The right to be offended

Salman Rushdie speaks out against Britain’s proposed new laws:
“The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions. (But they don’t shoot.)” (Link courtesy Zigzackly.)

12 comments

  1. Rushdie says in his article:*The novelist Hanif Kureishi made one of the best comments about the affair, when he noted that the theatre where Bezhti (“Dishonour”) had been performed was a temple, too*Actually, Kureishi’s comment was preceded by an extremely stupid statement in which he said “The Sikh community should be ashamed of itself”What? The Sikh community? The entire Sikh community? Every single Sikh in Britain should be ashamed of themselves for the actions of a handful of demonstrators?We know this kind of rhetoric and its root. It is the rhetoric of collective responsibility, collective punishment, collective ascription of attributes and crimes to an entire community of people. It is the rhetoric of the anti-semite who says all Jews are the same (Presumably all Jews should be ‘ashamed‘ of themselves because of the excesses of Ariel Sharon)It is the rhetoric of the Islamophobe who says all Muslims are the same (Presumably all Muslims should be ‘ashamed’ of themselves because 9/11)It is the rhetoric of the racist who says all black people are the same (Presumably all black people should be ‘ashamed’ of themselves because of the acts of gun crime in Britains inner-cities)It is pathetic to see an Asian use the rhetoric of the racists, collective guilt, collective ‘shame’. What type of liberal bigotry is this?All that remains then is collective punishment for the Sikh collective, who have to feel ‘shame’ for the acts of a few.This is hypocrisy, and to be quite honest, it is this kind of crass generalizing and outright hostility and bigotry that ill-serves whatever cause of ‘liberality’ they proclaim.Bravo Rushdie and Kureishi indeed.

  2. Yup, the entire Sikh community. Like the entire Hindu community should be ashamed of itself when a bunch of hooligans decided to protest a book on Shivaji by ransacking one of Pune’s oldest libraries. Like the entire Islamic world should’ve protested the fatwa against Rushdie–a debate, yes, a fatwa, no.Like the entire Christian community should cringe when a small portion of their brethren decides to demand a ban on Harry Potter for promoting witchcraft.When someone does something in the name of your community, you should be ashamed. Enough to get out there and protest. What I’ve heard about Behzti has been posited as a “Sikhs versus free speech” debate, because of the actions of that handful of people. It’s up to the community, the silent majority, to break its silence… or be ashamed.

  3. HurreeI am glad to see you subscribe to the theory of collective responsibilty of an entire group of people for the actions of a few. Lets take it to its logical extreme and justify every racist stereotype against every minority group in Britain, or the world for that matter, thanks to your theory of collective shame for individual crimes.Please delineate for me:(a) Which acts and occurences are liable for the collective indictment of an entire race?(b) What punishment needs to be exacted upon the collective guilty of the said race?Lets add two and two together and we can start by indicting the Muslims for those nasty Mughals, their shameful refusal to feel sufficient shame for the acts of ‘their people’, lets raze their Babri Masjid to the ground.Lets indict those stupid Sikhs for shooting our Mother Indira, they did not show sufficient shame, lets roast a few of them.Maybe we should indict some Jews who live near us for the latest excesses of the Israeli defence force, at the very least I can wag my finger at them and tell off these stupid Jews for the shameful acts of their co-religionists.OK, is that a little extreme? I’m sorry for following your collective-shame logic to its end, but logic must be tested by its full deployment. To hear liberal people echoing the rhetoric of racists and bigots is truly sad, and pathetic.The Hindu and Christian analogy are red herrings to a certain extent, because we all know that Hindus and Christians, majority communities, rarely hear ‘demands’ for them in India or Britain to feel collective shame for the acts of a few. The Muslim and Sikh analogy in this instance is worthy of examination. In the aftermath of the Behzti affair, racist attacks against Sikhs across Great Britain rose. The precept of these racist attacks; children being spat at, called names, men and women being taunted and assaulted, the basis of these racist attacks was that the entire Sikh community bore the burden of guilt for the events that led to the closure of the theatre, that every Sikh individual was ‘guilty’, guilt being the correlative of shame, the shame every Sikh needs to feel, for the actions of a few.Hurree, do you feel comfortable about that? Explore these contradictions and dichotomies.Sipping chablis in the salons makes things seem simple, I suppose; being on the receiving end of bigoted generalising from those who proclaim the universal enlightenment of their thinking, is a dispiriting, and upsetting experience.

