Atanu Dey On India's Development

Banning a Book on Gandhi — Part 2

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The freedom of speech and expression is not only a good in itself but it is also instrumental in human civilizational progress. It is therefore puzzling that quite a significant segment of humanity is ever ready to ban expression whenever there’s something said or written that goes against their cherished beliefs. What makes it worse is that another segment which does not fully comprehend what freedom of expression actually means. Usually they go, “I am for freedom of speech but . . . ”

Here’s an example of a person misunderstanding what freedom of expression is. “Lalit Kala Akademi cancels exhibition of a Delhi-based painter who was to showcase his work depicting Arundhati Roy in the nude” reports Mid-Day three days ago. The artist in question is one Pranava Prakash. He is quoted,

Talking about his painting that he had named “Goddess of Fifteen Minutes of Fame,” Prakash said, “Here, three dangerous ideologies have been depicted in the form of artistic nudes. Chairman Mao represents the power of brute force, Bin Laden represents use of religion for violent acts and Arundhati Roy depicts the morally rudderless intellectuals who keep looking for causes right, left and centre to patronise and constantly remain in media glare.”

Arundhati Roy is a celebrity and definitely not a goddess of 15 minutes of fame. However, she is a damn nuisance, as I complained in last October.

Arundhati Roy is really — how should I put it delicately — an attention whore. Maybe she has a point or maybe she doesn’t. Her vile attacks on India are thinly disguised attacks on Hindus. The UPA, which normally would be allied with her united as they are in their hatred of Hindus, find themselves parting company since she is bringing attention to the disaster that is Kashmir — a disaster that Chacha Nehru created. That is not kosher. So what does the UPA do? Try to throttle her. Same as they do with anyone who speaks out against the vile stupidity of their misgovernance.

I am a free-speech fundamentalist. No one must be silenced. Period. Free speech is non-negotiable. The response to speech has to be more speech. If the principle of freedom of speech has to have any content at all, it must protect the speech of ignorant house-niggers like Arundhati Roy. {Emphasis added.}

I detest Arundhati Roy and pretty much everything that she stands for. But I will oppose anyone who would attempt to shut her up. The principle is simple. It is called the bronze rule: do not do to others what you would not want done to you.

My favorite thinker of the European Enlightenment is Voltaire (1694-1788). He was an advocate of freedom — freedom of speech, of religion, of trade. He said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” (The quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is frequently mistakenly attributed to him, as the Wiki informs us.)

Getting back to the matter of the cancellation of the art show. The art exhibition managers’ decision to not show the artist’s work is their prerogative. It’s their property and they decide what color to paint their inside walls or which paintings to put up, or whom to admit into their premises. That’s called property rights — also non-negotiable. The artist, according to the Mid-Day report said, “What about my right to freedom of expression?”

The artist misunderstands the principle of freedom of expression. It means that he is free to paint whatever strikes his fancy, but it does not mean that everyone has to exhibit his paintings. Perhaps he is a good painter but in the reason department he scores very poorly.

Freedom of expression, to beat a dead horse, is my right to write whatever I want. But if the New York Times refuses to publish my rants, I cannot whine that I am being denied my freedom of expression.

People do whine after misunderstanding that simple point. Take the case of one “SB” who commented on the previous part of this blog post. His first comment was that my blog posts are all rants, conjectured that I don’t have a job and that he has learned nothing from reading me. So I replied to his comment saying that if he has nothing to add other than an ad hominem attack, he should stop reading the blog. I said, “Good luck and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

His reaction? He whined, “The crusader of free speech is now showing me a door.”

That’s an idiotic reaction. I am not preventing him from speaking or writing. But I do have the right to prevent him from writing stuff on my blog. He is free to speak his mind but whether I allow him into my living room or not is my decision. By telling him to get off my property I am telling him to get off my property. If he does not understand that, I am afraid all this writing about free speech is wasted on him.

Ok, moving on. Today is April Fools Day. Curiously I wrote about freedom of expression last year on this day as well.

