20.7.10

Laden vs Dostoevsky

It is hypocritical to say that any depiction of Osama bin Laden will lead to a spate of suicide attacks and not use a similar standard to judge the censorship of murals delineating the works of Russian artist-novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The Moscow metro station that was to be named after him got into trouble because there was fear that the illustrations with scenes from his books would become a “mecca for suicides”. Pravda, Russia’s mouthpiece, wondered whether such images should be displayed after the March terrorist bombings though they took place before the proposed inauguration. People die, people commit suicide, people are killed. Dostoevsky did not write purple prose, his words were seeped in blood and thoughts reaped grimness. People have read him for decades and although they might have been deeply affected, they did not go and end their lives.

The problem is that those who might have committed suicide anyway, in the days before the media became the messenger now want their little deaths to be put on a pedestal. Can you imagine someone goes and hangs himself because he sees a visual of a man with a gun pointing at his temple while he waits for the train and so decides this is a good enough time to meet his maker via literary literacy?

A bunch of bloggers after seeing pictures of the metro station decided they were “depressing” and it became a movement. Has no one objected only because freedom of the state to honour a creative person is being curtailed here? Is this not censorship by the public?

The case of the Laden film is seen as suppression of the freedom of expression. I am intrigued as to why anyone would want to spoof a spoof. Why does the state assume there will be suicide attacks? Is it because his followers will be offended? Or is it because there is a media build-up? The Taliban do not watch movies, they just make them. Let us for a moment imagine that Laden has that kind of effect and people go on a rampage — how would then one gauge the stalling of the Indian film on Hitler that was to portray him as a shade of grey? Was there trepidation that he would be hero-worshipped?

These are almost self-fulfilling prophecies where we have to consolidate certain images. Suicide attacks fuel the imagination of societies that are brainwashed into believing that something might happen. This particular instance has little to do with the Pakistani’s right to view an Indian film that parodies Osama and more to do with the barren landscape of archetypes.

That is the reason I am transposing it with the Dostoevsky example, which is an even more stringent form of censorship for it elevates the cult of knee-jerk melancholia among people who might want to share their down moments with their internet friends. There are already a slew of websites on how to commit suicide. There is Doctor Death who assists patients with fatal illnesses. There are drug overdoses and deliberate car crashes. And if we must discuss cinema and art, then what about all those Bollywood treacle romances like Ek Duuje Ke Liye that resulted in lovers leaping off cliffs? What about the hundreds who end their lives because a political leader dies, sometimes in a helicopter accident?

The mass suicide idea is essentially a herd instinct. It is a personal choice that is gratuitous in its political dimension. We are internally violent people. Anger is violent and so is passion. It could be towards a person or an ideology or against a system. Depression, too, is violence against one’s state of being.

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Published in Express Tribune, July 20

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