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To Ban or Not to Ban: A 'Satanic' Dilemma


The Times of India, New Delhi, Apr. 20, 2000

"So what if The Satanic Verses is yesterday's news. Salman Rushdie is still anguished, hurt and smarting because of the ban that was imposed on his book by the Indian government. 'The ban was partly surprising because it was done without the normal process. The book had not entered the country nor was it considered by a panel which decides whether a book should be banned. It was just banned as a kind of fiat. I thought it was undemocratic,' he has reportedly stated in a B.B.C. interview. The writer has urged the government to lift the ban since it was proscribed without undergoing the normal process. Should the ban be lifted? Is new millennium India really ready to read The Satanic Verses - openly, rather than clandestinely? 'A ban is absolutely senseless in the age of communication,' says Maulana Wahiduddin, Islamic scholar. 'I have bought the book in black and read it, like so many other people. So what has the ban really achieved?' he asks."
"Although he dismisses the controversial book as 'a mere compilation of gaali-galauch (abuses)', Wahiduddin insists there is no room for a ban. 'There is nothing in the Quran or the Hadees (religious texts) which support a ban. According to Islam, you kill the absurd by keeping silent and avoiding nonsense. No, banning was never an Islamic solution. The entire problem pertains to the Muslim community which doesn't think and gets swayed by emotions; when emotions actually have no value in Islamic realism,' he adds. For Khushwant Singh, writer, proscription was never the answer. 'I had never supported the ban,' he clarifies. 'All that I had done was to advise Penguin not to publish the book in India since the margin of intolerance is very high. Then too,' he adds, 'the judgment was not against Rushdie but against my own people who were simply not mature enough to handle certain passages in the book.' "
"Needless to say, bans and censorship hardly make sense in a wired world. As Mahesh Bhatt, film maker, elucidates: 'The era of banning books and films is over, with everything being accessible today at the click of a mouse. Lift the ban and let the people of India decide whether they want to read the book or not,' says Bhatt. By doing so, the government would illustrate 'the dawn of the 21st century' in India too. 'If the nation can stand behind Rushdie today, it would be a watershed event: a proof that we have unshackled our mindsets from the trappings of the 20th century and are actually different from our neighbours (Pakistan), instead of merely claiming to be superior,' he adds."
"According to Aamir Raza Hussain, theatre director, the ban had merely 'turned Rushdie into a celebrity in social circles where he wouldn't be otherwise read or heard.' Rubbishing it as 'insignificant,' Hussain says there is no room for a ban 'unless something is pornographic or blatantly communal. And I don't think Rushdie falls into any of these categories, nor is his writing excitingly readable.' As for Syed Shahabuddin, former M.P., to ban or not to ban is hardly the question. Simply because 'Rushdie is a non-person.' The government, meanwhile, has yet to make its decision."