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After the Storm
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Throughout the fortnight of anti-Muslim hysteria and orgy of Qur'an-burning, ‘national’ media’s attitude left a lot to be desired

No sooner than the ‘national’ media’s brouhaha over the Bamiyan episode had begun to taper off to a less shrill—but sufficiently consistent --- crescendo of condemnation of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ Hindu fundamentalists in Delhi took it upon themselves to ‘avenge’ a cousin faith’s humiliation in Afghanistan. The method they chose was in tune with their earlier antics – they would not go to Afghanistan to avenge the demolition of the Buddha statues. They would not even think of touching the Taliban, forget about fighting them. They would try to humiliate Indian Muslims who had no role to play in Bamiyan.

The same media which was beside itself with righteous indignation at the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha, chose to ignore the episode and turned a Nelson’s eye to the grievous misdemeanour, an act which in no way was less sacrilegious than the Bamiyan episode.

As copy after copy of the holy book was torched in Delhi, Amritsar and Patiala, the media went on parroting the foolish cliché ‘alleged burning of the Qur'an.’ The sacrilege remained a mere allegation for the media even though the accomplished fact of the burning began to be reported in the same newspapers.

The self-proclaimed champions of freedom of expression, Aaj Tak TV and its parent company publications, refused to be woken from self-hypnosis. Aaj Tak went on parroting the hackneyed phrase ‘Qur'an jalane ke afwahon ko lekar hinsa’ (violence over rumours of Qur'an burning).

For this credulous media outfit which took the police versions of Kanpur riots as a gospel truth, the Qur'an burning remained an afwah till the end of the self-created Hindutva hysteria.

Even the more level-headed publications like The Hindu could not resist the temptation of empty pontification. In an editorial on March 21 (‘Violence in Kanpur’), this liberal newspaper, which happens to be a favourite of many Indian Muslims, remarked that Muslims in Kanpur had gone on a rampage on a mere ‘rumour’ of Qur'an-burning. Strangely, the same media which ignored the original event of Qur'an burning in Delhi by a group of 200 Hindutva activists right before policemen and intelligence people, chose to focus on its fall out in Kanpur because it gave it the opportunity to comment adversely on Islam and Muslims. The entire debate was shifted to alleged Muslim intolerance, leaving aside the original provocation in Delhi.

As police pounced upon Muslims in Kanpur, the state remained a mute spectator in Delhi, Amritsar and Patiala. Nobody was prevented from mischief.

Then came the season of media’s holier-than-thou utterances. India Today tried to show that SIMI was some kind of a Muslim RSS, while The Statesman observed pedantically in its first edit on March 29: ‘One radicalism feeds on the other.’ Thus the aggressor and the victim – the Qur'an-burners and Indian Muslims – were equated.

Another liberal newspaper, which is highly respected by many Muslims, ended up equating the aggressor with the victim in its first edit on March 26. The revered leader writer of The Indian Express observed magisterially: ‘The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, for instance, dismissed reports of the burning of the Koran as ‘rumour mongering by Islamic fundamentalists’. The VHP will never know it, but its mindset and strategies are almost a mirror image of that of the Islamic fundamentalists.’

All said and done, the media was obsessed with ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, adamantly refusing to admit that it was not ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ in the first place that had treated us to the horror show in Delhi, Amritsar and Patiala. The protests and demonstrations that followed in Kanpur, Srinagar, Pune and Aurangabad (besides the neighbouring countries) were only in response to the acts of sacrilege. They were not the primary events. Hence, they were not the handiwork of ‘Islamic fundamentalists’, the media’s whipping boys, but Hindu fundamentalists. Thus the entire discourse was off-key, grossly distorted and unconvincing. The media refused to be disabused of its obsession with Islamic fundamentalism even after a man entered a Kolkatta mosque, lifted a copy of the holy book from a shelf, tore off some pages, and flung it on the floor. (The Bengal CM said he was a ‘mad’ man.)
There are quite a few questions that media should have raised, but did not. For instance, is it plausible and natural for some people in India to get so offended with a sacrilegious act in another country that they fail to restrain themselves and go on a Qur'an-burning spree? Is there a justification for one religious group taking offence against a second group about a sacrilege against a third group?

The Taliban had offended people of good sense worldwide, but by no stretch of imagination the Bamiyan destruction can be interpreted as an anti-Hindu act. No Buddhist country burnt the Qur'an. The point is that a Muslim group had offended Buddhist sentiments, but the Hindu fundamentalists, who had no reason to be provoked, attacked the Qur'an.

Now, if we believe the media’s stories of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and VHP being ‘the mirror image of the Islamic fundamentalist’, how many cases of scripture burning have been reported from South Asia in response to the heroic act of Qur'an burning? Muslims have been deeply offended all over the world, but they are not certainly the ‘mirror image’ of the VHP, not even the fundamentalist Muslims. Did any ‘fundamentalist’ Muslim in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan burn any scripture?

To sum up, one would wish that somehow our media disabuse itself of its pet cliches and started looking at Muslims and Islam in a more reasonable, balanced manner. If it does not do that, it would go on being tormented by the ghosts of its own creation. Ghosts like Islamic fundamentalists, for instance.

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