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Signpost: The Indian Express refused to publish this rejoinder
Salaam, Shourie
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Welcome back to the Express columns, sir. You have a great way with truth, which "concerns us all"

M. Zeyaul HaqueIt is bracing to see Arun Shourie back in the Express columns: he makes our insipid morning cup of tea taste like black, thick coffee. Shourieji always comes on strong—his penchant for using broad strokes (even where finer lines would do), the grand sweep of anti-M4 (Marxist-Mussalman-Mahar-Missionary) ideas, and the bold swipes he takes at the usual suspects (the M4) make our mornings worth looking forward to.

Shourieji has a way with words, and also a way with truth, which to repeat the familiar Express slogan, "concerns us all." I swear, it does. That’s what makes the Express what it is, The Indian Express. Shourieji is so truth-friendly that he can forge full truth out of half-truths and quarter lies. Yes, after Jesus Christ he is the only man who can bring back the dead to life—he could do that to even an entire group of young men butchered by the PAC.

I remember (quite a few years ago) how happy I was to see the banner headline in the Express announcing "The Dead of Maliana Return". I fluttered my still sleep-heavy eye lashes, forced my eyes wide open, exerting great will power, to read the happy news. How good! Though unbelievable, it must be true, because "truth concerns us all". Coming from Shourieji’s Express it must be nothing but true. It was a great day for all the sisters, mothers and widows of those young martyred Mussalmans to rejoice, because their sons and brothers had "returned home." On the front page of the Express.

Later, we learned to our chagrin that the story of the return of the prodigies was not based on truth. It was not even based on fact, the country cousin of truth. It was a " factoid", to use a Menckenism. (To the uninitiated, a factoid is a fact which is not.) Not that what the Express had written was untrue, though the Maliana dead remained firmly tucked away in their graves, decomposed and largely turned into dust, mingled with the surrounding earth.

That brings me to the art and craft of good editing—a good editor can turn lousy text into highly readable stuff, a great one can even order facts to tell a brazen-faced lie, a genius (like Shourieji) can make truth stand on its head and make every one look at the world upside down—their feet pointed towards the stars, head planted steadily on the ground. An extraordinary perspective, must admit.

There are a lot of things that Shourieji says cannot be disputed: like terrorism is a menace, and must be combated with all the might the world has at its disposal. Like "Islamic terrorism" is indefensible. In fact, terrorism is so indefensible today that even Col. Gaddafi has dissociated himself from it. However, Shourieji had always this trait of being selective in his moral judgments. He never uttered a word against Sangh terrorism in Ayodhya, LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka which killed Rajiv, eliminated several national leaders of that country, destroyed the entire Sri Lankan Airlines fleet and half of their air force in a single strike a couple of months ago. His attitude to terrorism is like America’s – for the US, a terrorist to be really bad has to target America; for Shourieji to condemn him, he must be "Islamic". The IRA killed Lord Louis Mountbatten and kept on harassing America’s ally Britain, with full financial backing of US private donors. Till September 11, the US preferred to look the other way.

The RSS view (shared by Shourieji) is that Islam propels terrorism. Pray, tell us sir, what propels December 6 terrorism, LTTE terrorism, Basque terrorism, IRA terrorism, Aum Shinrikyo terrorism, and all manner of assorted terrorisms from East Asia to Latin America, from North-East India to Bihar and Andhra in our own country? Does Islam explain all this? And how does Islam account for Timothy McVeigh and Una Bomber?

There are two different points at issue here: Pakistan-inspired terrorism (which has to be dealt with firmly and appropriately, and the military option too has to be considered), and Islam per se. The problem with Shourieji is that he is too generous with generalisations: to him Palestine and Chechnya and Kashmir are one and the same. No differentiation is required, no historical and political context matters. He is happy to have his whipping boy; nothing else is of any consequence.

The same generosity with generalisations makes him attribute all the "medieval" atrocities to Islam. But, sir, how do we account for the Inquisition, the caste atrocities against Dalits, Sati and widow banishment? The full page December 19 offering by Shourieji is, in fact, of a piece with a large body of his work ranging from denunciation of Christian missionaries (who gave him, as his teachers, part of the mental equipment with which he demolishes them), to Islam (and its institutions), Marxism (and Marxist historiography) and Dalits (and their icon BR Ambedkar). He never misses an opportunity to tar them with a big brush, an act only relatively less crude than what his victims (some Dalit followers of Ambedkar) did to him by physically tarring his face at a meet in Bangalore. (No, Shourieji, we don’t approve of the tarring by those oafs.)

Those Dalits possibly did so in frustration like Osama and his desperadoes: if you can’t fight America, do something spectacularly wicked and foolish; if you can’t fight Shourieji with clever arguments, overpower him and tar his face physically. And, in that bargain, lose whatever sympathy you have. In any case, nobody can argue with an economist and the new sovereign called the Free Market. And Shourieji is an economist and a Free Marketeer to boot. Duly recognised by the World Bank as one and taken seriously by everybody who matters.

