Zakir Naik and Free Speech

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zakir

In 1999, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to have a rally in New York City. The City refused to grant them permission. The Klan ultimately did have their rally, no small reason due to the support they got from the unlikeliest of quarters, black Civil Rights groups.

This Voltarian “I may not agree with what you say but I shall fight till death your right to say them” is a principle every free speech fundamentalist parrots, but very few stand by them consistently. It’s easy to stand for free speech as long as you agree with it. But the rubber truly hits the road when you come face to face with opinions that you consider despicable. Do you then stand by the right of the individual to express what he wants to say, as Black Civil Rights groups did, or do you run to Mummy government asking for duct tape and a room with no windows?

Zakir Naik is such a test. Since sometime during the 2010s, I have been following the preachings of Zakir Naik, marveling at his unapologetic Islamic supremacist world-view, with a sense of revulsion that I reserve for flying cockroaches and half-boiled eggs and centipedes mating. Every other religion is wrong and his is perfect, and women may be beaten at the husband’s behest, and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was a lesson for Buddhists, and a variation of “If loving Osama, the enemy of those who make Islam their enemy, is wrong, I don’t want to be right”, and all this is just him clearing his throat, getting started.

So when “the nation” or rather that one person who claims to represent it on prime-time asks for banning him and taking his Peace TV off air, I have to, with infinite reluctance, as a free-speech fundamentalist, support Zakir Naik’s right to say what he does without being gagged for it. This is a grey area, but as far as I have seen or heard, Zakir Naik never directly gives a call for violence or for war, in the way that a Hafeez Sayed does, which would then put him squarely in the area marked as hate-speech and subject, in my opinion, to legal sanction. Not that Naik does not skate close to the red line, for instance look at his dancing around death for apostasy in Islam, but he never gives an overt call for action.

He is smart that way.

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The two ISISs

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iraq

I read this often, in social media updates and in tweets from blue-tick media mavens, that an overwhelming majority of ISIS violence is on Muslims (in this case 90%) , and so, by an extension, what are you non-Muslims getting your chaddis in a bunch for? The dissonance, in the above statement, stems from the overloading of the word ISIS in popular discourse, used as it is to refer to both a group in the Syria-Iraq region and also to radical Islamic fundamentalism in general, where the kill count of the former, or more precisely per-centage of Muslim on Muslim violence, is used to make a point about the latter.

But before we get into all that, let’s first talk about ISIS, the organization. It is intellectually lazy to call ISIS a radical Muslim group, especially when someone is purporting to have a serious discussion. Of course it is that only, but that’s not what defines them. The ISIS, more precisely, is a radical Sunni Muslim organization that espouses Salafism, a philosophy of intense Islamic fundamentalism. Salafists emphasize a return to the roots of Islam, to the rule of the rightly-guided Caliphs (the first four leaders of the Islam faith, after the death of Prophet Mohammed), in a very literal way. Which is why they seek to establish their vision of medieval utopia in the lands they control. They are kind of like auditors, in that they are extremely literal in their interpretation of standard operating procedure and standards. For instance, they take Islam’s strictures against idol worship to extreme levels. They are violently against music, even music that is Islamic and religious, and sometimes against even their own places of worship, as is evidenced in the recent attack at Medina.

This however should not be spun, as it is done, that they are against Islam. Of course they aren’t. They are against practices in Islam they believe are un-Islamic, practices that the rest of the world, including a majority of Muslims, think are perfectly Islamic. This naturally puts them against many Muslims. Shias and Sufis are particularly hated, and so are homosexuals and liberal Muslims of all sorts. Even many Sunnis, who might consider themselves to be orthodox enough, but do not meet the standards set by Salafists, lie squarely in their crosshairs. And as the ISIS has shown, time and time again, the distance between “against” and “I will kill you using methods that would be considered extreme in a Saw film” is a very short straight line for them.

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World War Three

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dhaka-ie

[Image courtesy: Indian Express]

The fall of the USSR, as a superpower, ended global war as we knew it. The overwhelming superiority that the United States commands, and continues to, in terms of conventional and nuclear capabilities make it impossible for nation-states to engage it directly in the field of battle. The age-old imperative for armed conflict, the conquering of rich lands and capturing natural resources, is no longer realizable in the world of the coalition of the willing, as Saddam Hussein found out in 1991. This, and the nature of the modern economy where wealth lies no longer comes from the ground, save for oil, makes industrial espionage and cyber-attacks directed at large corporations, a more strategic pathway for grabbing the resources  of others, than  charging forward with armies of horses and swords.

So, on the face of it, we should be seeing a period of physical peace, with conflict migrating largely to cyberspace, with nation-states and criminal gangs as actors.

