Welcome, the New Muslim

BY Dasu Krishnamoorty| IN Media Practice | 31/10/2007
Even as Tehelka revives Gujarat 2002, winds of change are sweeping the Muslim community that need media attention. The Hindustan Times has been running a series celebrating the arrival of the New Muslim who abhors Sachar crutches or government doles.
DASU KRISHNAMOORTY welcomes the change.



The Muslims are always in the news. They figure either as practitioners of a faith or as people in love with bomb culture. There is hardly any news about Muslims who have achieved, who have arrived or are doing their best to join the achievers. They are always victims who seem to win redress only by setting a train ablaze or planting bombs in crowded metros. Portraying them negatively as either terrorism-prone or victims of communalism stifles initiative and imprisons them in an eternal state of grievance and hatred.


However, winds of change are sweeping the Muslim community that need media attention. The Hindustan Times has been running a series celebrating the arrival of The New Muslim who abhors Sachar crutches or government doles and who is not swayed by slogans of victimization and discrimination. He/she is driven by faith in self-help and self-reform. The story of Daud Sharifa Khanum in Pudukkotai narrates the struggle for separate and independent space for Muslim women while Samina and Zamina from the Mumbai chawl fight clerics to nail the lie that Islam forbids women¿s education.


As Zafar Sareshwala tells Neelesh Mishra the Muslims need to get out of their victim-centric mentality. A lot of good-intentioned media coverage has been not to put the Muslims on the road to self-help and enterprise but unintentionally to help a few political parties to strut about as Muslim saviors. A report yesterday about the National Minorities Commission says that Godhra aftermath has left ¿too deep a wound¿ in Gujarat and healing it has to be ¿visible¿ in view of the scars left by the communal violence. How many times do we remind the minority community about Gujarat? Do such reiterations help the Muslims in any way except encourage them to wallow in self-pity and inertia?


The success story of Punjabi partition refugees must be a lesson in self-rehabilitation and reconstruction for Muslims. The Sikhs have overcome even the post-Indira Gandhi killings and resurrected their normal dynamism. In the midst of unrest, Srinagar software man Mehraz Gulzar shows by personal example that The New Muslim is becoming more career focused as evident from Shagufta Rafique¿s transformation from a bar singer to a scriptwriter. The stories now appearing about Gujarat and the attempts to revive memories are unabashed political exercises staged with an eye more on Gujarat elections than on the welfare of Muslims. Media sob stories do not take the Muslim anywhere.


The country needs journalists like Sayeed Naqvi (remember his TV series on Hindu-Muslim unity) and M.J.Akbar and not editors in search of international laurels. I have been in active journalism since 1950 and can say that the media have always been minority-friendly even in the early days of partition. I appeal to secularism-obsessed editors to read the series of articles Frank Moraes wrote on communal riots in an earlier era. The Hoot should unearth them from the Nehru Memorial Library and re-publish them as guidelines for reporting in times of conflict.


¿It does not take a second to destroy the confidence, but building it takes years,¿ says Mohammed Shafi Qureshi, chairman of the National Minorities Commission. He is right there. This has been the refrain of several articles I wrote for the Hoot. Sting operations do not help this confidence-building process. If it is justice that these good Samaritans are talking about, I want to remind them that the justice system has not collapsed in India and that it is the judiciary which transferred hundreds of cases out of Gujarat, which sent Zaheera Sheikh to jail, which acquitted Delhi lecturer Geelani, which passed strictures against the Gujarat administration and which has handed life terms to eight arsonists in Gujarat yesterday.


The continued media schmaltz makes the Muslim more a problem than an issue. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. To all those who think the Muslims are more backward than others (as the Sachar report suggests) I ask them to read Sainath¿s reports documenting the story of poverty, illiteracy, backwardness and exploitation that is true of all communities, not Muslims alone. The problems that confronted Muslims in HT stories confront other communities too. The HT coverage points to what is possible and what is desirable.


The temptation to talk about injustice to Muslims befits vote-seeking politicians and not the media. I appeal to media to stop reviving memories of communal conflict just to demonstrate their secular credentials. The victims of such reporting are again Muslims only. The Muslims need help and not sympathy. The wise among them are grabbing opportunities available to them in a burgeoning economy, are learning English like the students in the Al Munim Islamic English school in the HT story, and doing in short what everyone else is doing to come up in life without breaking law. Help them.


Basically, the Indian people are secular in the real sense. It is that trait that has helped the Madhubalas and the Meena Kumaris, the Khan tribe to dominate the Indian film industry, the Azharuddins and Nawab of Pataudis to skipper Indian teams, three Muslims to become presidents of the republic, Bismillah Khans and Parveen Sultanas to rule the world of Indian music, not to speak of M.F.Hussains, Sania Mirzas, Salim Alis and Azim Premjis and scores of other Muslim luminaries. This is the general trend occasionally marred by communal conflict. It is the duty of the media to strengthen this constituency of The New Muslim.


The HT stories, however, betray poor editorial briefing. The reporters, most of them non-Muslims, were too deferential to ask the interviewees questions about their emphasis on religiosity. Samar Halarnkar, like Jyoti Punwani who went into raptures at the sight of a Hindu woman wearing a hijab, does not think it is odd to ask non-Muslim women to come to work in hijab. Such reticence comes from a subconscious perception that they are different from us. Anyway, the anticlimax is that The New Muslim is not new. He has always been there, undiscovered by the Rip van Winkles of the media. Welcome him/her.   




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