Saturday, February 2, 2013

“Cultural Terrorism” or Media Madness?

The news agency IANS carried an anonymous article on 31 January with the headline “Cultural terrorism: Idea of India threatened.”

“Shah Rukh Khan one day and Kamal Haasan the next" it began. "Is it mere coincidence or a sign of an increasingly knee-jerk, reactionary India that two of its most loved film icons are forced to go public to painstakingly reassert their secular identity and insist, in case the message is lost, that they are proud Indians?”

The next paragraph noted the predicaments of Ashis Nandy and Salman Rushdie and declared the query in the lead merely rhetorical.

In print and television, our “elite” English media commentators have been on a similar binge of shrill and confused hysteria, tarring with the same brush cases that have nothing in common.

Consider the facts:

Salman Rushdie is a Brown Sahib resident in Britain who for four decades has vilified his two putative homelands and ancestral faith. He is now engaged in promoting a low watt film version of Midnight's Children, the comprehensive dump on independent India that first brought him fame.

Television channels have been carrying endless replays of his indignation at the "cultural terrorism" that has kept him from attending the Calcutta Book Fair to which, he claimed, he had been invited.

Media have given little play to the statement by organizers of that event denying they ever invited him and that he is lying in claiming they paid for his plane ticket.

Quite clearly, Rushdie merely lost his nerve after learning that some Muslims were still outraged at his dump on the Prophet of Islam in Satanic Verses. His false claims repeated a pattern set last year when he was a no-show at the Jaipur Literary Festival.

Ashis Nandy is a sociologist in his dotage who said something really stupid as a panelist at the Jaipur Literary Festival: that the lowest castes were responsible for most of the corruption in India.

When someone outraged by that calumny initiated legal action under a law meant to maintain social order, Nandy backed away from his untenable proposition saying he was misunderstood and misquoted. What he actually meant was that the lower castes were caught in their corruptions more often. That too is arrant nonsense, but no one in the media dwelt on it.

Shah Rukh “it’s lonely at the top” Khan is an actor with an outsize ego who seems to believe his own media hype. He had a badly ghostwritten piece in a special “global issues” edition of Outlook magazine about his post 9/11 travails in America.

Airport authorities in the United States have detained him on several occasions for hours at a time, ostensibly because they mistook him for a terrorist.

A dimwit minister in Pakistan thought the article was about the star’s difficulties in India, and called on the Indian government to provide him greater protection. That led the actor to make a televised statement telling the Pakistani to mind his own business and declaring that he was quite safe and happy in India.

Kamal Hasaan is an actor/film maker whose movie Viswaroopam was banned in his home state of Tamil Nadu, supposedly because some Muslims were offended by its depiction of terrorists motivated by their religion.

As the film is innocuous and has a Muslim hero, it is likely that it offended Chief Minister Jayalalitha and not a fringe group of Muslims. She has reason to find offense in the film’s derogatory references to Brahmin women (of which she is a powerful example, particularly so at the head of a political party rooted in the anti-Brahmin movement let loose under British auspices).

In his initial hurt response at the ban, Hasaan told reporters that Tamil Nadu authorities wanted him out of the state, and perhaps he would have to flee the country to a more secular one.

In less emotional statements since then he has tried hard to downplay that response, dismissing one interviewer’s concerns about his artistic freedom by declaring, “my country comes first.”

Quite obviously, the four cases have nothing in common.

If the hysteria they have generated underlines a common theme, it is that “elite” Indian media have become so politically obtuse as to pose a clear and present danger to the country.

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