Mockery of Ideals — the "west" does it time and again!

The West, especially Britain, has been campaigning for its human values across the world for centuries. As 'Rome was not built in a day’, the ideals that earned the United Kingdom a place as champion of freedom of speech and expression, too were also not established in a day or a year. Without going into the liking or disliking of people in the East, some Western countries have openly supported controversial people like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin in the recent past on grounds of protecting freedom of expression.

Mumbai-based physician Dr Zakir Naik has been recently denied entry clearance by the British Home Secretary. It should have been a normal affair as thousands of Indians including Muslim scholars, professionals and tourists are daily denied or awarded visas for entering Europe or America. But this case was exceptional.

The decision taken by the British Home Secretary has opened the floodgates of a public debate on e-groups, social networking sites, blogs and even attracted mainstream media. More so, on 22 June, at least 40 Muslim organizations in Mumbai agitated against the British decision and showed sympathy to Naik.

Dr. Naik is a self-styled Muslim debator with the distinction of preaching in English and wearing western attire with a white skull cap. He is a controversial figure in the Indian Subcontinent as in the west. A majority of Muslims across Europe, America, Africa and Asia do not endorse his style of preaching or his understanding of Islamic principles. But he has developed his own world - a mixture of corporate glitter and Islamic preaching trough his Peace TV and costly public programmes in big cities across the world. As a result, he has a handsome following across all the globe.

One may agree or disagree with Dr. Naik, but he has full right to express his opinion. Your freedom must not impinge upon my freedom is a civilized and agreed way forward for all- the weak and the strong, the West and the East. What we observed in recent incidents in the West is that Western countries have gone too far in awarding freedom of expression to individuals who hurt sentiments of millions of people across the world including their fellow countrymen. Prophet Muhammad’s cartoon, Fitna – the movie, abusing and banning Muslim women's dress, minarets etc, just to name a few are current history. All were encouraged and even earned the prestigious ‘knighthood’ in the name of freedom of expression and upholding ‘Western Ideals’.

Zakir Naik is a public figure; he is not a terrorist nor does he justify terror as falsely claimed by his detractors. By excluding Dr. Naik from the UK, the country has helped the victim earn enormous popularity among all Muslims cutting across sectarian lines. Jamiat Ulam-e Hind, otherwise a critic of the self-styled preacher, has put aside differences and shown open sympathy towards Dr. Naik and participated in the rally at Azad Maidan.

The British Home Secretary Ms. May’s decision caused irreparable damage to the Western ‘ideals’. UK is on the receiving end. Every man may not shout slogans but modern man does differentiate between ‘enduring freedom’ and practicing freedom.

Salman Rushdie has been criticized by a majority of the world Muslims but he has his own following as a writer. Similarly Dr. Naik earned both critics and fans among Muslim as well as non-Muslims. One fails to understand why the same Britain is using different yardstick while dealing with her ‘ideals’ — freedom of speech for some and denial of speech for others. Or is it the West only believes in the freedom of speech which suits its interests and all the claims it makes about ‘Western values’ are just hollow. The West is growing extra cautious towards normal things. And extra defensiveness symbolizes weakness.

The author is editor of Mumbai’s Eastern Crescent magazine.