Cry censorship, then apologise: the AIB Knockout's fake fight for FoE

When a comedy show that has managed to bring out the closet bad taste in comedy elite to openly vouch for it offers unconditional apology for hurting religious sentiments, does it have a leg to stand on where freedom of speech is concerned? More importantly, will those who stood up for it now feel let down?

In the most recent complaint against the AIB Knockout, a Roast organised by the All India Bakchod (AIB) group of comedians with Bollywood stars Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor, the Catholic community was upset. In its response, AIB wrote:

It may be relevant to mention here that during our interaction with the archdiocese, both parties agreed on another important thing; these matters are best solved by frank, patient conversation, not by pointless rabble-rousing or politicization or by taking up adversarial positions for the sake of eyeballs.

Till just the other day, they and their cheerleaders were talking about the right to offend and how terrible it is to be touchy. It is quite obvious that this new-found need not to grab eyeballs is a result of some chastisement from those with hurt sentiments over jocular mentions of the virgin birth and altar boys. If all expression is to rely on seeking permission, then quit the grandstanding about breaking the mould and feeding the unpalatable truth.

Nothing exposes the hypocrisy of a society better than how it treats freedom — its own versus that of others. It is invariably about Us vs Them and it does not matter if Us agrees to apologies to Them.  It was anyway about a selective sense of outrage where one version of the outrageous was okay.

Professional liberals who spend their waking moments trying to be politically correct are holding a candle for all that is politically incorrect and offensive. When AIB took down its YouTube video, there was more breast-beating. It would not do well to highlight that the organisation had said they were not threatened and they were only being pragmatic.

The first complaint was from the president of a Hindu sounding organisation, which said:

"The show, which can be seen on YouTube and other websites, was extremely abusive and it is not only ruining the clean image of the Indian culture & women, but is also misleading today's youth."

This business about the clean image of Indian culture is ludicrous, because culture is certainly not the moral prism of one group.

However, the posting of pictures of ancient art in response to this does not serve to make any cogent point. If we do not wish to wind the clock back, why use the examples of temple sculpture? At the very basic level, those sculptures were supposed to be a celebration of the body and sexuality. The Roast was about insulting these. The jokes were the sort most people are done with by the time they've finished college. So, the content was not a surprise, although there was an attempt to promote it as bold and shocking.

The reason I don't have a problem with jibes at girth, sexuality, colour is because nothing should be sacred if everything goes. The debate on freedom of speech has impeded what should be a more serious discussion about 'taking it'.

We had two young Bollywood actors seemingly being sporting about the digs at them. I say seemingly because the jokes were already vetted by them. They knew what was coming, so they were prepared with their spontaneous jollity. In the event, one wonders just how accommodating they were and whether vetting itself is not a form of censorship.

In the event, director Karan Johar's sexual orientation being discussed was not a surprise to anyone, including him. His social career is pretty much about it. His adding nuggets about his favoured position just made him more accessible to the posh crowd that usually likes to fake liberalism.

If his sexual preferences were so normal to them, why would there be the awkward guffawing as though it is not? Karan Johar revels in being the lonely guy despite a hectic public life, so all of the jokes played according to script.

Similarly, why would a Ranveer Singh, who does not have too many hits to his credit, mind if he is portrayed as a playboy? Or why would an Arjun Kapoor who is typecast be bothered about references to it when that is how Bollywood gives you a niche? These are all safe areas.

Yet you have people talking about how the show pushed the envelope, when all it did was get some 4000 people, many friends and families of those participating, to buy tickets that cost Rs 4000 and laugh publicly at old jokes they've laughed over privately. The money collected would go to charity, which immediately gives all elite liberals an opportunity to make a conscience argument.

The organisers had already expressed concerns about backlash, not just from the political class but the industry. How come nobody questioned probable pressure from the latter?

It is rather obvious that much of FoE in these instances is about the right to air inside jokes. Add to it is the belief that these would never be seen as vulgar. They run down folk humour that uses lewd language and double entendre, but expect different standards if these are in English.

Would liberals enjoy being the butt of a Roast? How about the TV anchors and martyr editors of mainstream media who stand up for such freedom — wouldn't it be nice to see them as the subject of a good Roast?

The fact is they would not like it one bit, and might try to scotch it in their own patented devious ways. The "if you don't like it, don't read/listen/watch" argument gets a bit tiring and fake, especially if the urbane talk about shutting down an Astha channel and how the media should not entertain discussions on ayurveda.

This should tell us that freedom is not the fiefdom only of those who talk about it in a socially incestuous setting. They cannot have a problem with others objecting because freedom also means the right of others to object. 


RIP ISIS – Rot In Purgatory

We seem to have become numb to the dehumanising methods of the ISIS. The response to the Jordanian pilot burned to death has been that is the worst. Is their cruelty to be judged on the basis on degree?

The fake Caliphate is well-organised and the killings are their calling card; they have nothing else to show by way of commitment. When we start comparing the different methods they adopt, it ends up as a stimulus for them to provide more and varied instances of what they can do.

They are adopting the modus of the Middle Ages simply because they claim to want to turn back the clock. Each time they are shown their regressive face, it is a victory for them. Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh was taken hostage while on a US-led coalition mission against the ISIS in Syria. They demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi suicide bomber now facing trial in Jordan. There are political analysts who believe that if Jordan sends her to the gallows it would amount to revenge, which isn’t any good. She has been on death row for a while for the attacks that killed 60 people in Amman in 2005. So their logic makes little sense.

The matter of concern here is that she was not a bargaining point at all. Kasasbeh was killed a month ago; it is only the video that has surfaced now. The ISIS is therefore not only brutal, but also vicious. They do not stand for anything, other than a temporary belief in their infallibility.

The response to their actions is often disturbing. Invariably, the victim’s moral prism is exhibited, when that is never a point of dispute. However, it does convey all sorts of messages. How does it matter that he was a devout Muslim? Does it mean that one who is not devout, or not a Muslim, does have some kind of naturally probable victim license in our neatly-arranged conscience? We may RIP the victims, but it should really be RIP ISIS. They need to rot in purgatory. 

I have read comments about how burning is anti-Islamic. Those who argue that ISIS is not Islamic lose a lot of ground with such careless statement that indirectly suggest that perhaps beheading is halal. There are also some comments about how burning alive is prevalent in India for honour killing and dowry. Why do we remember it only now? All crimes committed by terrorists exist in society, so trying to find an opportune equivalence is not only naive but designed to show selective liberalism. 

Burning at the stake was a practice prevalent in France in the 14th century, primarily for heresy/blasphemy. The ISIS has no locus standi to even judge, but even if they were Kasasbeh cannot be accused of it. It is the arrogance of the ISIS and its belief in its own godliness that needs to be weeded out. Meanwhile Barack Obama has got an opportunity to state: 

"I think it will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of the global coalition to make sure they are degraded and ultimately defeated.”

Degraded it a typically moral term. It is this that leads the Japanese to refer to the hostages from their country as “another 9/11”.  Has not Japan been through horrific terror in its history? Why does all contemporary terrorism need to be legitimised by the United States of America?

After the beheading of Kenji Goto, an old tweet of his from 2010 went viral:

 “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”

The ISIS is not choosing victims who need to be taught a lesson, so emphasising their humaneness is a non-sequiter.  And how does one know about the humaneness of the hostages who do not have much of a visible presence, like say Haruna Yukawa the other Japanese who was beheaded before Kenji?

The public space will once again thrown up a few fake moderate Muslims battling biting cold in fireplace rooms who will post #notinmyname tweets to fight the imminent threat ISIS poses to their cocooned world.