Shourieji is blessed (blessed?) with an acid tongue: the victim of his verbal attacks is given no quarter, shown no mercy. He can be very uncharitable: he portrays BR Ambedkar as a British stooge in Worshipping False Gods. That reading of Ambedkar’s personality is not appropriate, because Ambedkar believed that the slavery of the British was emancipatory in its effect: under the British some Dalits got the advantage of modern education, which had been denied them for ages under the strict provisions of the Code of Manu. The Dalits, and Ambedkar, were in no hurry to send the British packing because they saw the caste slavery as timeless, forever. Between the two slaveries, Ambedkar thought the British one was more humane. In that perspective (which is more authentic because it is the victim’s perspective), Ambedkar was not what Shourieji thought he was, a stooge. The unkindest cut was Shourieji’s not so subtle remark that Ambedkar’s contribution to the making of our Constitution may not be half as great as suggested by the book his statues are invariably shown to be holding in the Dalit slums across the country. That book, the Constitution of India, which Dalits proudly associate with Ambedkar, was ruthlessly snatched away by Shourieji. Not surprisingly, an otherwise sedate Savita Ambedkar remarked angrily, "Shourie is a wicked man."

Shourieji is an unchallenged monarch of misrepresentation and slander. He is selective in his dispensation of justice. So far, none of his victims has been able to come up with anything half as spectacular as his attacks. (No editor gives the display to a rebuttal he gets for his chargesheets against the M4. For instance, the bold display, the big types in the intro, sub-heads, blurbs and the generous use of space in December 19 story of the Express.) And the tarring of his face by Dalits is mere hooliganism, a crude rebuttal like al-Qaida’s desperate acts of violence. A valiant fighter, an IRS official called AK Biswas, came forward with a book called Gods, False Gods and Untouchables in reply to the Shourie book. However, it lacked the sophistication of Worshipping False Gods and failed largely to undo the damage. The Mussalmans and Marxists too have not fared any better.

His book The Historians was yet another hatchet job that would ultimately give a fillip to Oak-Madhok school of historiography. No regard for academic discipline, no concern for methodologies, the usual fist-in-the-face Shourie approach to facts which require a more nuanced treatment. It was a journalistic bull let loose in the China shop of academic, responsible historigraphy. No wonder academics tremble in their boots when journalists are around. Demands of academic restraint and rigour make them unfit for a match with the self-assured, swaggering journalist. And Shourieji is a journalist also, one of our tribe. And a star performer at that.

Shourieji talks of the believer’s "mindset", which (in case of Islam) is conditioned by the faith to be constantly at war with the "other"—a relentless, unceasing war till the entire non-Islam becomes Islam. (That would take some real doing over a period measurable only in light years.) Thus Islam is a violent religion, the Qur'an a manifesto of violence, ranging from terrorist attacks to full-blown war. It follows from this fundamental premise that for the world to live in peace, we have to get rid of Islam. To begin with, the mad mullah has to be reined in by closing down the madarsas (where Islam is taught), locking up the mosques (where Islam is practised) and brainwashing the Muslims to make them see the horrors of Islam and make them dissociate themselves from it. If they don’t meet these requirements, well, we have the final solution model left behind by the Sangh hero, the Fuhrer of Nazis. For Shourieji, Islam is innately evil and no good can come out of it.

The views of Shourieji (plainly stated and implied) are interesting and welcome because they provide an alternative perspective on Islam, a perspective that is not readily apparent to us, Muslims. We never looked at Islam in that perspective: We thought Islam comes from salaam (peace), not hurb (war).

Because Islam is such monumental evil, as the Shourie argument goes, its charities and research institutions (both written within inverted commas to suggest that they are not what they say they are) are sham—mere terrorist fronts. Shourieji’s views on Islam are certainly extreme views, as extreme as Ambedkar’s views on Hinduism or Ram Raj’s (now Aditya Raj). This view of Hinduism, shared by hundreds of millions of Dalits from Ambedkar to Aditya is as stark as Shourieji’s: that Hinduism is innately evil, that no good can ever come out of it, that Hindu scriptures are a cunning device to entrap millions of fellow beings into perpetual slavery, that no human dignity is possible until one dissociates oneself from it. And while dissociating from it one has to condemn it vociferously and demonstratively. This is exactly what Ambedkar did nearly half a century ago; this is what Aditya did last month. This is what all others leaving Hinduism did in the intervening years.

Meanwhile, Shourieji’s Dalit counterparts made it a point to explain that Hinduism is evil beyond reform because it is structured on Chatur Varna, because one of its central themes is karma, which says you are born a Dalit because of the evil deeds you did in the last birth and must atone for your last births’s sins in the present birth by suffering all the torment and humiliation coming your way without demur, without complaint, and must in all cases remain within the Varna into which you were born.

Ambedkar cited the horrible murder of the Dalit boy Shambuk by Shri Ramji himself because that boy was trying to read the scriptures (breaking the taboo on reading imposed on Shudras), and said Dalit emancipation was not possible within Hinduism whose "mindset" (Shourieji’s preferred word) is conditioned by such horrors.

Now, Shourieji, we Muslims don’t take these views as mainstream view of Hinduism, and prefer the reading provided by Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan, Gandhi and Swami Aghedanand Bharati (a Polish Jew turned Hindu, one of the greatest minds of the last century). We don’t take the Ambedkarite view as mainstream because we don’t see anybody trying to pour molten lead into Dalits’ ears (as prescribed by the Code of Manu), and we don’t see trainers in India’s police and military academies insisting that the Dalit cadets passing out must have their thumbs cut (following Guru Dronacharya’s tradition). 

The mainstream view on Islam is that it is a religion of peace, not war as you say. 

Finally, I must compliment you for all that you are. And all that you have done. It brings some sparkle to our lackadaisical lives. Keep it up, sir. Salaam, Shourieji.

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