And yet we are, and I use the words with full realization of their import, in the middle of a Third World War. The theater of this war is global, as World Wars are by definition, from Nigeria to Bali, from Sudan to Paris, from the USA to Australia, from India to Spain. The life of every citizen is in danger, whether it be in the lounge of an airport or out in your favorite restaurant, tending sheep in the mountains of Afghanistan or walking to a school in Nigeria. And while we do not see casualties on the scale a Hiroshima or a Leningrad or a Dresden, The Third World War, more than makes up for that by virtue of its longevity and inscrutability, subverting as it does every assumption history has taught us about wars. And the reason why the one with lesser power, if we go by traditional metrics of military might, is winning is because America and the world at large chooses to fight the war in a way that they have been used to.

With tragic consequences.

For this is not your grandpa’s war.

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On Globalization, Trump and Brexit

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dt

I grew up in Communist Calcutta, a city of load-shedding black and  Jyoti Basu’s dhoti white.  If there was a category level 5 bad word above bokachoda and chudir bai champakali, it was the word globalization, the hooked talon of the imperialist, or so the Red brothers said, one that they would bury into the chests of our workers and peasants of the Third World and proceed to spill out their entrails.

A few people, among them my father, then a professor of Economics at IIM Calcutta, had argued the other way, that it was the West would be disrupted most by globalization and the so-called Third World would stand to benefit at their expense.

Fast forward decades and it is the imperialists and the free-marketers that are hunkering down in their bomb shelters to contain the radioactive fallout of globalization, with Uncle Sam, the standard-bearer of democracy and cut-throat capitalism, now flirting with fascism and socialism, and Union Jack, the people who brought to you imperialism in the modern world, voting to throw off the foreign yoke and gain “independence”.

As usual, Baba, you were right.

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The “Intolerant” Indian

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AK

It’s easy to attack Aamir Khan. Bring up Mela or Love Love Love or his crore-a-pop Satyameva Jayate technicolor tears. But we shouldn’t. That would be petty. Such attacks, we are told, are fine for the Gajendras and the Nihalanis and, by current account, the Khers and the Tandons.

So let’s look at what he has been saying. And so many other countless award-returnees.

Rising intolerance under Modi.

As we have seen, the data does not support the claim. The “intolerance” level has remained the same. But then we are told, that the data does not matter. What matters is perception. Of course the same logic (perception trumps data) could be used to justify the invasion of Iraq (no data about weapons of mass destruction but hey this Saddam is a shifty guy, he could gas his people, so surely we perceive he may have new-killer weapons to use on US), or that the sun moves around the earth (I don’t care what the data says, I look at the damn thing, and I see it move, from east to west) or any kind of prejudice (my perception is that Bengalis are lazy).

Okay. That last one is actually supported by data. But moving on.

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On Bobby “I am Not Indian” Jindal

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[From here]

Jindal stresses how he avoided telling his parents of his new faith and how disappointed they were when they found out. He said he read the Bible by flashlight to prevent being discovered by his folks, and compared his clandestine study to the early Christians “hiding from government persecution.” Jindal’s process of finding his true religion also involved participating in an exorcism of a college girlfriend.

There is a lot of Jindal that I don’t agree with. But this I got to give the man.

It’s better to be thrown in front of lions or be crucified upside down than to have to go through the ordeal of being a second-generation Indian immigrant growing up in US in the 80s. How do I know? I was one (for a while).

Jindal

My parents were kind. They didn’t, for instance, make me dress like Anil Kapoor in “Suit boot main aaya kanhaiyya” as Jindal’s parents did. They also left for India after some time, which is why I perhaps never exorcised my college girl-friend. Of course for desi parents, there is nothing even remotely distressing about conducting an exorcism on your girl-friend, it’s not like you had sex with her.

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A Few Thoughts On Delhi Elections

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kejriwal

The scoreline is stunning. 67 for AAP, 3 for BJP and 0 for Congress. Yes the exit polls got it wrong, the AAP did far better than anyone could ever have predicted.

This is, of course, right about the time two narratives emerge, the victor’s and the vanquished.

For the vanquished, the loss is because the media was in the tank for the other team, our organization dropped the ball, the winner benefited from Cause A that was not in our hands, and finally that old chestnut, look at their vote-share, they didn’t even x% of the total vote.

For the winner, the victory is a new horizon in Indian history, a win for the forces of good over evil,  of the will of the people over money-power, and feel free to throw in your own cliche here.

We saw these two narratives emerge after the Lok Sabha election, and they emerge here once again, except that the people pushing the narratives have been interchanged. Not that these narratives have no truth in them, except the sulking vote-share argument, but a realistic analysis is in order, one that is made without Arnab Goswami trying to shut you down.

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