  4. Oh, I never sip Chablis. Gulp is the more accurate verb.Kureishi’s entire statement was: “I think the Sikh community should be ashamed of the fact that it is destroying theatres. Destroying a theatre is like destroying a temple. Without our culture, we are nothing. Our culture is as crucial to the liberal community as temples are to the religious community.”Before asking Kureishi why he nailed the entire Sikh community, perhaps you might want to ask why you’re not more offended at the various religious leaders who stormed a theatre and sent an author into hiding, doing all this explicitly in the name of the Sikh community. How come Kureishi is more hurtful or offensive than them?Neither Kureishi nor I (how nice to be in company that exalted!) would ever have condoned the racist attacks on Sikhs that followed. Any more than one could condone the closing down of Behzti. (There’s a link on this blog, btw, to a thought-provoking article by Rupa Bajwa on some of the issues you’ve raised. Rupa Bajwa’s one of the few writers/ intellectuals from the Sikh community who actually rose to the defence of Behzti. )I understand your concern that Sikhs are now being victimised. But what part of “When someone does something in the name of your community, you should be ashamed. Enough to get out there and protest” do you not understand? Kureishi was effectively saying to that part of the Sikh community which has remained silent through the Behzti controversy that inaction is not enough. He was not targeting the Sikhs.Behzti is first and foremost a free speech issue. I for one would like to keep that firmly in mind.

  5. HurreeTemper, temper. You are spilling your Chablis ;-)Unfortunately, this uppity “enemy of freedom of speech” that writes to you now has been arguing with members of the Sikh community over this incessantly since December, right in their faces, telling them that their methods of protest were fascistic and wrong. Inside Gurdwara’s and the homes of people who feel very upset not only by the contents of the play (which I have read, several times, I have a copy of it here by my side, it really is an embarrassingly inept and crass piece of art, but that doesn’t matter for the time being), to people who were also alienated by the racist aftermath, the racist violence that followed, and the bigoted pronouncements of collective responsibility and guilt spat upon the entire Sikh friends. I can point you to an eye witness report of the events which I wrote and sent to a friend, and which was subsequently posted on his blog and disseminated in other discussion groups around the world if you like.Since I have been arguing in defence of Gurpreet Bhatti to people deeply hurt and hostile to the play and its contents, I consider myself blooded enough in that arena to criticise the statement of Hanif Kureishi and unpack the logic behind the collective-guilt-shame school of argument to which he, and it seems you subscribe to. I have earned that right.You see, I am not one of those clueless jackanape philistines who prances about mouthing off without knowledge or credibility, which you assumed I was. Calling a writer to account for the words he uses is not the same as endorsing the actions of the handful of people who caused the play to be stopped. That is the logic of bigots and Paki-bashers, the logic of collective-guilt and shame that you advocate and defend. Which part of that do YOU not understand?So, bigotry is bigotry, whether it comes from the fist of a racist who bashes Sikh children because that Sikh child did not do enough to, ummm, ‘disassociate’ himself from the actions of a handful of people, or Hanif Kureishi embracing the collective shame-responsibility mantra that echoes, and is a sub-set of, the logic of racists, anti-semites and others who love to scapegoat and ascribes traits and stereotypes to an individual on account of his or her race, religion or ethnicity. And Kureishi really isn’t that exalted. He hasn’t written a decent thing since The Black Album. You don’t need to take this criticism of him so personally, you can revert to sycophant mode the next time you meet him on his book tour of Delhi ;-)Until then, ponder on the complexities of life and the fact that even straightforward issues carry complexities in their tail, and don’t degrade yourself by making facile assumptions because somebody offers an alternative view on things.Do you get good Chablis in India, by the way? Last time I was there the wine was as piss poor as ‘London Kills Me’ and ‘The Last Jet Engine Laugh’.

  6. Correction to second paragraph of the last post:{{and the bigoted pronouncements of collective responsibility and guilt spat upon the entire Sikh friends.}}Should read:{{and the bigoted pronouncements of collective responsibility and guilt spat upon the entire Sikh COMMUNITY.}}

  7. To answer the question of burning importance:”Do you get good Chablis in Delhi?””I am drinking an excellent Grand Cru as I type.”And to get back to Rushdie, who was the subject of this post in the first place, a quote from a recent article about him:”He added, though, that a true test of the defense of free speech comes when you defend someone’s right to speak when you do not agree with what is being said.“The right to be a jerk is part of the First Amendment,” he said.”Lighten up, get off your soapbox, and drop by for a glass of wine the next time you’re in Delhi 🙂

  8. HurreeSoapboxes need to be mounted sometimes.Anyway the last time I was in Delhi and tried to mingle with literary types they sneered at my proletarian British accent and giggled at the bhangra music CD’s I held in my hand that had just been bought from Khan Market.I’ll take you up on that glass of wine when I get my first novel published in India 🙂

  9. Ohhhh… no wonder you hate Delhi. (What’s wrong with a prole Brit accent? Out here what we have is fake Angrez circa Wodehouse, trust me, we can’t afford to laugh at anybody.) And bhangra is a beat without the snobbery, ja?Come on over to India, and promise we’ll give you the full sycophant routine 🙂

  10. Just read Rupa Bajwa (who lives in Amritsar and is belongs to the Sikh community there) on this topic. She wrote a very strong piece defending not only the play ‘Behzti’ but also attracted a lot of flak from Sikh fundamentalists not only in her hometown but more so from Sikh NRIs. I believe she even had to leave town for a while as well. Real strong woman man!

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