(A satire based on Eck-Swami samvāda)
Setting: A high-security prison in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Protagonists: Michael Witzel, Veena Malik, Subramanian Swamy, and Diana Eck.
The last few weeks had been tumultuous. Neither Subramanian Swamy nor Diana Eck had ever imagined in their wildest dreams that they would share a prison cell in Saudi Arabia. The sight of a Caucasian mullah with a German accent and a tantalizingly curvy but lachrymose lady which they had encountered in the mullah’s court yesterday was even more bizarre. It all had begun on a triumphant note, at least for Eck, a few months ago.
“Swamy cannot teach his summer courses at Harvard,” thundered Eck in the hallowed halls of Harvard, on a cold December afternoon. “His article has crossed the line.” She repeated, enunciating this time, “The Line.” “He has demonized the entire Muslim community.”
“I have not read the article. Has anyone here read it?” asked a Caucasian male professor.
Sugata Bose could not believe what the imbecile had just said, and mockingly asked, “Wait, you are not asking us to honor that piece of shit by reading it, are you?” The applause from the assembled professors made Bose almost bashful. He was impeccably well-mannered like Gunga Din and acknowledged the applause with a gentle nod of his head. His secular credentials were never suspect, and his was considered a secular family. His Pakistani wife, Ayesha Jalal, when denied a tenure at Columbia a few years ago, alleged that she had been denied the tenure by the ugly Hindu male teachers at Columbia, thereby confirming that Sugata is either handsome or he is a certified non-Hindu. The rhetorical question Sugata had asked a few minutes ago only enhanced his secular credentials.
But the audacious and incorrigible Caucasian professor persisted. “Well, what he wrote may not be to our liking. But Swamy’s freedom of expression is not dependent on whether or not we like what he writes. The First Amendment guarantees Swamy’s right to say what he wants without fearing persecution. Harvard cannot let go the sacred tradition of defending free speech and throw Swamy out. If we do that, Harvard will become like a Saudi Arabian zoo…and…”
A harangue on free speech was the last thing Eck wanted. “You think I do not value free speech?” she retorted, “But free speech ends where Islam begins. Let me remind you that our constitution protects freedom of religion too. It is that freedom that Swamy’s writing has threatened. He has to pay the price.” The secular eminences nodded their heads in approval. The sheer genius of Eck’s logic gave them goose pimples. Eck was not swayed by this adulation though and declared in a serene voice, “Let us issue a fatwa.”
The secular eminences issued a fatwa to kick Swamy out. A few academics that were not afflicted by militant secularism were outnumbered.
The news of the Harvard Fatwa was tweeted to India and received in certain quarters with unadulterated joy. Digvijay Singh even danced in front of Sonia Gandhi to express his feelings. How long Swamy had troubled them just because each of them had secretly stashed away a few billion dollars in Swiss banks! Had he succeeded, they might even have gone to jail. They could sense the sun setting on Swamy. None less than Harvard has indicted him. It is time to go for the kill.
“What is our next move Manmohan?” asked Sonia.
The alleged prime minister of India had been speechless ever since he had accidentally swallowed his tongue a few years ago. His tongue had grown back since then. He was not to let go the opportunity the reverend madam had presented him.
Manmohan stood up, bowed, and saluted Sonia, and spoke in measured words. “It is time to shock and awe madam.” He had learnt that magical phrase from Bush a few years ago and had been lusting to use it somewhere, preferably against some soft target. “Let us extradite him to Saudi Arabia to face trial.”
There was a raucous uproar in the room when Manmohan had uttered those words. Digvijay assured that the legal matters can be sorted out and that Swamy will soon face trial in Saudi Arabia. He then whispered into the ears of Sonia that one of the Saudi princes had not been happy with Swamy’s battles against black money given that the Gulf States had been helping launder the ill-gotten money, and did not like the prospect of bad publicity. The Saudis would be happy to try Swamy.
“One more request, madam,” pleaded Manmohan, “We should also extradite Veena Malik to Saudi Arabia. The umma has been unhappy with her ever since she posed in all of her feminine glory. The ISI has informed that Pakistan will have no objection if we extradite her on their behalf.”
Sonia agreed, “See, this Veena has been disturbing communal harmony with what she revealed.” Everyone agreed. Besides, it was whispered that the Saudi prince liked Veena but she had rebuffed his moves.
Next morning, Swamy and Veena were extradited, as a package, to Saudi Arabia.
One man at Harvard was forlorn though. His role in the Harvard Fatwa had been limited to tweeting the victory message to all and sundry, and to merely applaud Eck while she basked in glory. This isolation drove him to a dimly lit Cambridge bar for a drink with a Saudi prince.
