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It was indeed “a beautiful day” as Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, wrote after being acquitted for hate speech against Islam. It was a beautiful day not because it was a victory for freedom of speech, but because what Wilders has been doing is akin to sowing wild oats. One should hope he has now got his hormonal kicks and can get down to real political debate.
The first thing he needs to realise in a secular set-up is that religion ought to have no place in such debates. He comes with a huge baggage of a right-winger and a devout Roman Catholic. If this is his personal viewpoint, then it is perfectly valid ? he can hate anything he likes. Does it have any place in public discourse? He writes: “My view on Islam is that it is not so much a religion as a totalitarian political ideology with religious elements. While there are many moderate Muslims, Islam’s political ideology is radical and has global ambitions.”
It is indeed possible to see religion through a political prism, and most societies do so as it is easier than selling new ideologies. Wilders Party for Freedom (PVV) has risen to a large extent due to his rabid stance. Perhaps he does not have a mirror around to show him that his criticism of Islam comes from projection. His audience is clearly taken in by his totalitarian views and his own expansionism is quite evident.
It is inadvertently amusing when he says “now it is legal to criticise Islam”. This sounds like a statement of an addict seeking legitimacy for his habit. It begs the question: Why is it important to criticise Islam?
A Guardian profile of February 2008 states: “Likening the Islamic sacred text to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he wants the ‘fascist Koran’ outlawed in Holland, the constitution rewritten to make that possible, all immigration from Muslim countries halted, Muslim immigrants paid to leave and all Muslim ‘criminals’ stripped of Dutch citizenship and deported ‘back where they came from’. But he has nothing against Muslims. ‘I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people’.”
It would have been nice if he could see culture more holistically instead of through the hole of some Arabian Nights dark fantasy, unless he is seriously filigree-resistant. More seriously, where does he draw the line between Muslims and Islam? His comments would have made sense had he been an atheist or born a Muslim and concerned about the state of people in societies that may shackle them due to stringent laws. He lives in the west and is riding on anti-Islamism because it happens to be at the centre of political turmoil in many parts of the globe. Besides internal strife, much of religious resurgence has been a result of western intrusion in such territories.
One commiserates with Wilder about Muslim criminals, but what about criminals belonging to other faiths? What if the Muslims do not have any criminal record and are contributing in professional capacities or as unskilled labour to these societies? Would being Muslim be sufficient to qualify as a crime? Should Muslim societies return the favour by deporting westerners who work in their countries?
The action against hate speech is not restricted to Muslims. “The Dutch penal code states in its articles 137c and 137d that anyone who either ‘publicly, verbally or in writing or image, deliberately expresses himself in any way that incites hatred against a group of people’ or ‘in any way that insults a group of people because of their race, their religion or belief, their hetero- or homosexual inclination or their physical, psychological or mental handicap, will be punished’.” These are Wilders’ own words.
The prosecution stated, “Freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable.” So, how can his acquittal be a victory for freedom of speech when it goes against the law? Why has he been treated with kid gloves? It is likely that had someone been critical of homosexuals or the disabled there might not have been a case at all except for a few rumblings.
This leads to the other question: Why do Muslims always protest?
It is a disturbing trend for it works against the Muslims more than anyone else. But can anyone point out to concerted hate speeches against other religions by non-militant Islamists, except for calling them infidels? If anything, it is the liberal Muslims who are critical of holy cows among Muslims as well as others. Then there are ‘career Muslims’ who have had a brush with censorship and get catapulted to fame solely on that basis. Take the case of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, Dutch writer-activist. She was included in Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2005, a year after Theo Van Gogh was killed for his film ‘Submission’ based on her script. She had already decided on her position, but her public stance was that the brutal killing made her aware: “Militant Islam shuts down any criticism of Koran. Be it in any language ? Chinese, Hindi, English ? even if you touch upon Koran, all discussion ends with accusations of ‘traitor’ and ‘infidel’ hurled at you.”
One is not quite sure about a term like “militant Islam”, for those who believe it is militant cannot be Islamic. For them such militancy would be internalised. If the reference is to terrorists, then Islam is their calling card, although one does not have to restate that more Muslims have been killed due to this so-called Islamic militancy. It is unfortunate that people do not comprehend such a glaring fact.
