The Right To Write (And Offend)
Now that the redoubtable Mr Digvijaya Singh has jumped into the fray ("It's a very bad article and it is seditious also") after the Harvard students who wanted that the university "end its association with religious extremist Subramanian Swamy" for his distasteful op-ed of July 16 in the DNA, it is perhaps time to compile our old short-takes and also revisit Salil Tripathi's article in the Mint on July 20:
If the secular, liberal, and leftist Indians want views like Swamy’s to be restricted, then the right-wing nationalists will want views like Arundhati Roy’s to be restricted. This is not to suggest that Roy and Swamy are in any way comparable, except to suggest that both arouse visceral responses of similar intensity among different types of Indians, and India is a better society if it aggressively protects free speech. Disagree with them by all means; challenge them, debate them. Don’t stop them from speaking. Otherwise, as the late Behram Contractor, who wrote as Busybee, astutely observed about the emergency, the only safe topics left to discuss will be cricket and mangoes.
As Sandip Roy points out in the Firstpost, more than anything else, hounding Mr Swamy out of Harvard would only make him a "freespeech martyr".
The Harvard petitioners had better be careful that they don’t make Swamy a political martyr in their zeal to kick him off campus without real debate. That would allow him the perfect excuse to retreat to the safety of yet more newspaper op-eds, where he can sit on a pedestal and lob incendiary monologues.
Let Subramanian Swamy defend his ideas instead, and the whiplash-inducing twists and turns in his ideology, in an open forum...
Swamy clearly does not believe in a pluralistic “open” society. But that is no reason for the rest of us to cede those values in the name of opposing him. To repeat what he once said about Saudi Arabia: “We are not going to imitate them. Our society is different.”
Harvard students should hoist Swamy on his own words. Instead of sending him into exile, they should remind of this inconvenient truth: There is no democracy without debate.
Meanwhile, Mr Swamy seems to be revelling in all the attention that he has never perhaps got before in his life, not even for all his 2G activism, or so it would seem at least going by his tweets of the past few days, where he can of course choose to be selective in what he responds to:
Raji Raouf in the Hindu
I strongly disagree with Dr. Subramanian Swamy's views on Muslims he expressed recently in a prominent newspaper. And if chance should have it that I meet him, I would invite him to my humble home for a cup of tea. And if the ambience is just right, we might end up discussing Mark Twain and Wodehouse. For, I am a Muslim and though deeply hurt by his views, I am required by every strand of morality and justice in me to stand for his right to express his views, however unreasonable.
I believe that we Muslims are being taken for a ride by some of these “minority bodies” when they call for the arrest of a senior statesman for our benefit. How can arresting him improve even an iota of our conditions? Whatever he said is out there and the only sensible thing to do now would be to have healthy debates on his views and expose how catastrophic it would be if his ideas were ever to see the light of day. Many senior politicians and academicians have already expressed their dissent.
Scott Jaschik reports in Inside Higher Ed:
And a Harvard spokesman, Jeff A. Neal, released a statement Sunday that -- while noting the concern over Swamy's statements -- defended his free speech rights.
"As an institution of research and teaching, we are dedicated to the proposition that all people, regardless of color or creed, deserve equal opportunities, equal respect, and equal protection. Recent writings by Dr. Swamy therefore are distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so," the statement said. However, it added: "It is central to the mission of a university to protect free speech, including that of Dr. Swamy and of those who disagree with him. We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas."
Readers react to Mr Swamy's 'irresponsible & Islamophobic' article in the DNA:
Salil Tripathi argues, correctly, that however distasteful Subramanian Swamy's viewes are, he has the right to express them. And an editor has the right to publish them:
Banning “unacceptable” views will only increase their mass appeal. A banned Swamy would become an unworthy martyr, as though he were as important as Salman Rushdie, when, in reality, Swamy’s outburst is the equivalent of a post on the website Rediff’s bulletin board (although, granted, without spelling mistakes and written with reasonably correct grammar, unlike the frustrated fantasists who fight their inner demons on those bulletin boards).
I recall a Prem Panicker column of 1998:
One possible answer probably lurks in a famous Swamy sound-bite, of 1979 vintage: "I have a feeling of destiny. I know in ten years time I will be prime minister."
Exactly ten years later, Dr Swamy was asked to give his personal progress report. "That ambition remains, nothing has gone wrong with it. I am within striking distance of that ambition. I am well educated, I am known all over the country, I am more capable than most people around, all I need is a vote bank and an organisation."
On being requested on Twitter, Prem Panicker has graciously agreed to update this 1998 column. Now that should be something to look forward to
This is not the first time Subramanian Swamy's written what he has in the DNA: http://bit.ly/pTgseO He does it after every such terror attack much before any investigations are complete.
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