Sunday, March 05, 2006 20:50 IST, Editorial, DNAINDIA.COM
Dissent and debate are integral parts of a democracy because they allow different voices to be heard. Mature democracies allow all manner of displays of dissent, from the benign letter to a newspaper to a public demonstration.
Thus, it was in the fitness of things that political parties, civil society organisations and anybody else who found the policies of George W Bush objectionable turned up at demonstrations in different parts of the country when he visited India as a state guest. They carried placards denouncing him, shouted slogans and even burnt the American flag; the state and its law and order agencies did not object.
The Bush visit also drew the ire of Muslim organisations in Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow. The reason for their anger? That Bush is anti-Islamic. And the proof of that apparently is the war in Iraq, the pressure on Iran and the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Fair enough. Many right thinking people have been appalled by the blatant violations of human rights of prisoners and have misgivings about American presence in Iraq.
But when an entire community in a far away country protests in the name of solidarity of their co-religionists, it is time to ask some pertinent questions. Indian Muslims have often been criticised by Hindu right wing bodies for their purported "extra-territorial" loyalties, a charge that has been shown to be absurd time and again. Muslims, or for that matter any other Indian, do not need to prove their patriotism and the electorate has repeatedly shown that it will not stand for this kind of stoking of religious hatred. Yet, when such demonstrations take place, no doubt provoked by misguided or mischievous elements, it gives a handle to those who thrive on religious divisions. Already the issue has taken a communal turn in Lucknow. Muslims do no justice to their cause, however genuine it may be, when they carry placards proclaiming their wish to be a "suicide bomber."
India takes pride in its secular traditions and also in the fact that no Indian has been held for joining international terrorist groups. Let us keep it that way. It is the fundamental right of those who find Bush and his policies objectionable to protest against them. But this should be a matter of ideology rather than religion. It is time for wiser counsel to prevail and ensure that such flashes of anger do not get out of hand.