[Reader-list] Reconstructing Taslima: Response to Shuddhabrata, Anjalika & other

mahmood farooqui mahmood.farooqui at gmail.com
Fri Aug 17 12:37:21 IST 2007

Dear Arnab,

I am completely with you on re-situating the debate about rights,
freedom and liberties. But I find your posts difficult to swallow. I
can bite into them, I can even chew a bit but wholesome swallow-ing
remains beyond my grasping reach. I am not arguing for simplification,
nor for simplicity but for terseness, of expression, not the post.

You start your second para with the line that 'the word liberal should
not be used with.' I am with you on this a priori normative stand. But
we have to also contend with a situation where the word liberal IS
used for just such a thing that you wish to confute. Is it possible to
chart out a terrain for Indian liberalism, would that terrain give the
same centrality to individual rights or to private-public separation
as you would like us to maintain?

The question can be extended further. Can we chart out an Indian
history, short though it is, of contestations for artistic freedom.

You, of course, know where I am heading. Can there be, should there
be, a cultural modernity that is Indian where invoking Habermas, or
Hegel, does not automatically earn a privilege over invoking Sir Syed
or Bankim?

If Indian democracy is a singular experiment, if Indian secularism is
distinct in some measure, then we can and should invoke these
questions from the point of view of the givers, the framers and the
thinkers of the 'modern,' as equally from the receivers and
practitioners of the same. In that case newspaper editorials become as
valid as theoretical stances enunciated in subaltern studies.

But somewhere in your posts I seem to stumble on a negative
imperative, it should not. That we should expand our discursive tools
for explicating on issues such as freedom, rights etc is a welcome
thought but does that need negate, or invalidate, our modes of
discussing things per se.

In defence of jantar mantar,
for the moment.


On 16/08/07, ARNAB CHATTERJEE <onlysocio at yahoo.co.in> wrote:
> 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 Anjalika 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 this in 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 in..
>   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
>   arnab
> ---------------------------------
>  Unlimited freedom, unlimited storage. Get it now
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