What is Hate Speech and What is Not: Shehla Rashid

Shehla Rashid’s long post on her facebook wall which we thought must be read widely.

What is hate speech? What hate speech is not.

A few years ago, a prominent (upper-caste Hindu woman) journalist tweeted: “Ram was an asshole”, referring to Lord Ram’s treatment of Sita, of having suspected her chastity, etc. Immediately, she was castigated, endlessly abused by right-wing Hindutvawadi trolls, branded as a whore of Pakistanis, issued rape threats, etc. They said she engaged in hate speech. She might have hurt sentiments of Ram’s supporters, sure, but it was not “hate speech”, in the strict sense of the term. All progressives stood by the journalist unflinchingly, upholding her right to offend.

Obviously, the trolls would not appreciate that what THEY were engaging in was actual hate speech against a living woman (not against a dead religious figure). We know that hate speech against women or sexual minorities is never recognised as hate speech at all, and is totally justified as a punishment for hurting “religious sentiments” — because, religious sentiments are the only “sentiments” that exist; women, sexual minorities, transgenders, disabled, etc. do not have sentiments and can be abused at will!! 

Now, did she really engage in hate speech against Hindus?

I have a few thoughts and a limited point to make about this- limited, because I’m not giving away my dissertation topic in this post itself! Contrary to what Bhakts say, I do study 😀

1) Hateful speech is not necessarily hate speech. There’s a distinction. Example: 

“I hate Modi.” — it can be termed as hateful, but it does not technically qualify as hate speech, because there is no imminent threat of violence.

“I hate Modi, therefore Modi should be beheaded/killed for a reward.” — in front of an audience of 10,000 who are holding swords outside Modi’s house — qualifies as hate speech.

2) Hatred for a certain religious figure is not necessarily hate speech. It can be blasphemy, but not necessarily hate speech, unless said in a context where imminent violence based on the statement is a real possibility. Example:

“Ram was an asshole.” ≠ hate speech.

“Mohammed was a pedophile.” ≠ hate speech.

“Mohammed was a rapist, so all Muslims are rapist.” = hate speech. [incitement to discrimination]

“Is katuey ko hamare hawale kardo; isko subah tak gayab kar dete hain.”, said by those who assaulted Najeeb, in presence of a crazed mob of over 40 ABVP goons = hate speech.

“Gay people should be killed, because a book says so.” = hate speech.

“Kashmiris are pigs and should be bombed en masse.” = hate speech.

“All Hindus living in Lahore should be killed.” = hate speech. [incitement to violence in a context where violence based on the statement is imminent]

“Muslims living in India are haramzade.” = hate speech. [incitement to discrimination in a context where discrimination based on the statement is imminent, and already present]

“This Muslim bitch should be raped.” = hate speech [incitement to violence in a society where majority of the women women are in real danger of being raped, & Muslim women are likely to be raped during a riot-like situation.]

3) Can historical figures who lived in the past be evaluated in terms of principles that we cherish today? Now, my position on the subject is YES. We must be free to evaluate how colonialists, conquerors, religious figures, reformers like Marx, Bhagat Singh, Vivekananda and Ambedkar, did on certain counts. If we are free to praise, we must also be free to criticise. We should be able to evaluate Akbar’s secularism as well as his feudalism, just as we can evaluate Hitler or Curzon or Churchill. We must be able to evaluate the imaginative skill of an emperor just as freely as we are free to condemn how he chopped off the hands of his workers. 

However, if your position on No. 3) is NO, then please stick to it in a consistent manner. But don’t switch sides based on convenience. If we are free to ask savarna feminists to criticise the Hindu religion and caste system and Hindu religious figures, we can also ask “Islamic” feminists to criticise Muslim history and ideology in the same manner. Either none or both. Be consistent.

4) The question of “respect” — We should generally practise respect and restraint and not say extreme things, that’s my normative position on the subject! However, you cannot demand respect for your religion, while conveniently disrespecting other religions/religious ideologies. It’s just sheer hypocrisy. If you demand respect for your religion, then please also stand by women who are abused by followers of your religion.
More than gods, people deserve “respect”.

Gods can protect themselves, but people, women, authors/artists, critics of religion, are defenseless in the face of hate speech and have to face actual violence (which gods do not have to face).

If you think MF Hussain should not have been hounded out of the country, then please also stand by Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie.

If you believe that the journalist (mentioned at the beginning of the post) was right in saying “Ram was an asshole”, then please also respect the right of others to suggest that Mohammed was feudal, etc. or whatever.

Don’t hide your religious superiority complex or bigotry in the guise of third-wave feminism. I do understand how Muslims are a minority and Hindus are a majority, and the respective power equations between the two communities. However, do not use this to simply outlaw discussions of patriarchy in Islam. It doesn’t help. Because if you understand “power” and “hierarchy”, then please also understand that it exists in its starkest form between men and women.

We oppose Modi, not because we are Muslims, but because we are Marxist, Ambedkarite, feminist.

Those who shield the religious bigots in the name of being progressive, please don’t patronise us Muslims as being touchy and not capable of criticism or of handling criticism. We are quite capable of it.

In my humble opinion!

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