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August - September 2006


IFBM Seminar at Mumtaz restaurant, London

Mumtaz restaurant in the West End was the venue for an interesting seminar organised by the Indian Forum on British Media. The subject was "Freedom of Press and Religious Sensitivities - Is there a dividing line?"

Lord Navnit Dholakia and Sir Ghulam Noon

The meeting was addressed among others by Lord Navnit Dholakia, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Baroness Sandeep Varma, Aline Dobbie, a noted travel writer on India and Robert Evans, Member of European Parliament.

President of the Forum, Mr. Krishan Ralleigh, introduced the panel of speakers to the audience. He requested Lord Navnit Dholakia, a patron of the Forum to chair the panel of distinguished speakers.
Mrs. Aline Dobbie, giving the instances of South Africa and Northern Ireland, pointed out that racism and religious bigotry are also evil destructive forces which has to be combated by a free press.

“Religious sensitivity is something we should all be aware of certainly; but my overall feeling is that the Press should be able to write about all religions but with some care and never in ridicule,” said Aline. She pointed out that those who are truly benevolent and godly will have nothing to fear; but those who would use a religion in a fantical zeal, threatening aggression or domination (including gender subjugation) are disguising their pursuit for power and control under the cloak of spiritual and pilosophical piety. Most ordinary good folk anywhere in the world want to look to their spiritual beliefs for comfort and strength not as a vengeful destroyer. “Theocracies”, said Aline Dobbie, “intent on punitive frightening control should not be condoned by any of us anywhere in the world; nor should political correctness be allowed to obscure truth here in Britain.”

Mr. Bhupendra Gandhi, India Link’s special correspondent, writes:
It was a pleasure and a privilege to attend the seminar on “Freedom of Press and Religious Sensitivities” at the prestigious Restaurant in Baker Street. Not only the subject matter was most appropriate but the speakers, on most part were excellent, with good grasp of the subject matter.
However one glaring omission, a dire deficiency picked up by most intelligent and dedicated listeners in the audience was that practically every speaker concentrated on the conflict, lack of understanding between the European media and Islam, the Muslim people, ignoring the conflict between the Press and other ethnic minorities, notably Hindus and Sikhs.

The subject matter these speakers raised, they drew our attention was the cartoons the Danish newspaper published on Prophet Mohammed which hurt the feelings of not only Muslims but every decent human being, especially among the ethnic minorities, whether they were Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs. They also picked up the ban on wearing hijabs, the traditional way Muslim women and girls cover their heads.

This was included in the blanket ban imposed on all religious symbols, whether it is a large cross, the Sikh turban or the traditional Jewish caps. But one can not help feeling that it was primarily targeted against Muslims, under the guise of preserving secularism, in line with the French tradition of secularism. In a way we have to admire that a predominantly Catholic country would like to keep religion out of their every day life. We can not imagine such a dictate in a predominantly Muslim country.

One notable exception was, as usual Sir Gulam K. Noon who was the seventh and the last speaker. He not only raised the subject, picked up and commented on the unsavoury, loathsome and nauseating activities of Mr. Fida Maqbool Hussain but also praised the measured, dignified response from the Hindu community, as this protest did not hurt any one, did not alienate any community and above all it did not lose the Hindu community the support of the majority of the indigenous people.

It was in sharp contrast to the first demonstration by a tiny faction of the Muslim community against the publication of the offending cartoons. The placards, slogans on display were so offending to the ordinary people that it prompted the police to act, although all British papers went out of their way not to print those offending cartoons in our national papers when they were reprinted all over Europe.
Lord Navnit Dholakia who was in the Chair, picked up this point and also commented on the play Beshti, that offended so many Sikhs, as Gurudwara, Sikh worshipping place, was used as a setting for some of the offending, sexual scenes that would hurt any one’s feelings, whether one is religious or not.

M.F. Husain’s exploitation of bestial, pornographic and sensuous sentiments compounded by denigrating Hindu religious icons is based on the simple financial greed, irrespective of hurt, pain and anger it may cause to one billion docile and amenable Hindus worldwide.

The sentiment of every Hindu is that would Mr Hussain ever dare to paint figures from other religions, especially his own religion Islam. Well, he is too sensible to commit suicide?

But why blame Mr Hussain solely! Our so-called intellectuals, unelected Lords and even officials from the Indian High Commission are willing to be a party to such hypocrisy, all in the name of secularism and art. But religious insults have no place in art, culture, literature or politics.
One can not appreciate other culture, religion and tradition if one does not have faith, love and understanding of one’s own religion. Charity begins at home for most of us.

I am sure I will get a good response from the intellectual readers of this prestigious magazine India Link.

HS Rao PTI representative in London adds: Sir G.K. Noon in his contribution to the seminar observed that most Imams are very good, Sir Gulam Noon, a noted NRI industrialist has said that Islam has been hijacked by some Mullahs who are crack pots. "As a Muslim, I feel strongly about terrorism.  This is not done by Muslims.  It is done by terrorists and terrorists have no religion," he said adding the British Government has also to shoulder responsibility as it has failed to take action against Imams like Abu Hamza who have been spitting fire openly.

     "The trouble is Islam has been hijacked by Mullahs or Imams.  Most of them are very good but some of them are crackpots,"     

Sir Noon emphasized the need for every religious person to respect other religions.  "You can not justify your religion unless you respect others' religious sensitivities," he said.

Asking the government not to be lenient with terrorists, Sir Noon said all terrorists arrested should be sent back to the country of their origin.  "Here in the prisons they are provided with clean drinking water, clean clothes and halal food and they are happy.  Ideal thing is that they should be sent back to the country of their origin. If you parcel 50 such mischievous people, others will get a clear message," he said, adding "we as a citizen should be loyal to the country.  It does not mean we are less loyal to the country of our origin."

     Lord Dholakia described Sir Noon as "a proud son of India" and said he practised what he preached. He said the newspapers and media in Britain reflected what this country wanted.

    Krishan Ralleigh, President of the Indian Forum on British Media described Sir Noon as a multi-faceted personality and said "we are very proud of what he has done to the community."  He said Sir Noon should have been a member of the House of Lords long ago for his services to the Asian business community.

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