Provocative anti-Islam film in light of Gandhian principles

Provocative anti-Islam film in light of Gandhian principles

Definitely, India has a reason to glorify the fact that US President Barack Obama recently gave new importance to a principle advocated by Mahatma Gandhi. “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit,” Obama said, quoting Gandhi, during his address to the UN General Assembly. The president drew attention to Gandhian principle of tolerance while strongly criticizing eruption of violence in reaction to the recent anti-Islam film.
The birth anniversary of Gandhi — known as father of Indian national movement for independence from colonialism — was observed yesterday.
Ironically, the period during which Gandhi has been quoted is witness to violence occurring in various parts of the world. The movie, which has incited anger among Muslims, may also be described as one of the many aspects of anti-Islam hatred still prevalent in the West. Considering that genuine democracy allows freedom of worship and has no space for abuse of any religion, the movie in itself deserves condemnation, socially, politically and diplomatically. Gandhi believed in respect for all religions and their followers. Abuse of any religion is against principles of tolerance and peace advocated by Gandhi.
If Gandhian principles were actively pursued throughout the world, in all probability, the anti-Islam movie would not have been produced. Gandhi, a Hindu, paid special attention to the study of various religious beliefs including Islam and Christianity. “I have come to the conclusion in my own experience that those who reverently study the teachings of other faiths broaden instead of narrowing their own hearts. All religions serve to enrich mankind,” Gandhi stated.
Besides, Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa, that is nonviolence, has been seen by several authorities as drawn from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life,” Gandhi said after studying the Last Prophet’s biography.
“It was the rigid simplicity, Gandhi pointed out. In addition to Gandhi’s desire for greater knowledge, he was prompted to study the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as he “wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind.”
The reverence held by Gandhi for different religious beliefs, including Islam, affirms the view that the Gandhian spirit does not permit abuse of any religion through any means. The motive behind the anti-Islam movie appears to deliberately hurt religious sentiments of Muslims and incite them to violence.
Had screening of the movie been instantly checked, the Muslims across the world would certainly have appreciated the move. It is indeed amazing that American authorities have taken more than a week to arrest the movie producer for violating his parole in a previous fraud case. Here, it may be noted that India did not waste any time in blocking the movie on Internet. India also condemned the movie in keeping with its policy of not accepting or supporting “acts that disparage religious beliefs and sentiments.”
Against the backdrop of importance given in the West to democracy, liberalism and freedom of expression, it is relevant to draw attention to certain basic aspects linked with the same. Where a sensitive issue such as religion is concerned, there is a major difference between conducting research, studying as well as analyzing the importance of religious issues and making deliberate efforts to abuse and hurt religious sentiments.
Educational research is an aspect that is being given substantial importance in Islamic countries as well as multireligious secular countries like India. Islam and Islamic societies, from the religious angle, are not known to have deviated from educational pursuits. In fact, this educational spirit is in itself reflective of social democracy being pursued in these countries. But this does not imply that this freedom should be abused to hurt sentiments of any community.
Muslims across the world have reacted against the film. Democracy certainly entitles them to the right to speak against what is considered objectionable by them. At the same time, their resorting to violence as a reaction may certainly be viewed as questionable. However, prior to questioning their reaction, attention must be paid to a deliberate attempt made to hurt and abuse their religious sentiments.
It is indeed astonishing that substantial attention has not been paid to this totally non-Gandhian aspect reflected by the very nature of the movie. Hurting and abusing sentiments of any individual or any community may also be viewed as an inhuman behavior, totally unsocial and in violation of elementary morals. Whether such abusive tactics are indulged through a movie or any other means, Gandhian, humanitarian and all social principles demand that this be instantly checked. In addition, action must be taken against sponsors, promoters and all those involved in initiating and continuing activities of this nature.

—The author is an Indian freelance journalist who has written extensively for national newspapers.

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