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Saturday, 18 February 2006
Indian debates Indian in Tennessee

The Cartoon riots are causing an earthquake of tremendous proportions across America.  In Nashville, Tennessee, the newspapers are under pressure for their decision not to publish the cartoons.  There have been editorials and letters to the editors flying back and forth.  Here are excerpts from one such letter:

I, too, am a native of Hyderabad, India, now an American citizen and resident of Tennessee for the past two decades. I have read Anantha Babbili’s guest commentary “Islam cartoon is not about free press; it’s about hatred” (Thursday, Feb. 16). [note: 10,000 rioted in Hyderabad yesterday]
I am not pleased that Mr. Babbili has decided to chide the West for its reaction to the Danish political cartoon flap. He accepts the fact that Muslims will burn and pillage over just about any perceived slight and concludes that we therefore ought not to slight them. I believe that Anantha Babbili is merely hiding here in the West, retaining the same class and ethnic defenses used in the old country in the guise of a welcome alien.
The picture of Hyderabad is not as rosy as Mr. Babbili paints it. It is one of the ten most religiously divided cities in India, and there are at least two or three riots there every year. There is a strong Islamic fundamentalist and pro-Pakistani element in Hyderabad, which has made a tactical alliance with Maoist extremist groups to destabilize India’s liberal democratic system. Al Qaeda is active in the city.
Muslims, though in the minority, with a few notable exceptions have never bothered to learn the majority’s language, Telugu, which is spoken by sixty million Hindus and Christians in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, whose capital city is Hyderabad. Telugu has a thousand-year history of deeply philosophical and religious literature. For Mr. Babbili to call it a “local vernacular” is highly offensive to me and other Indians.
But we’re not going to riot...
Anantha Babbili does not speak for me. He speaks for a small minority of apologists in the West who fail to understand the nature of the culture or society they have adopted. The problem is not that Danish journalists insensitively caricatured the Prophet; it is that such an inane expression of Western curiosity should send Muslim populations raging, as though they never expected to see or hear such a thing in their lifetimes.
Being raised in a cultural crossroads should have given Mr. Babbili a better understanding of the Muslim worldview. His experiences are typical of youth in Hyderabad, but so is his adulthood: overlooking religious strife in order to avoid additional strife. Here we have a career journalist teaching by example that when the going gets tough, the tough collude and play down the story.
Our right to a free and critical press is our responsibility. To censor an insulting cartoon is to do a disservice to that responsibility. Beliefs do not have to be protected, but the right to criticize them must be. 
Posted on 02/18/2006 9:02 AM by Rebecca Bynum
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