February 14, 2006

No trumps here

A friend is a free-speech fundamentalist, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. With him, it's crystal clear: the right to free-speech trumps anything else. No buts. I admire the man for that clarity of thought. I wish I could say the same about myself.

Thing is, I can't. I believe in free speech, but I'm troubled by its implications.

You know where this is going: the cartoon imbroglio.

Is the famous Danish cartoon offensive to some? Without doubt it is. (Though not to me). That's why the protests in various parts of the world. You can say till you're blue in the face that the protesters are stuck in medieval times. You can also say till you're blue in the face that they do not understand the intellectual traditions that make Westerners -- some Westerners -- cherish that freedom above all.

The whole point is, these things matter not at all. The cartoons were offensive to people who believe the Prophet cannot be depicted, period. (Let alone caricatured). And those people reacted to that depiction, some with threats and actual violence.

Is the reaction obscene to some? Without doubt it is. (To me as well). That a mere picture should be met with threats of terrorism is nothing short of obscene. You can say till you're blue in the face that it was deliberately provoked. You can also say till you're blue in the face that these cartoonists and editors do not understand the sensibilities of religious people -- some religious people.

The whole point is, again, these things matter not at all. The reaction was obscene to people who think you cannot threaten violence against those who speak their minds, period. And those people reacted to those threats, some defiantly, with more cartoons.

Does freedom of speech apply to the cartoons? Of course it does. Does it apply to the protests? As long as they harm nobody, of course it does.

So where does that leave us?

In this place where the implications of free speech are troubling, that's where. Because if your freely expressed speech offends someone, that someone is going to react, and claiming freedom of speech will not switch that reaction off.

And so I think the lesson here is about consequences and responsibilities. You express yourself, whether via cartoon or protest, you had better be aware of the consequences. Free speech is a great power, but like all great powers, it comes with responsibilities. Protest is just as great a power, but it too comes with responsibilities.

Which means: I will defend a cartoonist's right to draw whatever the hell he wants to. But if he wants to draw something that will profoundly offend someone, I will tell him he should not do it.

Not as simply elegant as my free-speech friend's principles. But, I like to think, a little more in tune with the ways of the world.


Quizman said...

I am offended by this blog post. I advice you to remove it.

Anonymous said...

Dilip says:

>Which means: I will defend a cartoonist's right to draw whatever the hell he wants to. But if he wants to draw something that will profoundly offend someone, I will tell him he should not do it.

Note, he only says.. not does anything about it. Because I don't remember him reading or saying anything to one Mr. M F Hussain.
Maybe because Dilip's never heard of this Hussain, right Dilip?
Or the Hindus who are offended by his work deserve it?

Dilip D'Souza said...

TTG, "muzzle 'em"?

You're welcome to tell me something offends you, as I would tell a cartoonist whom I thought was being offensive, or a Husain for that matter. I may not necessarily listen to you, as the cartoonist might not or Husain might not.

Apart from that, I'm not entirely sure what you're saying, though your comment somewhat surprises me (coming from you), and you may just have lost something. Enough said.

Shinu Mathew said...

Oh come on! If this post offended someone, they should stop reading it. Do not advice the author to remove it. After all, it's his freedom of speech! The very fundamental of this blog is questioned by these comments.
The Muslim world has a right to protest against the cartoons, as the cartoonist have the same right to voice his ideas through his media.
What about the latest entrant in this blasphemous episodes, that of a Whiskey brand depicting Durga holding Whiskey bottles in her hands? Would these commentators suggest, we, Indians, too resort to the violent tactics?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Shinu et al: I suspect Quizman's post was a joke.

Dilip: I can't speak for the protesting Muslims obviously, but what I found offensive was not the depiction of the prophet but the depiction of him carrying a bomb in his hat. The cartoons were stupid and not even funny. Their only aim was to provoke.

To me, the nadir of the saga was this news item. Summary: the culture editor of the offending Danish paper was asked to go on leave -- but not for publishing the original cartoons. For saying that the paper "might" print Iranian cartoons on the Holocaust "but we will not make a decision before we have seen the cartoons". That was too much for the editor-in-chief.

