Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, arrested ‘hurting the religious feelings’ of Muslims
Freedom Under Attack in India
Dr. Richard Benkin Bio
“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.”
When historians look back on our era and wonder how a relatively small group of Islamist radicals controlled the international agenda for great countries across the globe, they will ask why we failed to heed those words that William Shakespeare wrote four centuries earlier. They might also reprise the equally pertinent words of the cartoon character Pogo:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Last week in Kolkata, India, police arrested the editor and publisher of the city’s most prestigious English-language daily for “hurting the religious feelings” of Muslims. That’s right, we now live in an age where the state can muzzle press freedom because the newspaper hurt someone’s feelings. Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, respectively the editor and publisher of The Statesman, were hauled before a judge on February 11 and charged under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.” The law is unclear, as one might imagine, when it comes to specific and objective criteria for determining one’s intentions. It appears that Section 295A trusts this Solomon-like task to whichever bureaucrat happens to take a fancy to pursuing a case.
The Statesman’s offending action took place on February 5 when it reprinted an article from the British newspaper, The Independent. The piece begins, “The right to criticise religion is being slowly doused in acid.” In its most general terms, journalist Johann Hari’s thesis is that criticizing religion is essentially different from criticizing other ideas because its evidence is faith, which is neither verifiable nor replicable. As a result, religion gets special treatment that Hari believes erodes essential and hard-won freedoms. He cites the changed role of the United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights (RHR). The RHR, he notes, “has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious.” But the UN Human Rights Council has charged the RHR with identifying “‘abuses of free expression’ including ‘defamation of religions and prophets’….Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself,” Hari laments.
Aside from that central point, the article is a motley collection of ideas, most of them squarely within the tradition of the anti-religious European left. Were Hari not bringing that baggage to the piece, the disingenuous action of the UN Human Rights Council would have come as no surprise. No doubt, Hari was not one of those people outraged by the Jew-hating fest that was the Council’s Durban Conference. Yet, it would be wrong to dismiss Hari as an ideologue. He offers ideas with which I agree and those with which I disagree. And is that not really his point? One’s reaction to his words should not be the determinant of their legality or illegality; nor with Hari’s or anyone else’s right to say what they believe. But that is not the point of this article.
The Indian government did not act because these words were particularly heinous, for it has remained passive in the face of far more inflammatory words inciting religious hatred. For instance, it took no action against the Mumbai publisher of “The Jewish Fifth Column in India” or against those responsible for bringing India the anti-Jewish forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Outpourings of visceral hatred between Hindus and Muslims are constant--and constantly done with impunity. The government acted in this case because Muslim groups chose to make it an issue and orchestrated several days of riots. Bikash Halder of Interfaith Strength, reported seeing roads blocked and large groups of Muslim protesters blocking traffic in the West Bengal capital. He also reported that the riots subsided as soon as Kumar and Sinha were arrested.
Amitabh Tripathi left a promising career in the mainstream media because of incidents like this, which he believes are taking India in a dangerous direction. “This is not the first time in India when freedom of expression has been curbed in the name of feelings of Muslims.” He recalled how the New Delhi editor who published the famous Mohammed cartoons was arrested by the government and fired by his paper for doing so. Tripathi and other nationalists attribute these actions to what they call pseudo-secularism. “That refers to the fact that India is supposed to be a secular country, but it is not. Because the government is so frightened of not being liberal enough, it places Hinduism (the majority religion) in a subservient position and Islam in a privileged one. So it is a pseudo secularism.”
India is not alone in stifling free expression for fear of upsetting Muslims. A Toronto youth leader recently asked me for advice on how to combat regular “verbal and physical abuse Jewish students face” from their Islamic and leftist counterparts. She cited demonstrations that were touted as anti-Israel but gave the loudest cheers to those who said that “Hitler should have finished the job [and killed all the Jews].” There also have been physical attacks. But Canada’s notorious “Human Rights Commissions” refuse to hear them and in fact have gone after Jewish students for protecting themselves or debating the anti-Jewish canards. “They will not even entertain any human rights issue that is not about Muslims,” she said. She said the police always fell on the side of lawlessness. They would tell the Jewish students to disperse on the premise of their being unable to protect them. Neither she nor any of her colleagues ever witnessed Toronto police attempting to break up the anti-Jewish demonstrations or arrest the offenders. In two high profile instances, police advised scholar and commentator Dr. Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, and the once and future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to proceed with lectures; here, too, stifling freedom of expression because it upset Islamic and leftist protestors.
Governments in Canada, India, and a number of other countries are undermining their own principles of free expression to appease growing Islamic populations and their countries of origin. The impetus for these acts of self-flagellation almost always come from leftist and left of center governments; this despite the fact that they have claimed for decades to be the true champion of individual freedoms. Moreover, they are taking these actions when these populations take to the streets because, they say, they are upset. That is the very moment when doing so is most dangerous; when appeasement in 2009 could have the same consequences it did in 1937. For if history has taught us anything, it is that rewarding bad behavior produces, not peace, but only more bad behavior.
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Dr. Richard L. Benkin secured the release of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in 2005. The two continue working together to fight Islamist radicals and their allies in South Asia and elsewhere. For more information on how to help, please contact Dr. Benkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their web site is [url=http://www.InterfaithStrength.com]http://www.InterfaithStrength.com[/url].
Dr. Benkin can be reached at: email@example.com