While reading about the controversy which sprung up in the late 1980’s surrounding Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, I came across the fact that Radical Islamist Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who proclaimed the now infamous decree of death on Rushdie for insulting the Islamic Prophet, claimed that he based his judgement on a Quranic verse ie 9:61 which actually says, “Among them are those who vex the Prophet by saying, ‘He listens to everyone.’ Say, his listening to everyone is good for you; he believes in God and puts his trust in the faithful and is a mercy to those of you who believe. Those who annoy God’s messenger shall have a painful punishment.” Khomeini was very smart by emphasizing on the term ‘painful punishment’ but he actually took the verse out of context. The painful punishment over here is not to be given by humans and it doesn’t refer to blasphemy at all. It’s something which is entirely spiritual and is related to the concept of afterlife. The context of this ‘painful punishment’ lies in the 63rd Verse which states, “Do they not know that whoever opposes God and His Messenger shall abide forever in the fire of Hell. That is the Supreme Humiliation’.
The reality is that the punishment for blasphemy is not mentioned in the Quran at all. In fact this punishment is actually a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition as it is clearly mentioned in the Book of Leviticus (24:16) of the Old Testament of the Bible. Some of the fundamentalist scholars like Zakir Naik cite another verse mentioned in the Quran (5:33) to suggest that the punishment for blasphemy is death but that is not what that verse talks about. That verse prescribed four types of punishments (Including death and banishment) for those who were waging war against God and His Messenger. Waging war doesn’t mean demeaning by means of words. The reference made over there was towards those people who were waging war against the Muslims and Prophet Muhammad while they were living peacefully in Medina. In the battles which followed, the Muslims defeated them and Muhammad forgave many of the enemies of the Muslims. The facts on the table clearly dismantle the clerical theory of ‘death for blasphemy’. Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa was in fact driven by political opportunism. Khomeini gave that fatwa on February 14th, 1989, approximately a year after the book was released and by that time no less than 5 nations had already banned the book. Khomeini’s fatwa was Islamically wrong as well as a desperate attempt of his to get into a conflict with the West. In the past also he had done so by supporting the Iran Hostage Crisis which held captive 52 Americans and lasted for 444 days.
However, my denouncement of Khomeini’s fatwa does not mean that I support Rushdie’s book or the absolute right of freedom of speech. The Satanic Verses is full of dunk and contains such filthy language that I am sure Rushdie must have picked it up from the gutters of Bombay. This supposed masterpiece of English Literature uses over 100 Hindi slang words. Rushdie has used 16 Hindi words on the first page of the book itself. The word ‘fucking’ is mentioned 52 times in the book while the word ‘bastard’ is mentioned 29 times. This book has spared no one and is an insult to anyone and everyone. On the first page itself, Rushdie calls Londoner’s ‘bastards’. Margaret Thatcher is called a ‘fucking bitch’ on Page 269 of the book. He even writes of having sex with the Queen of England. On page 80 of the book, the Transgender community has been ridiculed. The expression which has been used for them is ‘hijras, chutias, shits’. This books smells of racism as on Page 461 it says, “Nigger [Black Man] eats white man’ shit.” Rushdie attacks and disgraces white women in his book by stating, “White women never mind fat, Jewish or non deferential, white women were for fucking and throwing over.” He has intentionally named the characters playing the role of prostitutes in his book after the wives of Prophet Muhammad. He has also disparaged Ram and Sita. On page 539 of his book, he has termed Ram as ‘drunk and lecherous’ ie a drunk man with a big sexual appetite and Sita as ‘flighty’. Rushdie did not even spare those who stood by him during his tough times. On page 392 he wrote, “There is no difference between writers and whores”. He labeled the British as ‘sister fucking’ and Americans as ‘fucking’ and these were the very people who saved him. Ironical indeed !
The topic for today’s debate is that this house will honour the Prophet by supporting the ban on the Satanic verses and I, Saif Ahmad Khan, will speak for the motion. All freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution are justiciable but they are not absolute in nature. Article 19 of the Constitution deals with the freedom of speech and expression and this right is coupled with a set of riders like other fundamental rights. These riders include that the right of free speech shouldn’t be utilized to promote communal disharmony and hurt religious sentiments, shouldn’t go against public decency and morality, shouldn’t compromise the security of the state and must not amount to contempt of court.
Salman Rushdie in his novel used certain explicit and unacceptable terms for the Holy Prophet and Angel Gabriel, keeping the religious sensibilities in mind the Indian Government banned the book in the year 1988 as it was blasphemous. Constructive criticism of religion is always laudable and commendable but blasphemy is lacklustre and unholy. An individual falls well within the ambit of the freedom of speech and expression when he talks about the ills of various religions. You cannot stop an individual from talking about the caste or sati system in Hinduism or the status of women in Islam nor can opprobrium of undemocratic and dictatorial Islamic regimes, colonialist Christian establishments be run down in the name of blasphemy or abuse of freedom of speech and expression but if somebody questions the character of Jesus Christ, abuses Prophet Mohammed, paints a Hindu God in the nude, makes fun of a Sikh Guru’s turban or Lord Buddha’s bald head, he is indeed breeding blaspheming and indulging in absolute-abuse of the freedom of speech and expression.
I do agree that the protestors haven’t waged their dissent democratically but the fact remains that you are secular if you respect the Constitution and restrictions put by it. Whether the restrictions are reasonable or unreasonable can always be tested in a court of law. Salman Rushdie’s novel was found violating the constitutional restrictions and so it was banned. We as citizens of India should support the ban as no individual has the liberty to bypass constitutional restrictions.