[Reader-list] More on constructing Taslima: Response to Shuddha, and others

ARNAB CHATTERJEE apnawritings at yahoo.co.in
Thu Aug 16 13:45:43 IST 2007

Dear SARAI readers, Shuddhabrata and others,

I think I might just catch up with the phase where the
debate lingers—now –that is presently! This is not an
organized response, neither am I ready with  the
resources here to do so. But let me clarify one or two
things immediately! These I get from the Reader List
itself—particularly from those who have commented on
the same.  And no surprise---they ( the catch phrases)
return again and again! For instance--- the words (
and so much more) ‘liberal;’ ‘physical violence’,
‘freedom of expression’  and some such others. 
To argue for any kind of freedom is not a liberal
standpoint. The word ‘Liberal’ should not be used in
the sense of being open ( or broad?) minded,
emancipatory, libertarian, or one who believes in
fostering any kind of freedom etc etc. The liberal
political position is based on the notion of
‘individual’ freedom through individual rights;
secondly, a distinction that is contextually more
crucial to the liberal standpoint is the public/
private divide; restraints or openness would be
charted according to these contours.
Now in the Taslima in  Hyderabad debate—even if we
want to retain the ‘freedom of expression’ schema, it
would be in terms of individual   rights of  freedom
of speech or one might go further and harp a cultural
liberal standpoint  and argue for the  ‘freedom of the
artist.’ But if you engage a bit historically you will
notice that the slogan was engineered in the days of
art claiming itself to have  become autonomous and
thus separating itself from morality and science and
emerging with its own distinctive validity claims.
This was the good glorified days of cultural modernity
( Habermas has elaborate comments on this) aligned
with –as you see political liberal protection given to
the individual artist in terms of personal rights. (
Now I’m not raising the fatal objection raised once
upon a time by Nietzsche that, if the art/artist
requires the protection of rights how could it be
really free! For Nietzsche rights were also fetters:
if you argue against absolute rights or royal
privileges, why don’t you argue against rights
themselves at some point of time to become ‘really’
free. Nietzsche meant, I guess, how could you argue
that rights are not a bondage! Or in other words, free
art or artistic freedom still is connected to politics
and needs to declare its freedom not through the
criteria of art but an external political criteria
which makes a mockery of this freedom. ) But I’m not
going for this; rather I’m summing up for safe  that,
in this discourse, art is autonomous: an artist is
free; and clearly   this argument is  from a liberal
modern standpoint.  So far so good!
                Now, any challenge put to this seems
to be from the texts of my dear Shuddhabrata et.al –is
fundamentalism or as Attreye puts it so much more
sexily “Hindu fundoos.” In other words, the claim of
certain “self appointed”( again Shuddha) “cultural
police” officers(!) that there has occurred a
denigrating representation of certain communities in
certain texts ( and resorts to violence ) is cultural
fascism, double fundamentalism etc. etc.  Here I want
to put some theoretical facts in place ( which I first
published in The Statesman in the year 2000 in the
wake of this same kind of furor around the films
‘Water’ and ‘Fire’).
                  The thing that challenges liberal
‘modernity’ in art ( or whatever) in postcolonial
nation states is not fundamentalism, but ‘democracy’. 
This algorithm was first  formulated by Partha
Chatterjee and no one has, to my mind, been able to
refute this schema. So—unencumbered therefore—I’ll
adopt this proposal for application.
                    Arguing in modernist terms when
the artist declares his freedom of expression where
expression is understood as speech, community
spokesmen ( in the absence of representative politics
within religious communities they have to be self
appointed or nominated) harshly voice the question of
the artists’ answerability or accountability to the
communities who tend to have a self image of their
own; they claim that they have the right to be
represented in consonance with their cognitive
self-understanding. This belongs to what I call the
‘politics of designation’ ( some call it ‘identity
politics). These are purely democratic claims (
cultural group rights?) and are growing more and more
audible  with the advance of democratic politics
everywhere. Shuddha would not repent a violent dalit
backlash against an allegedly   intentional brahmanic
image-making of the dalit. Even when feminists claim
that women are stereotypically  denigrated in
pornography or in masculist texts, the claim resembles
the form and structure of such a politics. 

Is part of the picture clear now? –The raving debate!
I think it is.
Now, physical violence! I’ve already said elsewhere
that the question of toleration in the face of
discrimination is an empirical question; it cannot be
predicted with certainty when and how and  who will be
screwed or beaten up! ( In that case, Sania Mirza
instead of being thrashed up has resorted back to her
micromini; she can afford this and the “armed radical
Islamic activists”( not “fundoos”) have not been able
to organize the required coercion; it’s a matter of
determinate chance). Secondly, those who slander
against physical coercion have not answered why
indirect manipulative politics of dirty hands would be
hierarchically better placed than direct physical
violence. I discussed in this detail in my posting (
see SARAI list,  search A.C, post 2.5, May 10 ) and
brought in the witness of Kant who says direct
violence can be relied upon but not malice which is a
slur upon mankind. And here my dear Shuddha makes the
blunder of arguing that because Taslima has not called
for “killing”, she cannot be killed. Shuddha, this is
ridiculous! Are all the people killed everyday,
approved of killing as a theoretical claim? Or because
Marx announced a program of “violent overthrow”,
deserved to be killed just because of that? In fact it
is just the reverse. The human rights arguments
actually spring from the disapproval of death for not
only one who advocates murder but the convicted
killer: killing looses its legitimacy only there and
then; animal rights arguments are a step further in
this direction to help build a non murderous society.
Killing cannot be disenfrachised by arguing safe
passage for those who have not given a call to kill.
Thirdly and lastly, those who believe in democracy as
only deliberation and ask for a dialogue across the
table ( not bed hahhahha), let me inform them with
humility that Taslima was challenged by an Islamic
cleric scholar in Kolkata (I have the details) to come
to an open debate on the Islamic portions of her
engagement, she didn’t agree on the “imaginary”
grounds that she will be “abused.”

Finally, let me close by saying that I took this
trouble only because I have great reverence for
Shuddha and I consider him one of the best minds I
know. And when with a lot of anticipation I start
reading his post, at times I’m disgusted with the
liberties that he takes in order to score an activist
point and urge us to meet at Jantar Mantar.  I know
that sometimes it is necessary to stop thinking and
arguing and start acting but then I think the
declaration should be as terse as it is required. 
When I see such loose ends elsewhere –also for writers
‘in haste’, I just feel like reminding them that
thinkers have and are still spending lives on each of
the threads of such subjects; things are not as easy
as they look.( Anjalika Sagar mentions liberalism in
service of ‘porn-gurus’; I can just remind her that
there are excellent, sophisticated and  devastating
arguments on both sides so much that the debate
remains unsettled. Has she read them enough to argue
against?) Actually  I don’t mind  self complacent but
vacuous arguments in newspaper (post) editorials; they
don’t dare confront what Habermas called ‘the force of
the better argument’ but when I notice that such a
mind as Shuddhabrata arguing with such loose ends
hanging, I feel deeply lost. Shuddha’s silence would
not rescue him from the mess that he has got himself
I wrote all this to remind Shuddha that given our
expectations he should  keep his level lovely—always
at his best.
And we would be delighted to read what we would like
to read. This was Shuddha at his worst!
Thanking you
Yours in discourse and debt

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