Zero tolerance for hate speech

Zero tolerance for hate speech

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 5 January, 2013

Andhra Pradesh legislator Akbaruddin Owaisi has some distance to go before understanding the central message of the Holy Quran, which teaches the need to show compassion, beneficence and mercy towards all. This was a message clearly lost in translation for the MLA from Hyderabad, who on 24 December delivered a two-hour rant peppered with abusive language directed at those of a different persuasion from his Wahhabi beliefs. Owaisi's world seems divided into "us" (i.e. those who subscribe to Wahhabi tenets) and "them" (i.e. the rest of humanity). Such a simplistic and inaccurate characterisation of the diverse people of this country indicates the kind of mindset that has made some countries hell. Those who went the way favoured by the MIM legislator saw ruin, as for example the former Yugoslavia, which provides an example of a state which descended into civil war precisely because there were too many there who subscribed to the kind of exclusivist logic that Akbaruddin Owaisi apparently champions. However, his diatribe is hardly a surprise, for he has in the past threatened to kill both Taslima Nasreen as well as Salman Rushdie. Interestingly, despite holding such views, he is apparently permitted entry into the UK and other countries claiming to uphold a high bar against hate speech.

The 24 December episode brings to the fore the question of whether a democratic polity and an elected legislature can tolerate within its midst individuals whose views represent a clear and present threat to democracy and social harmony. There needs to be a comprehensive enquiry into the MLA and those close to him, to check sources of funding and whether his assets and that of those close to him reflect their declared incomes or are unaccounted. India can make progress only when exemplary punishment gets meted out to those who regard those of other faiths as subhuman enemies. India's history is testament to the immense harm that can be done by those who seek to divide the people of India on the basis of religion, which is why there needs to be severe consequences visited on those with such an exclusivist and supremacist mindset, so reminiscent of the now-discredited caste system.

A welcome example was made of those held guilty of the post-Godhra massacres who were each sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Now attention needs to be paid to those in public life who openly display the kind of mindset which leads to communal rioting. The nation has a right to expect zero tolerance of those who hate the "other" in a manner as totally at variance with the social inclusiveness and moderation essential for India's future as Owaisi's intemperate utterances reveal him to be.

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