One can empathise with Ali for being hounded by a bunch of fanatics, which is not how the debates deal with such issues by confining their ire to the fringe elements. There are blanket assertions about the faith with militancy added as a mere prefix. Ali’s views on the west reveal a certain cosy understanding: “The idea that the US is conspiring against Islam is devised by vested interests such as Iran and Saudi Arabia because they resist the American demand for democratization, despite years of aid. In both Europe and the US there’s a fertile liberal ground to do anything.”
Indeed. You can burn the Koran, you can create paranoia, you can decide what people ought to wear and not wear. Aid comes with strings attached and the US has a relationship of convenience with Saudi Arabia. It is amazing that liberal commentators brazenly propagate the idea of American supremacy and how it can “demand democratization” when it has its snide unstated policies in place regarding the ‘others’ within its shores. The anti-Islamists are coddled because they can be used to showcase sympathy. Bring on the stand-up comics, the activists, the bold ones who stick their fatwa-ed necks out. It is the western establishments that use them and place a higher price on their heads than the militant groups. They are the prized jockeys for the multicultural derby.
Wilders had described his film ‘Fitna’ most audaciously: “It’s like a walk through the Koran. My intention is to show the real face of Islam. I see it as a threat. I’m trying to use images to show that what’s written in the Koran is giving incentives to people all over the world. On a daily basis Moroccan youths are beating up homosexuals on the streets of Amsterdam.”
Are there no cops in Amsterdam to arrest these youths? Are they beating up these homosexuals because they have taken a walk through the Koran? Or is it homophobia that might have nothing to do with religion?
Social consciousness is being married to faith in every sphere and it has snowballed to such an extent that one cannot discuss any issue without the crutch of religion. While among some circles there is shock that liberals have come together with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, no one blinks when Tony Blair converts to Catholicism, a Bishop heads a government, the oath of office is taken in the name of god, courts make you swear on holy books, bedside draws in hotels in most parts of the world have a copy of the Bible, ailing members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood donations because it goes against their faith and missionary movements have spread their tentacles, especially in poverty-stricken areas. They offer sops for conversion.
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What differentiates them from Islam, then? They do not have fatwas and jihad. It is purely a matter of semantics. The grammar of belief begins with full stops. It cannot grow because its fate has been sealed. Evolution ? no, not the one that rattled the Christian Garden of Eden ? is anathema because it is akin less to betrayal and more to freeing oneself from non-cognisable fences.
The concept of the infidel is to shirk any outside influence. At the scriptural level it was to create a following. In contemporary times it works as community. The books of all religions have some such survival mechanism. Christianity states: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? … Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” (2 Cor.6:14-17)
There are passages that are even more aggressive. The moot point is that books don’t talk. There has to be an apparatus that connects the dots and creates craters from them.
An apt analogy would be the priesthood. Joseph McCabe discussing the Psychology of Religion has brought in this important dimension:
“The American population is especially composed of religious, and often fanatical, contingents from nations of the old world who had suffered persecution; and even in the last hundred years the main streams of immigration (Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, etc.) have predominantly brought religious fanatics, because they naturally came from the poorest, least educated, and most overcrowded countries, which means the most religious.
“Now consider the fortunes of the most fanatical of them all, the Roman Catholics, when the great expansion of the American people toward the Pacific took place in the nineteenth century. It is true that there were not priests enough to found chapels wherever a few hundred Catholics settled ? a difficulty which Rome can always overcome by consecrating German or Belgian peasants and drafting them abroad ? but the main point was that priests were generally disinclined to leave Boston and Philadelphia and rough it with the western pioneers. The result was that in a few decades literally millions of these fanatical Catholics lost all interest in religion?The New York Freeman’s Journal in the same year (1898) put the loss at twenty millions, and I have shown from immigration analyses that the loss was at least fourteen or fifteen millions. In other words, the most fanatical of all religious adherents fell away in masses when there were no priests to bother them, and, although priests came along as soon as there was money enough in any town to give a middle-class income to an ordained peasant, they never recovered the apostates or (in most cases) their children.”
The recovery has taken place as part of the marketing prototype to create a demand. The demand is accelerated when there is competition. Acquisitiveness is about having what the other does not. A health drink will show a child triumph over another who ends up with a bloodied nose.
All religions have been born with blood trails. The footprints have coagulated. The journey is, therefore, a tribute to fossilisation. Middle-men swoop down on the hardened remains ? whether it is militants, evangelists or Wilders-like demagogues. It is business for these predator-priests of frisson.
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/