Here’s a quite remarkable story. In India, a 32-year-old man posted a pro-Palestine image and a comment on his Facebook page. It resulted in his arrest by the police. Oh, and the man’s name: Yasser Arafat.
I kid you not. This is not a cheesy story but a true, and truly tragic tale about the limits imposed on language and thought.
It also, incidentally, reveals what it means to be a member of the minority Muslim community in India today and how difficult it is to express an opinion that goes against that of the loud, pro-Israeli, muscular Hindu nationalist majority.
Click here to read The Wire’s piece on what really happened to Mr Arafat. But if you don’t, here are the highlights.
Mr Arafat is described as a citizen journalist in a small town in north India. He lives in a district called Azamgarh and runs a Facebook page called Azamgarh Express. Mostly, it carries local news and his own views. The page has 17 million followers.
On May 19, Mr Arafat put up a post, which said that in Gaza on Friday, every house and every vehicle would fly the Palestinian flag. Some of his readers took that to mean Mr Arafat was asking every Muslim in Azamgarh to fly the Palestinian flag at home and on their vehicles on the coming Friday. Mr Arafat quickly clarified that he meant nothing of the sort but pro-Israel trolls continued to ask why Mr Arafat wanted his Indian readers to raise another country’s flag. Within hours of this, the police arrested Mr Arafat. He was bailed out the next day and is now catatonic with shock.
The police say Mr Arafat was arrested because he had “indulged in public mischief” and managed to set off “communal tension”. But they don’t explain why they did nothing about those who gave Mr Arafat’s post a communal tinge and created those tensions.
Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, who wrote the book‘Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us’, recently noted on Persuasion: “Taking stock of our public sphere today is a sobering exercise. Righteous indignation abounds. Everyone shouts; no one listens. The sides share one trait: the conviction that they are absolutely right and their enemies are stupid, misguided, or evil. Perhaps worst of all, their certainty makes facts irrelevant: No evidence could possibly persuade them that they are mistaken.” Mr Morson is the Lawrence B. Dumas Professor of the Arts and Humanities and a professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Northwestern University, where Morton Schapiro is president and a professor of economics.
By limiting language you limit thought. It is a shock to see the sad reality of bigotry in multiple incidents big and small in India today.