The prince spoke softly, “Look at you Michael Witzel. I cannot believe where you stand today. You are a descendant of Martin Luther. Gosh, those Jews shivered at the very mention of his name. But you are a mere philologist. Even a semi-literate kafir like Kalavai Venkat makes fun of your analysis of genetic data. No Jew would have dared do that to Luther.”
Tears swelled up in Witzel’s eyes. A feeling of self-pity threatened to overpower him. “What should I do prince?” he asked in a trailing voice.
“You should become a mullah, a Caucasian mullah, in Saudi Arabia,” replied the prince. “Imagine what powers of censorship you could have. You can adjudicate cases and nobody will dare to challenge you.”
Witzel felt a tingling sensation crawl up his spine. Honestly, this seemed like an opportunity of one’s lifetime. He mused, “Well, I do have a lot of experience with law. After all, did not the Harvard newspaper report some years back that I had taken legal action against my own students? And did not my own student Maria quit her Ph.D. and become a lawyer in New York? All along, the writ of my censorship was confined to the boundaries of a mere email list. Am I now going to preside over dar-ul-Islam?”
Making sure that he impresses the prince, he added, “I can tell you that I will fit in well in the Saudi judicial system. I have a lot of experience working with many nasty characters in the past. I have worked with this terror group FetNA, and I publicly defended Angana Chatterji who was believed to be on the payroll of ISI.”
The prince was impressed by Witzel’s credentials and eagerness. He fondly said, “Grow a long beard my friend. You will soon be a Caucasian mullah in Jeddah. Enough of philology.” The two laughed, hugged, and parted.
The Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. had become the hub of media activity. The media was keen to hear whether Swamy, who had by then been taken to Jeddah, would be summarily executed by the Islamic tribunal.
The Saudi ambassador denied the charge, “In Saudi Arabia, we have a highly evolved system of jurisprudence. Nobody is ever punished without a due trial. In this case also, we are flying none less than Professor Diana Eck to Jeddah to testify as the expert witness.”
The media was still apprehensive that a western woman’s testimony could count much in the court of a bunch of medieval mullahs, especially since according to Islam a woman’s witness is only worth half of a man’s.
The ambassador acknowledged the Islamic position, “It is true that a woman’s witness is only worth half of a man’s. But we are not allowing any male to testify in this case,” and told the reporters not to worry because “the judge who would preside over this case is a Caucasian mullah who until recently was a philology professor at Harvard named Michael Witzel.”
The media felt assured that proper justice would be meted out.
Mullah Witzel’s first day in the Jeddah court was quite eventful. He had to hear two unrelated cases – those of Veena Malik and Swamy. Veena turned out to be unexpectedly tempestuous. Her trial started with the local Qazi submitting the charges against her.
Mullah Witzel then spoke to her, “Veena, you posed in all of your feminine glory for an Indian magazine. Repent and convert to Islam. You are the living proof of how debauched Hindutva is.” He then read a US State Department report that confirmed his statement on Hindutva. By the time he had finished reading the report, the mullah was frothing at his mouth.
A stunned Veena replied, “But mullah ji, I am already a Muslim. I was born Zahida in Pakistan and Veena is just my screen name. Where is the question of my conversion to Islam? Why are you calling me a Hindutva?” She then dared to indulge in a little bit of banter with Mullah Witzel. “I read one of your posts where you claimed that the natives of Andhra Pradesh spoke Kannada, and now you think I am a Hindutva. Somewhere you called Hindutva people Hina but mullah ji Hina is a Pakistani name!” and giggled.
Mullah Witzel and the devil cannot stand mockery. The mullah declared menacingly, “Oh you wretched woman! What a disgrace have you brought to Islam! Have you no shame at all? You deserve to be punished.”
The svelte lady launched a tirade in reply, “Mullah ji, I should only be ashamed if I had done something wrong. I am just an entertainer. I do not matter that much. If you want to reform society, why don’t you look at all those corrupt politicians and the pedophiles in madrassas? But you always pick on soft targets, don’t you? In the past, you picked on the Hindu children of California because they too were soft targets. Why me now? Is it because I am a woman and a soft target? Islam says that a mullah cannot stare at a woman twice, but you have been lecherously staring at me all along, and for this alone you should be publicly flogged.”
Mullah Witzel was stunned by her teary outburst. Both Swamy, who was awaiting his trial next, and Eck who was to testify in that trial, were amazed by this woman’s courage. The video of the outburst clandestinely made it to YouTube. The mullah adjourned the hearing in her case to the next day and asked Swamy to take the defendant’s stand.
