Makings of a Mess

Which is more dangerous, speaking freely what you shouldn't or shutting people up when you mustn't? North Africa erupted over YouTube footage from an incredibly stupid movie attacking the Prophet and in an unusual twist to the globalisation tale, US diplomats in Libya became collateral damage. Meanwhile, in India, Aseem Trivedi was slapped with sedition charges for drawing unremarkable, obscure cartoons lampooning national institutions and emblems. Two cases of lack of restraint, no censorship where it was needed to keep the peace, and a crackdown where it was unnecessary. The makings of a mess.

Thanks to the 9/11 anniversary and the proximity to the US presidential election, Times Now read the Benghazi attack as a security affairs issue and fielded Maroof Raza, who threw up his hands and admitted that he wasn't up to speed on the matter. Why not? No smartphone? The inflammatory footage was right out there on YouTube. The trailer of the formerly obscure polemical film Innocence of Muslims is a whopping 15 minutes long. The extraordinary duration and the date of release suggest that it was cooked up in bad faith. Besides, it is aesthetically revolting. Even nuts who subscribe to its xenophobic ideas would be repelled by the idiom, as crude and direct as toilet graffiti.

In an interesting parallel on Times Now's Newshour, Sudhir Tailang denounced Aseem Trivedi on the very same ground: crude directness. He declared that the much-feted cartoonist is an attention-seeker. "Political cartoonists cannot behave like Poonam Pandey or Rakhi Sawant, no disrespect to them," he said. Sudhir Dar agreed, in less colourful terms, that Trivedi had "crossed the Lakshman rekha".

Meanwhile, the indifferent cartoonist in question had proved to be a vocalist wired for sound and fury. After allowing himself to be coaxed into seeking bail, he launched a whole movement for the repeal of Article 124A in about six minutes. His haste to travel to Mumbai to face charges had suggested that he was hustling to launch a political career. He had prepared for it. And the state, which had tried to put him away, was shamefully unprepared and ill-advised.

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