Don’t close ranks, debate: Muslim scholar  

TIMES NEWS NETWORK  Mumbai: The storm over the anti-Prophet Mohammad Danish cartoons might have subsided, but the debate rages on. A lot of people have still not reconciled to the fact that Muslims the world over, couldn’t see the cartoons as just an artiste’s freedom of speech and expression.
   However, Mahmood Mamdani, who teaches anthropology and political science at Columbia University (USA), has somehow internalised it in his own way. Unlike the two extreme camps who see the cartoons either as an affront on Islam or an artiste’s right to expression, Mamdani favours an informed debate on the issue. And he debated it on Saturday before a motley audience of writers, activists and journalists at Indian Merchants Chamber in Churchgate.


   Facilitated by Citizens for Peace, an initiative against communal and sectarian violence, Mamdani touched upon several issues like bigotry, blasphemy, fatwas and the rights of minorities in his scholarly presentation. He sees the Danish cartoons as a provocation against minorities.
   “When I first saw it, I knew it was targeted against the Muslim minorities in Denmark. The fact that the same right-wing newspapers had earlier declined to publish Jesus cartoons proved the papers wanted to offend the Muslims,’’ he said.

“Some local mullahs tried to sort it out with the Danish authorities, but failed. And then they went to Saudi Arabia which took it up because it considers itself as the custodian of the faith,’’ added Mamadani who has authored several books, including the critically-acclaimed Good Muslim, Bad Muslim.
   The growing Islamophobia in the West, Mamadani suggested, should be seen as an opportunity to initiate dialogues and debates. “We need to open the ranks, not close them. We need to debate issues,’’ he said.
   Replying to a question, he said that colonisation always came with noble intentions, but gradually degenerates into oppression. “The West has used this method for the last five centuries. The colonisers first arrive with a civilising mission. That’s what they had done even in India,’’ said Mamdani who is married to film-maker Mira Nair and divides his time between New York and Kampala (Uganda).
   Referring to the business of fatwas, Mamdani said fatwas were mere opinions and Muslims were not bound to follow them. “You can have different fatwas on a single issue.

Many people manipulate to get favourable fatwas,’’ he said. Activist-author Rajni Bakshi, scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali, Mira Nair and Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy were among those who attended the meet.

Debate: Muslim scholar

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