A Collective that Makes the Mind Greener
By Mujeeburrahman Kinalur
Every participant was certain about some hidden agenda, as the meeting was summoned under the auspices of Prabhodhanam Weekly in cooperation with Jamaath-i Islami Hind, the party that runs the weekly. Such a perception was not surprising, given that such a meeting was the first of its kind in the factional history of Muslims of Kerala.
It was the year 2004 and it was the first time that the editors of the vernacular Muslim publications were sitting around a discussion table. In his introductory remarks, the representative of the Jamaath described the goals of the meeting. The meeting had been summoned so that, keeping different ideologies and varied views aside, they could form a platform to unify their opinions regarding those issues which affected the whole community. The meeting was also intended to find ways to monitor the whole publication, already ripe in quantity, in terms of its quality and maturity.
The gathering was attended by the spokespersons of both the Sunni factions, both the Mujahid factions, and Jamaath-e-Islami, representing their organizations and various publications run by them. The editors of Madhyamam, Chandrika, Siraj, Varthamanam and Thejas were also present.
The gathering proved to be very receptive and creative. . The idea of a public platform was welcomed by all participants, even though they refused to budge from their ideological positions. The discussions covered a range of topics including possible names for this new group, its structure, and its objectives. The meeting concluded only after selecting a special committee responsible to push the initiative ahead.
Soon after, we met again to discuss the name of the group and its constitutional charters. It was named Muslim Media Forum first; then revised to Media Forum, considering the response the term Muslim might evoke in the public sphere of a pluralistic society like Kerala.
The platform was intended to monitor all Muslim publications and to provide a space to interact respectfully with the various Muslim groups, both religious and political. It adopted a policy of least interference in the domestic issues of these groups. It was also decided that the platform would not scrutinize the contents of these publications. Its objectives were formulated in terms of conducting workshops for the editors and writers of various publications in order to raise the quality of these publications at the level of language and form.
Media Forum met at regular intervals, gradually paving the way for rivals to become good friends. In stark contrast to earlier trends, members no longer hesitated to visit what was previously a rival publication’s office to participate in meetings. Moreover, they even began to call on each other to appreciate or provide constructive criticism about the latest issues of their respective publications. Through the Media Forum, I was surprised to find many of the members of the so-called traditionalist groups to be humorous in their personal life, and even forward-looking to an extent.
It was a period of creativity and mutual respect among the Muslim factions in the state, when the walls of narrow prejudice were breaking down and the line of differences seemed to be blurring. The openness of the Forum enabled us, despite our ideological differences, to look in to the mirror of self-criticism and to notice our commonalities and shared concerns. The Forum also proved to be a platform for varied ages, both young and old. .
The Forum conducted a media workshop, led by prominent personalities of different regional media organizations. This workshop was attended by all the editors of the various publications. Such gatherings certainly helped to further bridge differences between them. The numerous efforts of the forum, however, were not sufficient to alleviate the level of anxieties and doubts that prevailed historically among them. Moreover, members of some organizations may have felt threatened by the rapid momentum that this initiative had succeeded in gathering within a short span of time.
Gradually, with the passage of time, Media Forum lost its appeal as a result of various reasons, including, organizational challenges, ideological differences, as well as financial and political reasons. For instance, one group from the Sunni factions and both the Mujahid groups were traditionally supportive of rightist politics. Hence, majority of their followers are either members of the Indian Union Muslim League or, at least, its supporters. The other half of the Sunnis and the Jamaath-i Islami group, on the other hand, support leftist politics. These different, and sometimes conflicting, approaches to regional politics aggravated the rivalries among these groups as well as their publications.
Coincidentally, it was also the time when a sexual allegation was leveled against one of the ministers of the Muslim League, a prominent political party in the state. Known as the Ice-cream Parlor case, this allegation stormed the political arena of the state and proved to be strong enough to turn the party into a defensive mood. Similar to all other cases, this case was also approached differently by different Muslim media. While Jamaath-e-Islami, the party that founded the Media Forum, and its publications vehemently opposed the minister allegedly involved in the case, the rest of the Muslim media either sided with the Minister or maintained silence.
Now looking back, it seems to me the Muslim groups, in general, paid a huge cost for this allegation and the political aftermaths that followed it. It stormed the state politics wreaking havoc to the mutual fabric of understanding among the Muslim groups, woven by the relentless efforts of initiatives like the Media Forum. In the following meetings of the Forum, the Muslim league and one group of Sunnis were conspicuous by their absence. Once again, they learned to hate each other as they used to before. The creative and vibrant friendship generated within the forum was soon reduced to the mere conveying of happy messages on the eve of annual festivities like Eids. And unfortunately, such a Forum was never convened again.
Hope springs in the mind whenever I recollect those times. It is too early to conclude that the creative wave generated by the Media forum is thoroughly exhausted. A vital change is evident in varied aspects of almost all Muslim publications. Even though each publication nurtures its own devoted columnists and writers, it gives us pleasure to see some common writers whose works are getting published in all Muslim magazines. Moreover, some publications have even taken to publishing articles and interviews of prominent persons from competing groups and rival publications. The obvious shift of publications from the traditional stance of giving space only to those persons who supported their cause to the new stance of evaluating and publishing different personal opinions in accordance with the variety of the subjects, is something to be celebrated whole-heartedly.
With the advent of new media and the growth of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, the old friends from Media Forum meet, time and again, in the cyberspace. Now I dream about the possibility of reorganizing a Muslim platform in the virtual world.
[Mujeeburrahman Kinalur is editor of Varthamanam Daily and Shabab Weekly. He has held senior posts for a leading Muslim youth movement in Kerala. His latest book America: Multi colored pictures is a travel account that analyzes the diversity of American society. He has six other books including Modernity and Muslim Reformation (2011). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or in his blog www.kinalur.com.]
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