchy to challenge and question and reject those ideas and stories that reinforce the injustice being done to them.

But no matter how much value I may want ascribed to non-physical violence--be it economic, ideological, legal or cultural--I do not wish to downplay my rejection of physical violence. In the hours it has taken me to write this, I scroll up and compare my kneejerk irritation at the JKF (sic) Rushdie imbroglio to the aching empathy I felt for Rashid in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, exiled from the source of his stories. Free speech and it's consequent debates around book banning, censorship and the like is one thing. But bodies imprisoned or exiled because of threat of violence, translators stabbed, defenders beaten;** this is wholly more absolute injustice. I consider the written word sacred enough that though I have felt the desire to do damage to a book, I could never imagine ripping, or burning or physically harming even the most loathsome text. How much more sacred then, is even the most antagonistic human soul, the source for those words, enshrined in a fragile and totally irreplaceable body.

A banned book may be resurrected, a dead person cannot be.

For all my reservations, minor and major, with the various champions of these various causes, I don't want my doubts and disagreements to negate my fundamental support of people speaking out against what they (and I) see as injustice.


Banno said...

What she said.

km said...

I could never imagine ripping, or burning or physically harming even the most loathsome text.

Oh, I can *easily* imagine ripping, burning and physically harming some text like, say, the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times. (And may in fact have done so.)

Space Bar said...

Banno: I constantly feel like saying that when I read Deepa's posts.

km: Well, see - ripping and tearing is incredibly therapeutic; but actual books...I confess I'd find it hard to tear even the most rubbishy of them.

km said...

I confess I'd find it hard to tear even the most rubbishy of them.

I am sure we all *tried* to read "Atlas Shrugged" in high school.

Szerelem said...

Thanks for the link sb.

km - whats so bad about the Sunday Styles section? Pretty pictures wot!