The Zen Master leaned back on the sofa, long-stemmed champagne glass in one hand and the program of the Lit Fest in the other.
Only thirty minutes between the session “Darkening clouds of global fascism: a literary retrospective” and “Subaltern poetry in the age of Indian fascism”, and the organizers had deigned to leave some generic finger food in the VIP lounge, and nothing else. Truly, the idea of India was at risk, thank goodness for the champagne, or else he would have to return his award in protest.
“Sir, as you were saying”, The Novice’s voice brought him out of his thoughts, “the intolerance of today’s India, the frenzied mobs burning books and preventing movies from being staged, the darkening clouds of fascism fed by majoritarian forces. I am very concerned, as a liberal, regarding this censoring of books and authors.”
“Please”, said the Zen Master, “You don’t have to repeat what I said outside back to me again.”
Realizing that he may have spoken too sharply, the Zen Master smiled. “Okay let me explain some things to you now that there are no media around. Some books definitely do need to get banned, and some authors do need to vanish, and there are smarter, more efficient ways of doing that, than throwing stones at the windows of bookstores.”
“Books banned?” The Novice sounded surprised, “But sir, didn’t you just say that the response to a book with ideas you don’t like is another book with your ideas?”
“As a great Marxist scholar once said, bhawnao ko samjho. The thing is we, the privileged, do not need to burn books. That’s for those without power, for whom the only way to gain some authority is through the might of the mob. When I say “the response to a book with ideas you don’t like is another book”, what I mean is that all of us, good chaps, should be given the power to write both books.”
“But how do you stop books without violence?”
“Of course, all of what I am saying is a bit more subtle than just yanking down posters. You need to do the groundwork, you need to label your opponent.”
Seeing the youngling confused, the Zen Master went on, swirling the champagne once around the glass.
“The best slur-label we have found out through extensive research is the word fascist. Or communal. For now, let’s go with a fascist as an example. To be honest, this labelling is not a new technique—the Communists used it all the time to get rid of dissidents—” enemy of the people”, “counter-revolutionist”, “Trotskyite”, once you affix the label, you can then undermine all that they said, and then send them off to the gulag.
Once you have the label in the right place, all you need to do is have like-minded people gang together and repeat the slur-label, social media and normal media, once enough of them call someone “fascist”, that person then becomes a fascist, Repeat a lie a number of times and it becomes the truth, like Goebbels, ironically a fascist said. And once you have made someone a fascist, you can always be fascist to a fascist, and you are not a fascist yourself. Mind you, you don’t have to just use the word “fascist”, you can change things around a bit—this person is a fascist enabler, this person apologizes for fascists, tomato-tomaatoh, you discredit the source, everything else follows. ”
“The way tukde tukde gang is a label for anyone who is opposed to the government.”
“Exactly. Except then we absolutely condemn it. it’s like Harry Potter trying to use the Half-Blood Prince spell on Snape himself.”
“The best target.” said the Zen Master, “is the person. Once you have established a person is a fascist or communal or both, merely by repeating these words several times, anything they say becomes fascist and communal. That then becomes good enough reason for them to be prevented from saying whatever it is we don’t want to hear. If the authors fly under the radar, then, of course, you wouldn’t have been able to label them. Then you go after their book, say it is full of lies or is peddling hate speech.”
“Without reading the book?”
“Of course. The best time to kill a book is before it is published. The best time to kill an idea is before it is expressed”.
“But how can you call a book fascist or communal without even reading it? Doesn’t that go against everything you said up there—about the courage to listen to contrarian opinion? And if the book is peddling lies, surely you can also write another book exposing the lies. If there are hate speech and calls for violence, that is illegal, and you can use the law to prosecute the author. Why prevent the book from being published? What you are saying is intolerance sir, there is no other way of….”
The Zen Master’s voice rose. The champagne tasted bitter.
“No, of course, it is not intolerance. When we do it, it is called resistance, and pronounce the word please as the French do it.”
“But exerting pressure to stop a book from being published without reading it is very difficult to justify.”
“Justify? Okay, how about this? The publisher is a private entity, after careful consideration of different commercial factors, they have come to a decision that they do not want to publish a book. What, pray, is wrong in that? It’s just like builders, private entities themselves, come to a decision to walk away from a project after they receive a call from Dubai. This is not a freedom of speech issue, that is only between the individual and the state unless of course our books are getting taken off the market, at which point of time, we bring up the collusion of the authorities with the protesters and the industrial complex, all of them being extensions of the state, and thus make it about freedom of speech and intolerance. And if you find yourself ever looking like you are applying double standards, feel free to throw in words like “whataboutery”. And even if you forget everything, remember, the very last thing you should do, debates them on the merits of their arguments. Why? Because it presumes that their arguments can even have merits, which contradicts the axiom that they are always, all the time wrong, and we are absolutely right because we are totally left, I think I have had too much of this champagne, just remember that if they talk, it hurts our sentiments. Oh must I tell you everything, you are truly a tyro.”
The Novice stood, suitably chastised and enlightened.
“Now fetch me a decent drink from the sponsor’s tent outside, will you, and tell them I asked for it, by name, they won’t give you their best stuff otherwise, I need to put together my thoughts for my rant against neoliberalism later tonight, pretty please?