So much for Europeans and their pretensions to free speech.

By the way, Norway, so quick this time to get on Denmark's free-speech high horse, was one of the countries that originally banned Monty Python's "Life of Brian" -- a movie that does not by any stretch of the imagination criticise Jesus. (It does lampoon his followers: I guess that was the truly offensive part.)

Anonymous said...

sorry, just one small clarification.
the muslim world is replete with images of the prophet, so this stuff about it being blasphemous to depit the man doesn't cut ice.
the protests erupted because some people found them offensive, which is entirely understandable. there's a difference between point 1 and point 2 that must be made clear.

Anonymous said...

Compare the sermon in this blogpost to the one here:

or this:

Shouldn't the people who named a pair of lesbians 'Sita' and 'Radha' have known the cosequences of doing so? Shouldn't an ageing, lecherous lout of an artist have not known better than to paint Hindu deities (eg: a naked Sita in the company of a naked Hanuman) in an obscene manner?

Should it then matter that a party speaking for Hindus -- some Hindus -- would react violently to the denigration of Hindu deities?

For all the poison that was vomited at them, these protesting Hindus did not harm anyone. As I write this, it is being reported that a mechanic with a Hindu-sounding name on a Gulf-bound ship was battered to death by his colleagues because he defended the cartoons.

Anonymous said...

Hindu sailor killed over toon row

New Delhi: An Indian sailor was allegedly beaten to death by his colleagues
on board a Norwegian oil tanker in the international waters off the coast of
Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates following an argument over the publication
of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in some European newspapers.

A fight ensued among the seamen after an argument over the issue, causing the
death of one sailor, a media report said.

Official sources confirmed the death of 31-year-old Sudhir Jagannathan, a
native of Mumbai.

"We have been informed about the death. Our officials visited the Fujairah
hospital and collected the details. The investigation is going on and once it is
over, the consulate will render all the help to repatriate the body," an Indian
official told Pakistan's Khaleej Times newspaper.

The entire crew on the ship hails from India. The ship was traveling from
Mangalore in Karnataka to Fujairah with a chemical cargo.

Jagannathan worked as a fitter on the ship.

The captain of the oil tanker has denied any foul play.

He and his crew were remanded to the custody of the Fujairah police, the
report added.

Gaurav said...

Regarding the "whats a few lies between friends" article of Dilip's, not that it offends me in anyway, but her name was Sita and not Nita. Check the film's IMDB page -


Gaurav said...

That's just to point out that though i hate thackeray and the sena and they have lied a lot in the past, on this occasion it was Shabana Azmi who lied through her teeth.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why one has to customarily declare one's dislike of Thackeray and Sena. The focus of this blog-post is not condemning those violently prosteting cartoons, is it? The focus on the other hand is to ask "where do the various issues raised here leave us?" and the answer is that they leave us in a place where we need to tell the cartoonists and the artists to desist from offending religious sensibilities.

My question is, why do we have to wait till Muslim sensibilities are hurt to arrive at this truth? Back in late 90's, when it was mostly Hindus -- some Hindus -- who were protesting the offence caused to their belief, the argument of their opponents was that the core issue was freedom of expression and its defence. Thackeray asked whether that would still be the case if Muslim sentiments were hurt. We now know the answer to that question. Thackeray stands vindicated. And still abuse-thackeray is the policy, eh? I don't see any anti-cartoon free-speech-walla adding the disclaimer that he also hates rabble-rousers like Bukhari and Shabana Azmi.

Thackeray was not the problem. Let us get that right. MF Husain and Shabana Azmi were the problem. And those who did not advise them to stop offending people are the problem. Thackeray is but a manifestation of the social dynamic that when religious sensitivities are offended, violence may result. And in retrospect, I am really amazed at how moderate Theckeray and his boys were. If mere cartoons can cause such death and destruction, imagine what would have been the consequnce if a couple of Muslim divines -- related to each other roughly the same way Sita is related to Hanuman -- are portrayed in the nude in the company of each other? Contrast that with Bajrang Dal's narrow focus on destroying only the offending paintings! Honestly, I do think these guys are paragons of peace compared to those who are storming Danish emabssies and setting them on fire.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Re: Fire. The name was changed to Neeta. (That link, among other places you can find the same news).