Mullah Witzel opened the trial with a terse question that would forever remain famous in the annals of Saudi judicial history. He asked Swamy, “Are you a Brāhmaṇa?” to which the intrepid Swamy answered in the affirmative. The mullah then spoke, “That alone makes you guilty and deserving of capital punishment but I am going to withhold my judgment until I have heard the testimony of the wise Eck.” Those present in the courtroom compared Mullah Witzel to the legendary Mullah Nasruddin.
Diana Eck started her testimony most eloquently. She fondly recounted her experience as a Harvard professor, and reminded Witzel that he too taught at the same alma mater until he was exalted to his current status as the Mullah of Jeddah. Mullah Witzel stroked his flowing beard and nodded approvingly.
Eck then said, “I am all for freedom of speech. But what about freedom of religion? When Swamy penned those offensive lines, he clearly crossed the line. I am not going to tolerate that. Today he has demonized the entire Muslim community. Tomorrow …” her voice choked and she paused.
Mullah Witzel interjected and spoke a pearl of his wisdom, “A democracy is measured by how well it treats its minorities,” and added, “In Saudi Arabia, we have treated the minorities so well that there are none left. Everyone has converted to Islam after realizing that there is no compulsion in Islam.”
Eck smiled, “Well said Mullah Witzel. You know, so many American enterprises are setting up shop in India these days. We know that a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart would be a minority in India entirely at the mercy of those traders selling their ware from a decrepit cart. So, we should speak up for the minorities. If we do not, Swamy might start attacking these MNCs tomorrow. As a lesbian, I too belong to a minority group, and I fear that Swamy might demonize all lesbians tomorrow. So, I plead that you mercifully administer him the death penalty.”
The visage of Mullah Witzel turned grim when Eck declared that she was a lesbian. He thundered, “You shameless woman, do you know that you clearly crossed the line by your lesbian lifestyle and marriage to your lesbian partner? You deserve the death penalty according to the tenets of Islam.”
A visibly shaken Eck pleaded with the mullah. She reminded him that he too hailed from a liberal bastion like Harvard and that he should be sympathetic to her. The mullah refused to listen. He ordered Swamy and Eck to be locked up in jail for a night and then to be stoned to death the next day.
Swamy and Eck were to spend their last night on this planet in a Jeddah prison cell. Mullah Witzel had denied permission to house them in separate jails for men and women. He had reasoned that according to Islam a lesbian cannot be considered a woman and that there could be no real men among kafirs. As a result, Eck and Swamy found themselves sharing the same prison cell.
After a few awkward moments of silence, Eck spoke, “Swamy, I think I have paid the price for trampling freedom of speech under my feet. May be you were right. A society cannot tolerate an intolerant religion. Look what Islam has done to Witzel. How can he…” she sobbed.
Swamy asked calmly, “Diana, once upon a time weren’t you charmed by Hinduism?”
Diana’s eyes lit up. She remembered her days in Varanasi, those meditations, and indulgences in doctrinal debates. A melancholic smile appeared on her lips. “Yes Swami, I was. But then I became afflicted with feminism, secularism, …”
“Oh, the usual suspects,” Swami laughed.
“Yes, and without realizing what I was doing, undermined dharma. You know it is so fashionable in the liberal circle to promote Islam, and if you are in the academy you have to be fashionable,” replied Eck.
“Therein lies the danger Diana. You see, those so called liberal Muslims living in the West are not asking to be stoned to death according to Sharia. Yet they want to sustain the archaic Islamic structure because it is exploitative and these liberal Muslims benefit from those exploitations. Many defenseless Muslim women in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia pay the price for this secularist flirtation with totalitarian Islam.”
“I realize the folly now Swami. But perhaps it is too late.”
“Diana, do you believe in reincarnation?”
Eck burst out laughing. “Guess what Swami, I used to, especially during my sojourns in India as a younger woman. I never gave it up but just stopped thinking about it.”
“Well then Diana, in that case, you are not eternally damned and that you get another chance. If you are reborn and become a Harvard professor, never trade freedom of speech for freedom of religion, especially for a totalitarian religion. That should be your prāyaschitta.”
“Thank you Swamy,” whispered Diana.
“Diana, do you believe in karma?”
“Of course Swami, as you sow so shall you reap. But I just cannot understand what karmic reaction landed me in this Saudi jail tonight.”
“Aha Diana, you must have forgotten. A few years ago, Harvard accepted US $ 20 million from the oppressive Saudi royal family. Many suspected that the Saudis would one day manipulate the secularist faculty to be their mouthpiece. Is that what happened without you even realizing it? Was that donation the karmic cause, and your incarceration its reaction?”
