Mohammed Saleem Engineer is the national secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind, the Islamic organisation that has its headquarters in New Delhi. The organisation is an offshoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami party whose objective it is to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan that is ruled by the Shariah law.
The organisation has been in the news for some time now for arm-twisting the festival organisers days before it began demanding from them a statement saying that The Satanic Verses author Salman Rusdhie's visit stood cancelled.
Engineer and his colleagues, who was at the venue on Monday, stood out with their fez caps and long lucknowi coats. Engineer spoke to rediff.com's Abhishek Mande about where he stands on the Rusdhie issue and the video conferencing that is set to happen on Tuesday.
Throughout the conversation that lasted a little over 10 minutes, Engineer, who tells me he is an engineer by education and also an academic, somehow mysteriously refused to name Rushdie, a fact that he didn't find remotely ironic or odd.
What are the objectives of Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind?
Our concern is morality and character building of women and men and building the society on a (sic) moral basis. Morality and character are slowly being lost and everything is becoming materialistic.
Do you believe Salman Rushdie is immoral?
Do you believe Salman Rushdie is immoral?
I am surprised that one person has been given so much importance when there are so many other people who are greater than that person
That person whose name I don't want to pronounce.
Because I consider him to a big criminal; he has misused the freedom of expression to the extent that he has provoked the sentiments of the Muslim community. He has wrongly blamed (sic) the Prophet's character and exploited the emotions of the believers of Islam to get cheap popularity. In the name of literature, if you write such dirty things (sic) you don't have any limits.
The freedom of expression comes along with responsibility. If there is no responsibility you can do a lot of bad things.
By writing The Satanic Verses, he has violated that limit of freedom of expression and that is why his book has been banned and (sic) people's sentiments are attached to that.
He did not come here because criminals and offenders are afraid of truth and they cannot face the people.
Have you read the book?
No. But it has been so much publicised, there is no need to read it. The kind of language he has used is known because of the media. For instance, I have not gone to the moon but I know there is a moon.
Yes, but you can see the moon.
Yes but if someone tells me that there are mountains and things there, I believe scientists.
Do you object Rushdie's visit?
No. We were only saying that if he comes it is our democratic right to protest against such an offender democratically, peacefully and within the (boundaries of the) law.
What sort of protest were you planning?
Yes, but what kind?
Anything that is within the law's boundaries.
Which involves what?
Which involves dharnas, memorandums and making your views heard.
Rushdie will address the crowd via video conferencing. You're aware of that I suppose
I am not in principle against video conferencing because technology can be used by anyone but if anything against the law takes place
Like provocation or reading sections of a book that is banned. There are law enforcing agencies present here and are watching everyone so if anything goes against the law, the law will take its course.
So are you or are you not planning a protest on Tuesday?
No, no not unless something goes against the law.
Will you be here on Tuesday?
I am here. I am here all the time (anticipates the next question) Not for him. But for literature.
How often do you visit the Jaipur Literature Festival?
I've been a regular.
There were a bunch of people who had read out passages
That was against the law. A complaint has been filed. Police are looking at the footage and necessary action will be taken. If a banned book is read in public and people provoke that it be read then of course (it is a problem).
Finally, can you take the name of the author who must not be named?
(Pause) There is no problem in taking the name.
Then why don't you?
There is no need. I don't give him importance.