Sounds to me like somebody told the film-maker about the possible consequences of what they were doing, and the film-maker listened.

(Though another issue altogether is that I personally cannot see why the name Seeta should offend).

I was concerned about what happened with Fire and Husain (the Saraswati painting) those years ago. Concerned enough that I wrote about it. But I didn't defend either on the grounds of freedom of expression, which grounds to me were immaterial and irrelevant anyway. What I wrote then was like what I wrote now in this post: that the reaction to the painting/film/cartoon is obscene.

I cannot see Husain's paintings as offensive. (That his paintings don't interest me is another matter). I don't believe he wishes to offend (as I believe some of the defiant European papers wished to offend). But I do wish someone would tell him, this painting you're doing is going to offend people.

Finally, we have "paragons of peace". Frankly, I'm hard put to see a difference between, on the one hand, threats of terrorism and setting embassies on fire and burning flags and so forth, and, on the other hand, rioting and looting and killing as in Bombay in 1992-93 and Gujarat in 2002.

That the people on one of these hands get called "paragons of peace" strikes me as perverse.

Quizman said...

Shinu - lighten up. Obviously, you didn't get the irony.

Rahul :-)

Dilip, Anon: Btw, another fallout of the post-Rushdie era is the lumping of religious debate (I'll write a post on this topic shortly) in one category. If a Hindu/Christian/Muslim *religious* person even dares to suggest that a certain display/work of art/literary work offends his sensibilities, the secular Nazis will pounce on him with the "F" word (fundamentalist). Mind you, the person may not be the headband wearing, slogan shouting, effigy burning true-blue fundamentalist. But everyone who is even slightly religious is classified as a fundu now. See for instance, the posts (and comments) by one particular Sepia Mutineer - especially with regard to the debate on California textbooks. If you read his stuff and didn't know better, you will actually believe that everyone who believes that the textbooks offends Hindus is a Bajrang Dal activist. The attitude is similar to the far-right bloggers (e.g. Instapundit) of the US who have blinkered their vision with regard to the cartoons and lump all Muslim debaters are card carrying fundus. I truly believe that 80-90% of the protests are linked to political parties and their efforts to mobilise falling support. Much like Bal Thackeray's rants whenever he loses grassroots appeal. Sane protests are lost in this noise. See for instance, the post by this Saudi lady.

That is exactly the kind of victimization and lumping that the fundamentalist parties hope to achieve.


Anonymous said...

I was concerned about what happened with Fire and Husain (the Saraswati painting) those years ago. Concerned enough that I wrote about it.
Where Dilip? I'm sure you have a link that you can provide us.

I don't believe he wishes to offend
Really? How do you know that? Is MF Hussain transmitting telepathic messages that others aren't picking up but only you receive it loud and clear?

But I do wish someone would tell him, this painting you're doing is going to offend people.
Absolutely no need. Since we don't see him painting Mohd couplating with any of his dozen wives or Mary taking a roll in the hay, one can easily infer that he knows his limits.

Nice to see Dilip wordsmith his way from Danish cartoons and M F Hussain paintings to riots and Gujarat. Next stop global warming?

Anonymous said...

that the reaction to the painting/film/cartoon is obscene

You mean the protests on streets against a movie is same as torching embassies, killing people?

BTW, how did people react to 'Last temptation of Christ"?

ankan said...

"I will defend a cartoonist's right to draw whatever the hell he wants to. But if he wants to draw something that will profoundly offend someone, I will tell him he should not do it."

Man! How typically hypocritical!

Double standards.....thy name is secularism.

zap said...

absolutely Dilip !

Niket said...

Dilip, I think you will be interested in reading the views of PZ Myers on this issue.

Very well articulated, and quite colinear to what you express here.

Dilip D'Souza said...

niket, thanks for the pointer to Myers. A thoroughly refreshing PoV.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I just noticed, I'm glad to see an anonymouse mention "Last Temptation of Christ." A perfectly fine film. It drew an idiotic (to me) reaction from Christians who thought Christ should not be depicted as living beyond his resurrection (I think that was the issue, it's been some years, someone correct me if I'm wrong), and I recall angry protests in the US (where I was at the time) demanding it not be screened.

