No Tarek Fatah, Saif Ali Khan is not mocking Indians by naming his son Taimur

Published: December 23, 2016
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Saif and Kareena named their son “Taimur Ali Khan”, which has angered many. PHOTO: VIRAL BHAYANI/BUZZFEED.

Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan just had a baby boy, and instead of this becoming a moment for collective joy, it has ended up creating needless controversy. The new parents named their son Taimur Ali Khan, which apparently has angered many.

On social media, a storm has brewed, and some allege that the name Taimur is inspired by Tamerlane, a brutal conqueror who attacked India and indulged in mass genocide. This group is led by Tarek Fatah, and is alleging that Khan’s family has insulted India by naming their child after Tamerlane. Using this incident as an opportunity, some people have also implied that Indian Muslims have the wrong sort of heroes and by exalting the controversial kings of the past, they portray a deep disrespect for the sentiments of the majority.

In my opinion, this controversy is completely pointless. In fact, some of the objections made by Fatah and his followers are petty and frankly disappointing.

There are several flaws in the arguments that his social lynch mob has made.

Firstly, it is the prerogative of the parents to name their child and no one has the right to make objections. One can object if the parents tried to mock the sentiments of the majority but even then, the fundamental rights of the parents to name their child cannot be taken away from them. It is sad that phony nationalistic pressure has started to invade private lives in the name of patriotism.

Secondly, when it comes to Saif Ali Khan, he is highly secular and is married to a Hindu, thus I doubt that he tried to mock Indians by naming his son after Tamerlane. Any given name, whether Hindu or Muslim, may have a bearer who had committed atrocities in the past. Just because someone has named his son Taimur does not mean he is trying to honour Tamerlane. Taimur, in reality, is a common name and many Muslims adopt it without even thinking of Tamerlane. Fatah himself had a bearer to his name, Tariq bin Ziyad, a military commander who had conquered Spain. So let’s see him abuse his own parents for naming him Tarek!

Thirdly, I do agree that some Muslim heroes are objectionable. Unfortunately, in the Muslim world, warriors are often glorified and at times these include controversial figures. I regret that some Muslims eulogise a controversial person like Aurangzeb. However, I really doubt that Tamerlane is a popular hero. If anything, besides killing Indian Hindus, Tamerlane had also killed countless Muslims. During his 35 years of warfare, he waged brutal campaigns against the Muslim rulers of the Ottoman Empire, Damascus, Persia, and Egypt. He massacred entire populations of the cities, including Baghdad and Aleppo. He was a product of his time who looted and plundered everywhere he went. To see him through communal lenses alone is completely inaccurate. Yes, if some Muslims revere him then it is wrong as he was a mass murderer, but I doubt that the majority admires him or for that matter, even knows about him.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly is a point one of my friends, Mr Sabir Nazar, a famous cartoonist, brought up in a Facebook post. He pointed out that people in the 21st century cannot be held accountable for the crimes committed by murderers and plunderers of the 14th century. This is a critical point because often, we target descendants belonging to a particular ethnic or religious group due to some historical misdeed committed by their forefathers. Indian Muslims, or for that matter Pakistani Hindus, are not responsible for anything that happened in the distant or near past. Trying to target present day Indian Muslims for the rule and misdeeds of Muslim rulers of the past is frankly bigotry.

Fatah, who is leading this divisive campaign, is showing quite opportunistic behaviour. His book, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic illusion of an Islamic State, makes a strong point in persuading Muslims into reforming their religious beliefs. However, in later years, his opinions have become increasingly spiteful and it is pretty clear that most of the time, he is saying what the Indian right-wing want to hear.

In my opinion, it has a lot to do with the rise of social media. One of the major problems is that many self-reflecting Muslims are appealing to the right-wing of the opposing side. For example, in Pakistan, many hyperbolic nationalists like Arundhati Roy’s writings because she is often critical of the Indian state which provides them instinctive comfort. Sometimes, knowing that they will be appreciated by that kind of segment, writers start writing for that segment. Twitter and Facebook often compound the problem as writers get immediate responses.

A good look at Fatah’s tweets and Facebook posts will confirm that he is merely writing to please a segment. He has been making fun of Indian liberals and saying things that can only be appreciated by militant right-wings. He would never criticise the Indian rights and heap on vitriol against the Indian leftists. Even Pakistani women, who are behind Aman ki Asha, an initiative to promote peace between India and Pakistan, have been called ISI aunties.

Anyone who disagrees with him and has a Muslim name becomes a “Jihadi” and a sympathiser of extremism. If a Hindu disagrees with him, he is accused of being a “self-loathing Hindu”. Recently, he allegedly had an altercation in Punjab University, Chandigarh where he called a Kashmiri student a terrorist and a Sikh student a “Khalistani”.

His story is a sad tale of a progressive person turned into a petty opportunist, one that’s admired by the right-wing brigade. I hope that Saif and Kareena do not listen to this hate brigade and keep this name.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.