To paraphrase the great pornographer and founder of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt, (for I am not, for the sake of decency and censorship, allowed to quote him): “Opinions are like rectums. Everybody has one.”
Is that the beauty of life, or an ugly truth? That, I suppose, is a matter of opinion.
This piece comes as a subsequent reaction to having lived a life disagreeing with people, with and without logic, and also having worked at a newspaper for what I, in my opinion you see, deem to be a significant enough amount time.
The public’s latest vitriol was aimed at a piece that was recently published in the Dhaka Tribune on October 19, titled “The truth behind the puja pictures.”
Before having read the piece, I had no idea of these “puja pictures” which had stormed social media, each revealing some visually eloquent example of religious harmony. The writer’s argument that, while “Hindu brothers” welcome Muslims into their temples with open arms, mosques aren’t as welcoming of Hindus into their fold, is one that I felt was flawed, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
It struck quite the negative chord with the audience, however. Comments erupted underneath the online portal’s Facbeook box, with a plethora of reasons as to why the article, to quote one such commentator, was “absolutely nonsensical.”
Some had problems with its anti-Islamic tone. Some found the logic to be unfounded. And some, and this is what I want to hone in on, blamed the Dhaka Tribune for continuing its tradition of “aiming for a sucker punch on Islam and Muslims.”
Is this what the paper was doing? Promoting anti-Islamic rhetoric?
A few weeks ago, over the course of the Eid-ul-Azha holidays, a piece was published regarding the role of women in Islam. To say it was controversial amongst Dhaka’s more liberal elite would be an understatement.
Just because an opinion isn’t aired on a public platform, that doesn’t mean that the opinion has ceased to exist. And in this age of social media, every opinion has a platform, whether we like it or not. It’s no national daily, sure, but it’s a platform nonetheless
But, first, though, a little summary: The piece interpreted Islam in such a way as to assign roles for each of the genders. Women, who were weaker and more homely (his paraphrased words, not mine), were of course more fit for household work and taking care of children.
And for men, stronger and comprising other such masculine characteristics, it would make much more sense to be the breadwinners, the not-at-home workers.
Chauvinistic of the highest order? Perhaps (or must I shout back with a “definitely” of conviction to appease the masses?). But the reaction of this particular group of people was volcanic. Erupted from the ashes of this long-forgotten piece a narrative of “how dare they!”
How dare they print a piece that pigeonholes women and men into separate roles, like society has done for ages. How dare they print an opinion piece in the goshdarn “Opinion” section.
How dare they print an opinion that does not agree with what he should be thinking, as opposed to an opinion that he has possibly accumulated over the course of a lifetime of influences, teachings, meditative thought processes, of trying, perhaps in vain, to coalesce the ideas of religious teachings and progressive thought.
This is about the time one must interject with a caveat: The opinions expressed in this piece are purely of the author and does not reflect the views of the newspaper. If you were, in fact, wondering what expresses the opinion of the newspaper, check out the Editorial page.
Another caveat: I do not, personally, have to agree with what either of these authors wrote. I do not, for example, believe that women were created to serve a very specific purpose, or that mosques not welcoming Hindus is a sign of double standards amongst the Bangladeshi Muslim community (I know that it doesn’t work both ways, but that I think has more to do with the way each religion celebrates).
But opinions are opinions. And people will have them. As a reader of a newspaper, I welcome conflicting opinions, opinions from both extremes of the spectrum.
Now, you argue, for instance: Would newspapers in the country print an opinion piece written by, say, a terrorist organisation such as AQIS, calling for the beheadings of apostates and blasphemous individuals? Where would you draw the line?
That is an interesting question for which, unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. But, just because an opinion isn’t aired on a public platform, that doesn’t mean that the opinion has ceased to exist.
And in this age of social media, every opinion has a platform, whether we like it or not. It’s no national daily, sure, but it’s a platform nonetheless.
And there is also the fear that when opinions such as these are spread, even if most reject its notions as being inane and logically unsound, someone out there might be influenced by it enough to form similar opinions for themselves.
But, under a free press, if we believe in free expression, that is a risk we should be willing to take.
Of course, some of these opinions come from individuals who wouldn’t be endowing us with the luxury of freedom of expression if they had anything to do with it, but are we vengeful enough to do the same to them? Wouldn’t that make us just as bad?
If you disagree, say it, write about it, talk about it, tear the as-of-yet-untested logic of my argument to shreds. As long as you are able to, one can rest with the knowledge that a voice hasn’t been silenced.
After all, that’s an opinion. And it must be allowed to see the light of day.
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.