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My Thoughts on Salman Rushdie’s speech at the India Today Conclave

I heard of this speech over the weekend from my parents as they were watching it on local television and I’d been meaning to catch a web link or something. Today being a public holiday here, I decided to check it out. And boy, am I glad I did! I have to say that I find myself agreeing with a lot of what this writer has to say. Here are some quotes that really stuck in my head. My comments follow underneath each quote.

“You do not end unpleasant thinking by banning its expression. What you do is you drive it underground and in some ways you make it more powerful by giving it the excitement of taboo. When stuff is out in the open, that’s when you can demolish it. When stuff is banned and secretly in corners, then it becomes glamorous. The glamour of being forbidden must not be under-estimated.”

This is so true and I have said something along these lines myself several times to friends and family. When you ban something, anything, it automatically becomes more exciting! Just as a simple example, having a couple of beers or a little bit of alcohol with friends in a social situation is common especially in Western culture. By making it taboo and creating the image that alcohol destroys families, you end up with a handful of hardcore bingers. In India I have often noticed that though there are fewer drinkers generally in society (or they are just not visible out in the open), they end up drinking a lot more and more hard drinks too like whisky and rum. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.

“When I use the word respect, it means that I take people seriously. I engage with them seriously. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything they say. What is happening now is that the term ‘respect’ is being used as a way of demanding assent. If you disagree with me, then you are disrespecting me! And I will get very angry and may even pick up a violent weapon, because that’s my way when I get disrespected.”

People just do not know opinion from fact I think. When you say something, you are only stating your opinion. It is not cold hard fact. Know the difference. Understand that different people, societies have different opinions and may very well differ drastically from yours! If you disagree with them, just ignore them and go on with your life. As long as the other party’s opinion does not bring harm to you or your loved ones, what does it matter? Just let it be.

“In any open society, people constantly say things that other people don’t like. It’s completely normal that that should happen. And in any confident free society, you just shrug it off and then you proceed. There’s no way of creating a free society in which nobody ever says things that other people don’t like. If offendedness (sic) is the point at which you have to limit thought, then nothing can be said.”

 “Behind these ideas of offendedness (sic) and respect is always the threat of violence. Always the threat is that if you do that which disrespects or offends me, I will be violent towards you. And so the real subject is not religion, it is violence and how do we face up to the threat of violence. And that’s something that we need to think about.”

“The question is not the disagreement. The question is the violent implementation of the disagreement and the threat of it which prevents dissenting voices from speaking. That’s what’s going on and people here are asleep I think to what’s going on and you need to wake up.”

The trouble is that everyone wants to be the moral, ethical and cultural police. How can one person know what is right for the next person??? Who is he or she to decide? If somebody is not religious or does not follow your religion, let them live their lives the way they want to. They are not stopping you from practicing your religion. They are not bringing harm to you. What can violence solve? Nothing! Just look at history. It is the same thing with gay people and conservative fundamentalists. I think that people in general are just not wired to keep their noses in their own business.

Another thing he said was very interesting:

“There was an article I read in this week’s Hindu newspaper talking about how many of the earliest, oldest texts of Hinduism do not contain the idea of the existence of god. And contemporaries of the Buddha, quoted also in this article, would say that there is no other world than this one, and would deny the idea of a divine sphere. So again in the oldest parts of Indian culture, there is an atheistic tradition in which the ideas of blasphemy and heresy have no meaning, because there is no divinity to blaspheme or be heretic against. This again, this is our culture. This is not an imported culture. It is not alien to the Indian tradition. This is THE Indian tradition. And those who say it is not, they are the ones who deform that tradition.”

Wow! I did not know this. I mean, speaking for myself, I’m not an atheist or anything. But I am not overly religious either. I do find it peaceful to meditate, say a few prayers and go to the temple once in a while and be thankful for everything I got. I am spiritual. But I do not get the ritualistic side of religion and things that ‘one must do’ because they have been passed on through generations and generations. Why can’t we question practices that do not make sense to us? This same God gave us brains too, didn’t he/she?

“It seems as if almost every day now, somewhere there is a piece on bullying by Muslims or Hindus of groups that they believe in some way offends them and voices are being silenced. Publishers are more frightened to publish. Galleries are more frightened to display certain kinds of art. Certain kinds of films are not being made which would have been made 15 or 20 years ago. The chilling effect of violence is very real and it is growing in this country. And I have to say that this is where the other part of the story which involves all of us comes in which is a public apathy towards this. We approve of the great technological, industrial, economic growth of our country. But we don’t seem to value our cultural artifacts in the same way, even though the greatest thing we know about Indian history is the incredible richness of the Indian artistic and cultural tradition.”

This is such a good point. There is a lot of hypocrisy. There is a lot of public apathy towards fundamentalist bullying of art and expression. The whole idea that ‘I know what is right for you and I will control what you watch/view/read’ is absolutely ridiculous! You do not create a multi-cultural and tolerant society with this kind of thinking. And people don’t seem to care. Unless it affects them personally, people don’t care. They are too caught up in their own daily routine and busy lives. And there is hypocrisy too. How can we be proud of our arts and culture when the same thing is continuously being threatened by the so-called moral police?

So anyway, all in all I have to say that I really enjoyed Rushdie’s speech and found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said. If only we had more intelligent people like this in the public eye and maybe even in the government… pigs will surely fly then.