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Published : July 05, 2013 | Author : malavika
Category : Constitutional Law | Total Views : 5313 | Rating :

law student at School of Law Christ University.

The concept of ‘democracy’ that has emerged out of the Western philosophy with freedom, equality and justice being the strong pillars has found acceptance in other cultures over a period of time. However, like every other philosophy or process, this too has its flip side! The freedom of expression has encouraged people from different spheres of life in the hitherto conservative cultures to take new stands that not surprisingly has generated stiff resistance from those who(including governments) view it as a threat to perhaps their own authority and status. (Parvin and McHugh, 2006) state that “Saying that a society should respect principles of freedom and equality, for example, leaves an enormous amount open as to what these principles might mean, and what we should expect our governments to do. Should a liberal democracy like ours limit freedom of speech in order to protect certain religious or ethnic groups from offence, for example? And to what extent should states be able to limit the individual freedom of their members in the interests of protecting national security?”

Interestingly, the resistance is not isolated to the emerging new cultures but is increasingly coming from countries or cultures that have embraced and established democratic ideologies and governing structures, which in turn is challenging their own political ideologies!

In this paper, the effort is to look at the above said phenomenon through the present day cases of Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin, both credible intellectuals and writers in their own right who have become cause for serious controversies, posing sensitive issues to governments, apart from other political players in the respective societies as well as others.

Rushdie And Taslima – What Do They Exactly Stand For?
Salman Rushdie, a British citizen of Indian origin, has often flirted with controversies through his works like the The Midnight Children and more recently the Satanic Verses, the later work generating extreme reactions from Islamic religious order, inviting a ‘Fatwa’ from the Imam Khomeini. (Chase, 1996) states that “For some, the fatwa is a case study of Islam's fierce intolerance. For others, the fatwa is a response to the United States and Europe's cultural aggression, which holds nothing above ironic scorn and base insults.” Art is seen as a powerful competitor for religion, especially so in the context of Islam. (Chase, 1996) states that “The Satanic Verses is easily perceived as an obscene and mocking insult which seeks to undermine the authority of Islam's founder and its founding text. Distrust of The Satanic Verses' form and style may well have contributed to the reactions that it produced.” There are two issues that clearly emerge: firstly, that the Islamic religion and the religious order stood challenged, more so by someone who belongs to the same religion; and; secondly, the Fatwa issued against Rushdie “broke the international legal order's established confines and the assumed borders between religious and secular law.” In other words, while on one hand the issue of Freedom of expression looks a fundamental issue, there are deeper issues around religion and its supremacy over political structures and processes.

Taslima Nasrin, a Bengali Bangla Deshi, ex-doctor turned author, suddenly became famous due to the controversy raging after publication of her novel Lajja about a Hindu family’s persecution by Muslims. In her interview to The Statesman in 1994 she clarified that her plea for revisiting the Sharia laws in the Quran was seen as being a feminist approach unacceptable to the Islamic fraternity that understood it as a challenge to the religion and the religious order. While she had to go into exile to different countries, especially India, her presence in India created a raging controversy that escalated to government as well as political issues. Her case has a very similar line as that of Rushdie and the two issues that surfaced as regards Rushdie’s case are visible in her case also. The replication of the reactions both within her country and religion as well as the impact on different societies (especially India) again reiterate the strong resistance of religion to any art form of expression that borders around challenging the foundations of the religion. This can be gauged by the author’s expression “I’ve lost all creative freedom” (Bhattacharya, 2008).

From the above there is a clear picture emerging that unfortunately puts forth several dichotomies to fore, like, Islam vs. the West; Islamic law vs. international law; cultural relativism vs. universal human rights; divine natural law vs. positive law; a religious order vs. a secular world; medieval laws vs. the right of free expression; the traditional vs. the modem; the community vs. the individual; the globalization of international structures vs. the fragmentation of cultural identities.”(Chase, 1996) In other words, the dichotomies represent a spectrum of perspectives, amongst which the religion dichotomy (embracing cultural as well as political dichotomies) seems to have attained the strongest focus.

From the positions taken by Rushdie and Taslima, it is clear that their focus is clearly neither on religion nor politics, but hovers around democracy, secularism and modernism, which however seem to have attacked aspects of religion and therefore the antagonists have reacted and responded in a manner that has brought to fore the fight involving religion and religious order; and: Islamic culture against Western culture; Islamic region against the West. And therefore in the process sought to have strengthened extreme fundamental political ideology, something that neither Rushdie nor Taslima would ever have thought or imagined, leave aside the others!

Analysis of The Rushdie – Taslima Cases

At a very simple level, Rushdie and Taslima are intellectual human beings gifted with the wisdom and courage to think and provoke thinking beyond the conventional boundaries. To the larger audience such provocation can mean different things of course. In their cases, their individual right for expression has lost relevance and so has the intent behind such expression. Instead the expression, a seemingly individual issue has been sought to be magnified as an issue having wide ramifications that has not only enlarged the number of players but also gone towards making it a highly sensitive and complicated issue with religion and politics becoming priorities.

The ideology of pseudo-realism politics has come to surface out of these two cases. It is a fact that honesty and politics can never go hand in hand. Pseudo-realism is a concept that is closest to art forms where things that are not real appear to be real. This concept has pervaded global politics and this is well demonstrated in the cases of Rushdie and Taslima. For example, Taslima’s liberal views on women is not seen as a progressive attempt towards mainstreaming women, but instead seen as an attempt to challenge the religious establishment. This is exactly what has happened with Rushdie as well.

Politicising an artistic expression is indirectly trying to present something that is neither intended nor factual in a way that they seem to be so. The Satanic Verses for example is perhaps a view point that takes the contextual perspective of society provoking people to revisit certain aspects of religion so that a progressive interpretation could be generated. However, instead this view point is interpreted to be an arrogant challenge to the founder of the religion, the followers and the teachings.

To conclude, it may be stated that the democratic movement has yet to cover a very large distance. Countries that have embraced it have not yet been able to come out of their shells of conservatism and religion. The stories of Rushdie and Taslima are not the last ones and unless there is maturity developed of understanding right of expression as being a channel for progression, individual thinkers would continue to be subjected to oppressive methods such as banning of the books of Rushdie and Taslima even in countries that proudly profess to be democratic. There is clear indication of re-emergence of an intolerant political ideology!
1) Bhattacharya, Kajari (2008-01-21). "I’ve lost all creative freedom: Taslima". The Statesman. http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php
2) (Chase Anthony, 1996), Legal Guardians: Islamic Law, International Law, Human Rights Law and the Salman Rushdie affair. AM. U. J. INT'L L. & POL'Y, Vol11:3
3) Parvin Philip and McHugh Declan [Eds], 2006, Democracy Series, Democracy and Islam, Hansard Society, London
4) Pseudo-realism and literature(http://www.pseudo-realism.com/literatures.htm)
# Parvin Philip and McHugh Declan [Eds], 2006, Democracy Series, Democracy and Islam, Hansard Society, London
# (Chase Anthony, 1996), Legal Guardians: Islamic Law, International Law, Human Rights Law and the Salman Rushdie affair. AM. U. J. INT'L L. & POL'Y, Vol11:3
# ibid
# ibid
# Bhattacharya, Kajari (2008-01-21). "I’ve lost all creative freedom: Taslima". The Statesman. http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php
# (Chase Anthony, 1996), Legal Guardians: Islamic Law, International Law, Human Rights Law and the Salman Rushdie affair. AM. U. J. INT'L L. & POL'Y, Vol11:3
# Concept referenced from “Pseudo-realism and literature http://www.pseudo-realism.com/literatures.htm

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