To understand all that is wrong with the Indian Liberal narrative on freedom of speech and on communal relations in India you must only watch this video of Sashi Tharoor debating Christopher Hitchens.

It is revealing how Tharoor clumsily shifts between two positions:

  • arguing for freedom of speech to be exercised with deference to sensibilities of a society and (the deference argument)
  • for freedom of speech to be exercised as an act of enlightened expression (the elitist argument)

It is his case that it would be reasonable to expect a violent reaction to the publication of Prophet Mohammad cartoons and therefore should not have the publishers, knowing that such a reaction would occur, not have been cautious and deferring to the sentiments of people who have not reached the same level of intellectual sophistication etc.

Do you not sense a generous dose of sneering contempt, disdain and intellectual haughtiness cloaked as deference, respect and tolerance of Muslim sensibilities?

After-all, Sashi Tharoor’s argument of deference to society translated into plain English would look like this: “You know the rowdies were going to be, well, rowdies. Did you have to provoke them so by providing such inflammatory material? They’re not as intellectually mature as we are. You ought to have been more careful!”

Sashi Tharoor’s thought-process proposes you appease the loudest and rowdiest elements in the Islamic society.

The man, however, shifts gears rather abruptly to the idea of enlightened expression and portrayal of images etc when making a case against M.F.Husain’s detractors.

The idea is that Hindus have always used divine iconography to depict various ideas, and because M.F.Husain has in the past painted wonderful images of Hindu gods one must understand that his depictions are of the subtle, ethereal artistic portrayal type and therefore violent reaction to the paintings were unfortunate and needless.

I’m not inclined to make a case of double standards against Tharoor. That would be a simplistic view. Indeed I find both his arguments to be justified in the sense that one must only commit the sins that one can get away from and that there is no point whining about knowingly getting into trouble.

However, consider the political implications for a minute.

Should Sashi Tharoor’s thought-process be the typical template used for interpreting freedom of speech and secularist narrative, I believe it is, then for all practical purposes you end up appeasing the loudest and rowdiest elements in the Islamic society.

You’re also telling Hindus that look the only reason I’m deferring to the Islamist sentiment is because they’re a rowdy bunch. Sooner or later the average Hindu would get the message: to get you to acknowledge Hindu sentiments one has got to be a rowdy and burn a few buildings maybe!

Is this the liberal idea of disincentivizing violence?

Added Later:

Arun Shourie had written on similar lines. He had this to say on unthinking appeasement :

Finally, a forecast : the more the secularists insist on double-standards, the more Islamic will the Hindus become.

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Amar Govindarajan is a management professional based out of somewhere in South India. He spends his spare time in bird-watching, dog keeping and reading Popular science. He is also a member of the CRI Editorial team.

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