TRYSTS AND TURNS

Dilemma of secular liberals

Cannot take sides and condone injustice meted out by one side only

Dilemma of secular liberals

In support: Liberals were overjoyed when Teesta Setalvad’s husband and his ‘Muslims for a Secular Democracy’ came out on the side of the French President.

Julio Ribeiro

A Muslim lad from Dehradun wrote to me: “Mr Julio F Ribeiro, may Allah’s peace be upon you. Yesterday, I saw a video in which a class teacher in France assigned the class to make a caricature of Prophet Mohammed (Saw). A Muslim student, wondering what to do in such a circumstance, finally wrote Mohammed on the notebook. Prophet Mohammed (Saw) lies in our hearts and Muslim ummah loves Prophet Mohammed (Saw). They also love Jesus, Moses, David, Isaac, Ismail, Abraham and Noah. They are ordained to respect deities of Hindu as per directions of the Quran. Other relations are meaningless if that eternal bond with Mohammed is disregarded by anyone in any way. A Muslim cannot bear that assault. Why Europe and especially Denmark and France think that they can go on insulting Prophet Mohammed (Saw) like they insult Prophet Jesus and others in the name of freedom of speech? Why a pitch is being created to demonise a loving Muslim ummah?

I hope you will be writing against the injustice meted out to Muslim ummah in the name of freedom of expression.”

I replied: “Does the Quran say that the depiction of the Prophet is not to be made and, further, if anyone does it, he or she should be killed? I would like to see this line in the Holy Book (with English translation as I do not know Arabic). This is essential if one has to write on the subject.”

The young man’s feelings reflect those of his co-religionists across the globe! I am willing to respect such feelings if those who harbour them also respect the Quranic injunctions not to kill. Secular liberals cannot take sides and condone injustice meted out by one side only.

When cattle traders, butchers and beef eaters are lynched or young students and old women are hauled up under draconian laws like the UAPA for protesting against discriminatory laws like the CAA and NRC, secular liberals take up cudgels for the victims. But if extremist Muslims take to terror because they are too weak to take on the might of the State or, like in France, choose to behead a teacher for showing cartoons from a magazine that pictured the Prophet, the same secular liberals are squarely against these extremists.

The French President condemned the killings of his compatriots. It would have been unacceptable if he had failed to do so. Our PM Modi was the first world leader to condemn the killing of the Paris teacher by Muslim hotheads. But in India, we keep waiting for our popular PM to react when Muslims are lynched!

Well, it was good and wise of Modiji to convey his support to Macron at that moment of French national grief. Secular liberals in our own country would have appreciated his gesture even more if he had been consistent with his rejection of terrorism by also condemning lynchings in BJP-ruled states from where alone they have been reported. Secular liberals, like me, roundly condemn all extremists of any persuasion. Fundamentalism, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, is anathema to them.

Secular liberals were overjoyed when Javed Anand, husband of that intrepid warrior Teesta Setalvad, and his group of Muslims for a Secular Democracy came out boldly on the side of the French President and against their French co-religionists responsible for the barbaric act of beheading. Imagine our disappointment when the very next day, hordes of Muslims came out on the streets of Mumbai and other cities of India to voice their anger against the French President for stating what the world already knew — that the French national ethos is irreverence towards religion as such and not to Islam, in particular. Instances of rejection of firmly held Christian beliefs like the Virgin Birth or the Chastity of Christ were shown in films like The Da Vinci Code, which were released in French cinema halls without any violent reactions.

So, the French are even-handed about their attitude to religion, any religion, including the one which the majority of worshippers in their country profess and follow. But followers of Islam, who, subsequent to the demise of colonial rule, account for a substantial percentage of the population of France, are very touchy about their Prophet.

Zakia Soman, one of the best known Muslim women fighting the mullahs in the ‘triple talaq’ matter, has also come out openly against her co-religionists responsible for the barbarism in France. She will be ‘persona non grata’ with the majority of Indian Muslims! Yet, she has spoken out in a newspaper column. I salute her.

There are many obscurantist practices that my fellow humans who follow Islam need to ponder and discard. Their marriage and divorce laws, the place of women in their scheme of daily living, should be principal points of debate and discussion. The reversal of the Shah Bano judgment by the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi shocked the conscience of even those sympathetic to Muslims in India. It spelt the eclipse of Congress rule and the rise of the BJP.

There is another decision of the mullahs that shocked me even more. An Indian soldier was captured by the Pakistanis in the war of 1965 or 1971. He was a Muslim. Since his whereabouts could not be established for more than seven years, his wife remarried. She had a son from that marriage and was happy. Suddenly, the soldier was freed by his captors and returned home. The mullahs ordered the woman to cohabit with the soldier, abandoning her happy marriage! She was not even consulted. No attention was paid to the child who had not been accepted by the soldier.

I am willing and even eager to take up issues for my Muslim brothers and sisters when they are unjustly targeted and I do that often. But certainly not when practices that are uncivilised are defended as Quranic precepts. How can any Supreme Being condemn women to ‘slave’ status in their own home and in their own community? How can a Supreme Being sanction murder? My secular liberalism just cannot accept such inequality and injustice!

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