So much for cherishing freedom of expression.

Reminds me too of the Indian Christian objection to the film Jesus Christ Superstar, back in the mid-70s. As I understand, it was screened for some Christians here before release. They were offended because, they said, Mary Magdalene displayed "carnal love" for Jesus. That was enough for the Censor Board; the film was not screened publicly then in India and I don't know if it has been screened publicly since. (Again, it's been many years and I may have the details hazy, someone correct me if so).

So much, again, for cherishing freedom of expression.

Vikrum said...

Let's not forget "The Satanic Verses," another banned book in the Indian democracy. Oh yeah, any book that doesn't portray Shivaji as a God will be banned.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Yes, but Vik, a book that says something about Shivaji that some people consider irreverent will not just be banned. Its author will be condemned and have threats of legal action, our country's PM will announce that he should not insult our heroes, and the institute where a scholar who helped that author works will be trashed, and its other researchers will have their faces blackened.

In no way can this reaction by paragons of peace be compared to the storming of embassies. Got that?

zap said...

:) dilip i'm thinking a lot of people are missing any sarcasm you throw their way. And the passion definitely.

Watch the match, my man. Watch the match.
As you can see, i'm an ostritch.
With cable tv ofcourse.

Anonymous said...

Dilip D'Souza says that he did not find anything wrong about naming a lesbian character as Sita or MF Husain's obscene paintings of Hindu deities as offensive. But does that matter? I had a hearty laugh over Danish cartoons and can't see how anyone in his right mind can take offense at something as incosequential as cartoons! Personally, I think the whole fracas is the result of some people lacking a sense of humour. But does that matter?

(At the same time I agree that my Hindu belief that MF Husain deliberately chose to denigrate Hindu goddesses -- he did not paint Muslims or his mother or M Teresa in the nude -- and a rabble-rousing Shabana Azmi deliberately chose to offend Hindu sensibilities -- she lied about the name of the character she portrayed -- does not matter in the light of the larger issue we are debating: where does all this leave us?)

And yes, I stand by my statement that Shiv Sena are paragons of peace compared to the fanatics now killing and burning on a matter as silly as cartoons. D'Souza brings up Bombay riots (blamed on Hindus by a propagandist ex-judge who to prove his Hinduism even quotes from Gita!) and Gujarat riots. Let us compare oranges to oranges. If silly cartoons can provoke so many thousands of people all over the world to kill, burn and loot, what would paintnig a couple of Muslim divines in the nude, or naming a lesbian charatcer after a prominent Muslim female (eg: any of Prophet's wives) propel them to do? Bloodbath! Embers will rage for months on end all over the world wherever there is a sizeable Muslim population!

Likewise, what would happen if a bunch of Muslims returning in a train from a pilgrimage were set upon and burned to death by a bunch of Hindus in Pakistan? Whatever little Hindu population that remains in Pakistan will be wiped out, making the genocide of Hindus in that area of the subcontinent perfect and complete! Half of teh remianing Hindu population in Bangaldesh would have been decimated!

Granted Mr Thackeray and his boys are not exactly Gandhians. But the comparison here is relative. I'd any day choose teh Sena over the bunch now killing and looting for the offence given by cartoons.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that D'Souza mentioned the book about Shivaji. I am opposed to the ban on this book. The NCP supporters who demanded the ban are out of their mind. If Shivaji was indeed of humble origins as the book claims, then it is a matter of pride for Hindus, not shame! For it shows the resilience of Hinduism -- 300 years ago! -- in crowning and feting people of Shivaji's greatness regardless of their caste and origins. The ban on the book is not a service done to Hinduism, it is an offence.