What the hell, I am just going to quote the whole post — Philip Pullman on Being Offended and Free Speech — right here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ BEGIN QUOTE ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Happy Birthday, April Fools! And for the birthday cake, we have a short YouTube video of Philip Pullman, author of the the novel The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. On March 28th, he was addressing an audience in Oxford. Here’s how Mr Pullman replied to one person’s charge that the title of the book to an ordinary Christian was offensive.

For the record, here’s the transcript (via BoingBoing):

It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That’s all I have to say on that subject.

Hear, hear!

Thank you, Mr Pullman. That needed to be said.

Related Post: The Freedom to be Offended. Feb 2006

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ END QUOTE ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I think Westerners have a better understanding of the freedom of speech and expression. Indians have yet to get there. The Islamic parts of the world are the least free — and that includes freedom of expression.

How much freedom of expression and speech a group permits itself is a function of how much confidence it has in itself and about its self-worth. Only those who are supremely confident can afford the luxury of doubting their capacity. People whose self-image is shaky do not like a mirror held up to them.

Take this article, “Who Wrote The Bible and Why It Matters” in the HuffingtonPost by Bart Ehrman. You will never see an equivalent article in the Islamic world. They will not allow it because they are not confident of their own faith.

Ehrman in his article asks “does the bible actually contain lies?” and goes on to explain —

. . . good Christian scholars of the Bible, including the top Protestant and Catholic scholars of America, will tell you that the Bible is full of lies, even if they refuse to use the term. And here is the truth: Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle — Peter, Paul or James — knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.

Most modern scholars of the Bible shy away from these terms, and for understandable reasons, some having to do with their clientele. Teaching in Christian seminaries, or to largely Christian undergraduate populations, who wants to denigrate the cherished texts of Scripture by calling them forgeries built on lies? And so scholars use a different term for this phenomenon and call such books “pseudepigrapha.”

You will find this antiseptic term throughout the writings of modern scholars of the Bible. It’s the term used in university classes on the New Testament, and in seminary courses, and in Ph.D. seminars. What the people who use the term do not tell you is that it literally means “writing that is inscribed with a lie.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My antipathy towards Gandhi arises from my distaste for poverty. (Same goes for “Mother” Teresa — she was a friend of poverty rather than a friend of the poor, as Hitchens has so eloquently pointed out. See the post “Hell’s Angel” for more.) Gandhi did not understand what the causes of poverty were and therefore had no idea what needed to be done to eradicate poverty. Unfortunately, too many people uncritically idolize Gandhi and that is why I believe the more people find out what a nut case he was, the sooner Indian can break free from the poverty that Gandhi has forged for India.

More to come.

Read: On the ban of the book in Gujarat.

Listen: Joseph Lelyveld talking about his book on KQED Forum.

  • SB

    Dear Atanu,

    You said.

    “His reaction? He whined, “The crusader of free speech is now showing me a door.”

    That’s an idiotic reaction. I am not preventing him from speaking or writing. But I do have the right to prevent him from writing stuff on my blog. He is free to speak his mind but whether I allow him into my living room or not is my decision. By telling him to get off my property I am telling him to get off my property. If he does not understand that, I am afraid all this writing about free speech is wasted on him.”

    Really?

    When you blog and open it for comments it’s not your personal space anymore. You are acting like a teenager who gets offended really fast. That’s why I recommended you to start writing your personal diary and tuck it under a mattress instead of writing a blog.

    Or if you want to continue with this blog, just block all the comments except for your few cherished chamchas.

    Your choice.

  • SB

    Dear Atanu,

    I also told you that now I visit your blog because it provides me a daily dose of humor :)

    So if you don’t want me to come to your “private” space for my daily dose of humor, you have few choices:

    1) I can give you various IP addresses from which I access your blog and block me.

    2) Stop your blog.

    3) Create a private Yahoo group of something with access to only people you want.

    See, you blog because you want global audience but then you get offended when a person says something that you don’t like. Umm… Weird.

    • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

      SB,

      I will try one last time. So read it slowly, and if needed ask someone else to explain this to you in simpler words.

