India Uncut

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Do not draw my unicorn

Let us say that I believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Deeply. Devoutly. I create invisible pink altars in my house, go on invisible pink pilgrimages, and believe that it is blasphemous to depict the Invisible Pink Unicorn in pictorial form.

Then one day, a newspaper brings out a cartoon depicting the Invisible Pink Unicorn. To my outrage, She is depicted as neither Invisible (obviously) nor Pink. Sacrilige. Instantly I announce rewards for the head of the cartoonist and organise demonstrations in far-off countries where much violence takes place, cars are burnt, property is destroyed. So how do you react? Was the cartoonist wrong in insulting my faith? Is my outrage justified? More importantly, is my behaviour justified?

Now, you'll no doubt say that there is a difference between Invisible Pink Unicorns and that-which-I-shall-not-dare-to-name. No doubt. It is a difference of scale, and that changes our attitude towards it, as brought out by this fine example. But the principles involved remain the same.

When I was in Lahore last week, one of my friends told me about this taxi driver he met who saved for years, took a loan, and combined the loan and the savings to buy a cab. Three weeks after he bought it, a mob burnt it down. Gogol's Overcoat, but so much worse. The poor man was speaking about committing suicide with his family. Now, however insensitive and inflammatory the Danish cartoons may have been, I do not blame them for this man's predicament. Cartoons do not kill people, people do.

Anyway, having said all that, a couple of links. First, the Economist's take on the issue, which I rather agree with. I also agree with what Glenn Reynolds has to say, especially that "[t]hese people [the protesters] are doing more to make Mohammed look bad than any cartoonist ever could." And finally, here's a piece by Flemming Rose, the editor who published those cartoons, on why he did so. At one point, he writes:
Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
Exactly. Worshippers of Invisible Pink Unicorns have no right to demand that submission from others. Nor does anyone else.

Update: Also, do read this old post by MadMan on tolerance.
amit varma, 2:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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