Age of Kali – Freedom to Insult and the Satanic Verses

What gets me the most about Indian secularism is it’s unwillingness to insult a religious belief that is blatantly unreasonable. That religion is sacrosanct and cannot be criticised or complained about.

A society cannot function on the whims of extremists. India is no different. I understand, it’s the land of a million gods. Everyone and their dog has one, but this means you cannot walk for tripping over someone’s beliefs and nor should it mean that these beliefs ever come into consideration.

And India’s problem? It is conservative and, it’s willing to satiate death threats to people. It’s unwilling to improve itself because it is entrenched in the notion that there is some mystical value of indianity that we can

And it shows again with the Indian Government’s frankly cowardly position on Salman Rushdie. You cannot express yourself as a free nation or as a modern nation by banning books. Any book!

Instead what the Indian government has demonstrated is a core weakness. A fragility to threats. That the belief of a few anti-progressive muslims (Or Hindus!) can dictate government policy via threat and that free speech and expression can be stifled if someone threatens someone loudly enough.

And the ultimate irony? How many of the people bitching about The Satanic Verses have actually read the book? Do they even know what the blasphemous bit is?

It refers to the Prophet by a epiphet used during the crusades (Mahound), it calls the city of Mecca by a different name (Jahilia). A movie star becomes Gibreel (Gabriel) and Saladin becomes shaitan. The prostitutes in Jahilia have the same names as the prophet’s wives and it gives a muslim name (Ayesha) to an Indian girl whose pilgrimage ends in a deadly fashion.

The equivalent prophet is portrayed as not holy but opportunistic and that it is impossible to not break the rules created because they are so banal and pointless and it’s so easy to take offence. But what irks people the most? There is a single line in it. That calls attention to the sheer madness of Hindu and Muslim relationships. 

“Fact is, religious faith, which encodes the highest aspirations of human race, is now, in our country, the servant of lowest instincts, and God is the creature of evil” 

That’s it. That’s what caused such a big fuss. A couple of names and a statement that implies that God is a creature of evil. And in response? Muslims proved his statement right. India proved his statement right, that religion and the belief in God allows you to commit real evil. That the claim that you are aspiring to some greater truth comes at the cost of greater ignorance and a violent ignorance that not only ignores reality but also threatens it. The highest aspirations of the human race are replaced with a group of people who are so fanatically devoted to a single book that they do not really grasp anything else. That islamic faith has created a massive anti-science drift which is a far cry from it’s hey day. That a sizeable amount of muslims respond to any sort of criticism with either the rallying cry of Islamophobia (Which exists. However genuine criticism also exists too.) or with death threats and violence. That the ultimate true evil in the book is a bitter line about a man who regards the partition of India and Pakistan and the religious violence that ensued as a horrible manifestation of faith and a demonstration of everything that is wrong with religious belief. That 12.5 million people migrating simply because some people believed in one mythical being and another in a whole bunch of others is an exercise in madness. That even after that there are wounds so deep that it has spilled over as mass violence time and time again. That at no point did anyone stand to think about how utterly insane it was?

If any group of people says “If you don’t do as we say we will do x and it will be your fault”, and you cave in to them, then it is people attempting to subvert freedom of others solely for their own benefit.

The Indian government response is nothing short of stupid. It has ranged from “Well Rushdie isn’t that great an author anyway!” to “Indians always think foreign authors are so much more better! This is foreign author syndrome!” and “India never stopped him from entering the country”.

Show a spine. Religious extremists of all sorts should not be allowed to derail the idea of free speech.

And if you are Indian? I urge you to break the ban on Rushdie’s book and have a read of it yourself. See what the controversy is. Because I guarantee you this, the people bitching about Rushdie’s book haven’t read it. Because if they did they wouldn’t have complained. By complaining they have proven the entire point and necessity of the Satanic Verses. It showed us decades ago what we are coming to realise today. That religion without criticism turns into an insular mess of ignorance that actively and forcefully defends it’s ignorance. 