Eck remained contemplatively silent. Suddenly her face turned pale. “Farmer,” she nervously uttered, pointing her finger at the prison guard that stood outside their cell. “It is Steve, that illiterate farmer I know from California.” Swami looked at him closely and there was no doubt that the kafiyeh-clad prison guard was a Caucasian and it was none other than Steve, whose pants were constantly falling off his waist. Even the usually intrepid Swami was frightened.
Steve grew up in California and had a reputation for tattle-telling, and each time he tattle-told, his mom would whack his butt. He had a boorish nature, and was perceived as an attack dog, and everyone had written him off as another prospective welfare candidate. Well then, who can predict the vicissitudes of life? Steve became a farmer, and even started moderating an email list where he was at his censorious best and bullied every hapless member that did not know his place. He often declared, "A Hindu who does not know his place gets a secularist ass in his face."
Even academics trembled in fear at the prospect of being at the receiving end of his abrasive attacks. Notably, he managed all of this without ever being sufficiently literate. He usually spoke into his iPhone, and Apple voice recognition turned that into text. Steve (Jobs) was a genius! Of course, illiteracy caused a few embarrassing moments to Steve in all these years. Sometimes he sent emails from his girlfriend’s account (or so he claimed for all one can say is that mails were received from his girlfriend’s account), and inappropriately admitted that his Asian girlfriend tells him that “he has the ‘body’ of a teenager!” He made a lasting contribution to the global warming debate by his succinct remark, “If there is global warming we will see Polish women frolicking on beaches!” Secular eminences are trying to determine whether this fixation for Polish women is a fetish, or a sign of Steve coming of age by outgrowing his teenage “body,” or if his attention has shifted from “Asian” girlfriends to the Indo-European variety.
Anyhow, Mullah Witzel was aware of Steve’s potential. It was not being used fully in California. Where else but in a Jeddah prison could his potential be realized? The mullah brought Steve to Jeddah as a prison guard. True to his nature, the erstwhile farmer had been eavesdropping on what transpired between Eck and Swami. He walked away as soon as he realized that Eck and Swami had spotted him.
Steve had forgotten his iPhone behind. Eck peeped through the prison cell. It had the current issue of the Harvard Crimson open. Eck nurtured a momentary hope. “Swami, is it possible that Crimson has come down heavily against the violation of my rights? That would force the Saudis to take notice and release me right?”
“Come on Diana, Crimson editors are students. They are not going to risk their degree and career for the sake of the truth. They are editing and writing in Crimson so they can embellish their resume. If a faculty can be kicked out for exercising his freedom, don’t you think the students would get the message? Why don’t you read the article and find out for yourself what it says?”
Eck reached out to Steve’s iPhone, and read through the Crimson article. Swami was right. The article read, “Eck had clearly crossed the line when she provocatively announced in a Jeddah court that she is lesbian. Several Harvard professors were shocked by her unacceptable behavior. Was the intent to provoke the entire Middle East and cause riots? This is a call for violence. In any case, Harvard has the hoary tradition of respecting religious and national boundaries. We are not going to sit in judgment over the Saudis enforcing law and under in their own confines…” Eck sighed.
In the meanwhile, Steve had rushed to Mullah Witzel to report what he had overheard. “Mullah, guess what? Eck believes in reincarnation.”
The mullah wore an expression of disgust on his face, and exclaimed, “What the Eck!”
PS: The voice of the aśarῑri (meaning, the formless one – oh no, not Allah!) was heard from the sky:
Oh mankind, listen. Needless to say, what was recounted was an imaginary samvāda. One hopes that this never translates into reality, and that a lesbian as well as a Hindu can live freely without fearing persecution. The Manusmṛti (8:15) said, “Dharmö rakṣati rakṣitah” or “dharma protects those who protect it.” Just as a physician does not tolerate cancer cells, a reasonable person cannot tolerate destructive totalitarian ideologies such as Islam. A critique of Islam and an advocacy to constrain its spread are essential steps to safeguard dharma. It is not only foolish but also adharmic to silence someone for speaking up on the threat of Islam. The famous logician Jayanta Bhaṭṭa taught in his satire Ǡgamaḍambara that “Freedom of religion is not a right. It is a privilege. Dangerous religions are not entitled to that privilege.” Remember, an advocacy for the unfettered freedom of Islam is an advocacy for the suppression of Muslim women whereas an advocacy to constrain Islam is an advocacy to set Muslim women free. Freedom is not the prerogative of the oppressive Saudi royals and their secular cronies. Muslim women too deserve to be free – of Totalitarian Islam.