What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
These words by Salman Rushdie should have been taken a bit too much seriously by some people, especially Manish Harijan, who is now very famous for offending sensitive communities via his artistic expressions. And now that he received death threats, his supporters protested with their lips sealed with tape, hands handcuffed and raised, demanding his safety and fostering his freedom of expression.
Harijan boldly displayed his artwork which consisted of paintings of various Hindu deities blended into images of western superheroes. What he claimed to want to prove was the influence of the West in our lives. But what he ended up doing defamed him, brought him accusation of blasphemy and reflected our vulnerability to sensitive issues like these at the time when some in the nation had just almost finished dealing with the Buddha imprinted shoes.
While Harijan and his supporters do have a soft place for artists and their freedom to express, many apparently still do not. More often than not, people have been criticizing him. His supporters should indeed know that if even a personality like MF Hussain was exiled from his country for similar reasons, what Harijan did has left an open debate about the credibility of his death threats. However, thanks to liberal minds, he needn’t face what Hussain did.
Another burning example could be the protests and demonstrations after ‘Innocence of Muslims’ all around the world. The killing of US ambassador in Libya, destruction of US properties in other countries like Pakistan and Iraq and similar instances show immediately how people are sensitive when it comes to religion. Religion is a very fragile issue and expressers have to refrain from treating it harshly. However, working to eradicate bad traditions via expressing concern in writings, paintings and cinemas is a must. This, as the only step to reform, has always remained a successful strategy.
On another note, freedom of expression has indeed played a pivotal role in development, be it on social networking sites or otherwise. Stories of rulers overthrown with protests and demonstrations aren’t unheard of. Women in conservative countries have been rebelling and posting their videos, and this has indeed helped laws to reform, or at the least has helped the authorities be aware of slowly coming changes. Keeping this in mind, one should know how to use it and not violate it. Part of “being free” includes being responsible. Being responsible includes making choices. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do something. Or if you have to do it, you should do it with care.
Lastly, what Salman Rushdie said and implied has resulted in a fatwa on him, and looking from my point of view, that isn’t a very impressive situation to be in.