      1. This is a blog which is available for reading by the public. I don’t — and can’t — prevent you from reading it. It goes without saying that you are free to read this blog or not. Since you complained that you don’t learn anything from reading this blog, I said that you should leave and not waste any time in doing so.

      2. What gets published on this blog is my prerogative. I have the freedom to write on whatever topic I please, I get to rant as much as I please. I decide which comments I allow, which comments I disallow. The web is a pretty large place and if someone does not like what I write or publish, they can look elsewhere.

      3. I doubt that you are an idiot. So please don’t drag yourself down to the level of one by insisting that I have denied you your right to free speech.

      Sincerely,
      Atanu

  • SB

    Dear Atanu,

    Am I an idiot??? I don’t think so but yes I really have crocked sense of humor and that’s why I started to find your rants funny after some time. I am thick skinned (very opposite of you) and rarely get offended.

    Anyways, I’ll leave you and your chamchas alone… See I had few days of free time and had fun with you… Going to get busy soon. So good luck with your rant and hope you find few more Chamchas…

    May visit your Ashram, if you get enough chelas down the road.

    Bye.

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    SB,

    You write, “I’ll leave you and your chamchas alone . . . ” I hope you are a man of your word. Good luck and may your god go with you.

    Atanu

  • http://rexzilla.livejournal.com Rex

    @ SB: If you feel so offended, start your own blog and counter Atanu point for point. That’s how reasoned debates occur on the net between individuals – each one on their own turf.
    The living room analogy fits perfectly – if you walk into my house and start making a nuisance of yourself I have every right to throw you out.

    Free speech applies to public spaces. A blog, web forum, newspaper etc is not a public space unless it is owned and paid for by tax payer’s money. You are perfectly free to make a speech on a sensitive topic in a public park. Not in someone’s backyard.

  • Vinny

    @SB

    Lets analyze each of your sentences here:
    “When you blog and open it for comments it’s not your personal space anymore.”
    Very Untrue. If I let an electrician into my house to fix a bulb, doesnt mean he can take a crap in my living room and watch his favorite soap on TV. My house does not cease to be my personal space just because I let people in from time to time.

    ” You are acting like a teenager who gets offended really fast.”
    I don’t see where you get the idea of him being offended. He didn’t call you an idiot either..he said your reaction was idiotic..and there is a vast difference between the too. I can see why your inability to grasp that basic difference is frustrating.

    “That’s why I recommended you to start writing your personal diary and tuck it under a mattress instead of writing a blog.”
    His blog is his personal diary..and it doesn’t matter if its on the internet or under his bed. What you are doing is equivalent to getting into his room, peeking under his bed, reading his diary, and then saying that you don’t like what he has written. Avoiding this blog is as easy as avoiding breaking into someone’s house. Just don’t got to the internet address!

    “Or if you want to continue with this blog, just block all the comments except for your few cherished chamchas.Your choice.”
    Indeed it is is choice – so don’t speak like you are magnanimously giving him this option. AB can choose who he wants to write on his blog – its well within his right to do so. The fact that you have ranted more than once on his blog and he hasn’t blocked you shows that he has more respect for free speech than you can ever understand.

  • http://www.dhruvjalota.com Dhruv

    SB,

    I don’t know if you know this, but there is a law which states that the publisher/owner/author of a blog is responsible for comments posted on it. So other than fundamentally of course, Atanu reserves the right legally as well whether or not to accept your comments on his blog.
    Just FYI.

  • Shashank

    Even if someone allows that painter to exhibit his artwork, wouldn’t it be demeaning to Ms.roy. One can’t bring disrepute to others in the name of free speech.

  • Shyam Reddy

    Folks, I follow both the folks SB and Atanu and they both are fantastic in what they write. They both think pretty much the same and not taking sides here but SB has a team which works on various issues that makes a difference. I just hope they talk to each other more often just to clear the air.

    • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

      Shyam,

      I don’t know who “SB” is. He or she does not sign off with a full name or reveal an email address when commenting. I wonder who the person is.

  • Win7

    SB is a troll, best ignored for what he/she is. Their intention is only to disrupt. I heard some who appear in certain “high volume” forums, are evem “sponsored” by vested interests.