Some ideas are so stupid, George Orwell wrote, that only intellectuals believe them. Azaadi, as promoted by Afzal Guru and feverishly chanted by his followers, is one such idea. The folks who passionately peddle such delectables as liberty and equality have curiously overlooked the content of azaadi that Guru, S.A.R. Gilani, and their separatist comrades want in Jammu & Kashmir.
The perversion of the public discourse in our country has resulted in, among other things, shocking violence against language. So, the word ‘azaadi,’ literally meaning freedom, has been hollowed out and stuffed with everything that is the antithesis of liberty—the Islamist ideology. For Guru owed allegiance to Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist organization which has been designated as a terrorist body by the UN and several nations, including India, Australia, Canada, the UAE, the UK, and the US.
The organization believes in Islamic supremacy, to be implemented by way of Shariah. It openly stands for the dehumanization of women and subjugation of non-Muslims. This was what the great freedom fighter Afzal Guru stood for; this was the azaadi he wanted to herald in Kashmir.
Such azaadi is already ‘enjoyed’ by the peoples of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State, and other places where fundamentalists are dominant. Freedom House, a US government-funded non-governmental organization (NGO), said in its 2015 report, “Saudi Arabia tightened restrictions on dissent and freedom of speech in 2014, and intensified criminal penalties for religious beliefs that veer too far from official state orthodoxy. A sweeping 2013 ‘antiterrorism’ law took effect in February, enabling authorities to press terrorism charges against anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption, or otherwise engages in dissent. A royal decree in April penalized atheism with up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Making use of these and other laws, authorities continued to crack down on dissidents, human rights defenders, artists, and journalists.”
The IS provides even greater azaadi; they don’t even need any legislation and decrees to have their way; they just slaughter anybody they don’t like!
There is not much relief in other Middle Eastern nations either. For instance, if you mock Jordan’s monarch, you are liable to face a criminal prosecution. Other countries, including Iran and Syria, have Gestapo-like bodies, incessantly prying into the lives of people. The Economist reported last month about the “large numbers of security agents who listen in to private conversations on the street or in the market, and use reports from informers who shop their neighbors for badmouthing the regime. Taxi drivers can earn handsome supplements by filing reports on their customers. Only at the dentist, runs a popular Arabic joke, is it safe to open your mouth.”
Government control over the media, arts, cinema, culture, etc., is almost total in the Middle East. In its 2014 report, the watchdog for press freedom, Reporters Without Borders, ranked the war-torn Syria 177th in the list of 180 countries. Other countries from the region didn’t do much better; Iran was at 173rd, Sudan 172nd, Yemen 167th, and Saudi Arabia 164th.
Freedom or azaadi of religion also soars in the truly Afzal Guru style in Muslim countries. In Saudi Arabia, all citizens are required by law to be Muslims. The public practice of any non-Islamic religion is barred; even Shiite and Sufi Muslim minority denominations face restrictions. The Shiite can’t build mosques.
According to the Pew Research Centre, in 14 of 20 Middle Eastern countries apostasy is a crime. In fact, Muslims all over the world have very strong views on leaving Islam. A CNN survey last year found that most Muslims favored “the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.” The numbers were depressing: 88 per cent in Egypt, 83 per cent Jordan, 79 per cent Afghan Muslims, 75 per cent Pakistani Muslims, 62 per cent in the Palestinian Territories.
The azaadi Guru favors has been shorn off all its etymology. Or, perhaps, an Orwellian twist has transmogrified it into its opposite. So, in Guru’s scheme of things, azaadi is slavery. And his admirers are the sheep, tirelessly crying for azaadi.