But let us turn our attention to a book banned by West Bengal. Yes virgina, the 'progressive', 'secular' West Bengal! Books get banned in Marxist la la lands too! A bunch of Muslims alleged that Taslima Nasrin's Dwikhandito insulted Islam and the prophet. (That familiar refrain: Islam khatre me hain!) The progressives agreed that Islam was khatre mein, and promptly banned the book. The ban was challenged in the court. The shameless West Bengal government lied to the court that the book would cause communal riots because it insulted Islam! Decipher that! A Muslim author writes a book that some Muslims deemed offeinsive. Why would that cause communal riots, unless Muslims are so blinded by hate that no matter who gives them offence they kill Hindus!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the court ruled that the ban was illegal, and that the book, far from insulting Islam, upheld secular ideals!

Again, if I am forced to make a choice between the NCP goons who forced a ban on Shivaji book and the Marxist-Muslim goons who forced a ban on Dwikhandito, the choice is clear: the former. James Laine is not exactly a pesrcuted author. Taslima Nasrin is. James Laine's objective is not defence of human rights and gender justice. Nasrin's is. And yet, a bunch of goons who otehrwise proclaim themselves to be 'progressive', have denied her a voice.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why Arundhati Roy hasn't jumped into the fray yet in opposition to unfettered freedom of expression and in defence of hurt people's right to burn and kill. Roy said she herself was a bigtime victim of the opposition to freedom of expression. Roy badmouthed a few judges and said it was an exercise of her freedom of expression. No, contempt of court, said the court. And the court then gave her an opportunity to martyr herself in the cause of freedom of expression; which opportunity she declined by refusing to go to jail for three months. Instead she chose to tuck her little tail between her legs and flee from the scene, so to speak, because she paid a paltry fine (not worth a roll of tolilet paper in any of the toilets of the holiday villa she built in Pachmarhi) and got out of Tihar only after one day.

So I am all eager to see her come out with a soul-stirring essay on the subject of "down with cartoons" vs "freedom of expression".

Anonymous said...


2nd request:

>> was concerned about what happened with Fire and Husain (the Saraswati painting) those years ago. Concerned enough that I wrote about it.

Where Dilip? I'm sure you have a link that you can provide us.

Anonymous said...

Oh Vicky,

You state: Oh yeah, any book that doesn't portray Shivaji as a God will be banned.

Nice try, but no cigar. The author himself said:
Laine said in the apology: "It was never my intention to denigrate Shivaji or outrage sentiments. It is obvious that there can be no historical basis for jokes. Historical evidence suggests that Shahaji was Shivaji's biological father and that is also my view. In writing the book, I had hoped to contribute in some way to a rich understanding of this great man. I forthwith direct my publishers to henceforth delete the offending paragraph on Page 93 from all future publications of the book worldwide."
[end quote]

I hope you educate yourself enough about the controversy before parrotting some talking point memos from sickular circles.

Having said that, I wonder how either you or Dilip would react if I used my "freedom of expression" to state that the papa of that 2 little kids who used to feature on this blog (before it was replaced by some oranges) was anyone other than Mr. Dilip D'Souza.

I guess it hurts when when the shoe in on the very foot which was used to trample on others eh?

Anonymous said...

And yet, a bunch of goons who otehrwise proclaim themselves to be 'progressive', have denied her a voice.

Let's also not forget when this very secular UPA govt refused to extend her visa bending to the fundoos, our "progressive" likes of Dilip have kept mum. This knowing very well that if she's to return to Bangaladesh, there's a very real threat to her life.

Anonymous said...

Let's also not forget when this very secular UPA govt refused to extend her visa bending to the fundoos, our "progressive" likes of Dilip have kept mum. This knowing very well that if she's to return to Bangaladesh, there's a very real threat to her life.

Scumbags! Not a day passes without yet another evidence emerging of how decent and civilized the NDA government was.

Anonymous said...

I apologize. In the 8th comment on this page (begins "Compare the sermon"), I myself gave the links to two articles that Dilip wrote about the film Fire and M. F. Hussain.

Yet I myself have twice now asked "Where Dilip? I'm sure you have a link that you can provide us".

Also, I myself do not know what I was meant when I wrote "when when the shoe in on the very foot".

Anonymous said...

Sorry folks, I did post the two links in post number 8 about Hussain though I blame did Thackeray for the whole controversy there and not "I'll tell Hussain to not to do it".

Here, I'm just trying to get the foot out of my mouth with the fake post above as I'm having hard time comprehending posts by anonymous about feet.