Selective righteousness in the face of religious fanaticism.

Taslima & the soft underbelly of Liberalism

 Bigotry Is Bigotry, Even If It’s By Minority  Jug Suraiya  

   Where have all the liberals gone, now that Taslima Nasreen, the outspoken Bangladeshi novelist living in exile in India, has come under attack from Islamic fundamentalists? The writer was physically attacked at a public function in Hyderabad (held, ironically enough, in the local Press club, stomping ground of supposedly liberal media representatives and opinion-makers) and has subsequently been threatened with beheading by an MLA from Andhra. 

   This paper carried a strong editorial denouncing the shameful episode. Barkha Dutt and a few other media people have questioned the scant protest the incident has provoked among the country’s liberalati who are, rightly, very vocal in condemning any flexing of Hindu fundamentalist muscle. This is not an isolated case. Time and again, acts of violence and intimidation by Hindu zealots have been pilloried while similar instances of Islamic bigotry and intolerance have been received with an embarrassed silence and an averting of eyes on the part of self-professed champions of freedom of expression.

   All this, of course, is gleeful grist to Hindu fundamentalists who point to this blatant example of double-standards to show up the hypocrisy of what they call ‘pseudo secularism’. And they’re right. Bigotry is bigotry, whether it comes from the majority or a minority community. So what’s the liberal justification of its selective righteousness in the face  of religious fanaticism?

   The answer seems to be based on a specious calculus of liberalism whereby weightage in terms of moral indignation is given in direct proportion to numeric strength. Since the majority community is per se larger (and putatively stronger) than a minority community, any display of aggressive intolerance on its part must be inveighed against in measure proportionate to its size.  Conversely, similar transgressions by minorities should be underplayed, or even ignored, out of consideration of that community’s smaller size and hence, supposedly greater vulnerability. This attitude is dangerously flawed. It is unconscionably patronising to minorities; a condescending paternalism which encourages infantile misbehaviour (You’re a naughty little boy, but I’ll forgive you because you’re little). 

   True liberalism is all about individuals, their rights as well as their responsibilities. Protection of individual rights becomes meaningless without recognition of individual responsibilities. A violent fanatic must be treated as the unruly lawbreaker that he is and cannot be condoned on the grounds of belonging to an abstraction called a ‘minority community’. In a truly liberal context, the only irreducible minority is the individual, not an aggregate formed by faith or other common denominator.

   The men who attacked Nasreen, and the man who has called for her decapitation, ought to be charged and arrested not because they’re Muslim, or Hindus, or Holy Rollers, but because they are individuals who have broken the law. Let’s forget the M-word, and the H-word, and focus on the I-word — which can stand both for Indian and individual.

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