Pride and Prejudice

The problem with Nobel Prizes is that people assume that having one is indicative of your abilities as a kind decent human being. Didn’t we learn from Milton Friedman that unrestricted free market capitalism is kind of a terrible system to be part of? Uncaring and without conscience? Or that the IQ related rantings of Dr. Crick are part of a history of racism that is unnecessary in our civilisation? 

And now we see V.S Naipaul simply dismiss an entire gender’s worth of literature. From Jane Austen to Monica Ali women have come up through the ranks of authors in leaps and bounds. He complains about the usual route of most female writers (AKA to write feminist tosh) but forgetting that for every Yann Martell or Rushdie there exists a dozen or so male writers who write appalling books. The airport shelves are filled with countless books of war porn where men are men and enemies are massacred in short order while women are seduced by with manliness and the plot is like a bikini on a hippo. (unnecessary and small)

We don’t have writers like Germaine Greer going off on a tangent about how most male writers are purveyors of  bad war porn or even worse science fiction and fantasy. 

Okay, we cannot hold Rowling up as a literary genius in this day and age like we do Shakespeare. But lets not forget. Shakespeare was pure Lowest Common Denominator. His work today would be considered quite risqué and not suitable for children. 

‘Yea,’ quoth he, ‘dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
Wilt thou not, Jule?’ and, by my holidame,
The pretty wretch left crying and said ‘Ay.

When talking to Juliet as a child, her nurse jokes that when she is older and more wise she will fall backwards more often than front (It’s about the sex…). Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was mainly advertised to the poor. His popularity due to the sheer common factor and the raunchiness was part of the lure.

Rowling instead was a children’s writer who created a renewed interest in reading amongst children and continues to do so. The book is an elegant children’s book (Let’s be honest. Its good) and encourages the kind of good behaviour without being overtly preachy (No excessive friendship speeches till the last book.) and is just an old fashioned fantasy tale that got kids reading again. In the same way Dan Brown writes really good airport fiction based of conspiracy theory and religious concepts and ideas, but is responsible for encouraging people to read. Rowling created a tame world of the Famous Five but coupled with danger and adventure as understood by us despite writing about an entire world that is alien to most british people (The world of boarding schools.)

There maybe no person equal to Shakespeare of the female persuasion, but men have dominated the field of writing for millenia. Women have only been writing in equal numbers for the past 100 years. Let’s give it some time before we start damning them as literary incompetents whose mindless chicken scratch is only fit for harlequin novels. And I prefer reading books rather than discussing the intentions of authors. I found the Life of Pi interesting, I however found Beatrice and Virgil uncomfortable and bad.

Naipaul comes across a problem. A lot of indian literature is stuck in a colonial period of thought. Be it male or female. The issue being that the colonial nature of India is deeply entrenched in Indian culture either as a paradise for the anglo-indian demographic or as a hell hole against indian values and people. But it is the same in a lot of black american writers who write influenced by their history of slavery and the apartheid of america.  It’s hard to ignore your own history and write a book untouched by your own cultural events.

Sure it may be banal now, but people will change. India can never live down it’s colonial past in much the same way the USA cannot. Year after year books will be released set in 1857 or 1947 just as how in America, books are released set in 1776 or 1960s because culturally those periods hold great importance as a whole. Every nation’s literature is set during periods of great public interest.

And my only criticism of Jane Austen is that most of her work is tediously boring. It’s hours and hours of listening to people go on about tea parties and biscuits and frightful formality. But that’s the thing. Literature is an art form and subjective. How many countless young women read the Twilight series of books and adore them? To me there is no saving grace in that book (Oh yes! I have read the first book.) How many young men think Tom Clancy books are “literature” rather than stuff you read when you are on the loo?

How about we do a little experiment? Let’s catalogue our answers (post in the comments) lets see if we can tell male writing from female writing.

Literature is subjective. V. S. Naipaul is in his rights to say this, but we are in our rights to call him a sexist and ignore him. I still think the biggest revolution in indian literature is at the hands of Salman Rushdie and Shoba Dee.