Shahrukh Khan is one of the most famous men in India. As a Bollywood actor, he has starred in seventy-five films, and is known in the media as "The King of Bollywood." Why there is a group known as "The Indian Mujahedin" threatening to kill the iconic Indian? The simplistic answer is that he is a Muslim at the top of an iconic Hindi industry.
The movie star is now being used as a missile by both Pakistan and India in the latest round of verbal fisticuffs between the two countries. The latest episode in the saga began two weeks ago, when reports suggested that Shahrukh Khan had his security detail removed as officers saw no threat to his life.
Shahrukh Khan recently penned an article in Outlook Turning Points, entitled Being A Khan: Being A Muslim In The Post 9/11 World, that caused controversy in both India and Pakistan. The outcry following the publication, and more importantly, quotes from the piece, caused many, including the Interior Minister of Pakistan - Rehman Malik, to call for greater security for the actor.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik requested that the Indian police force and government do more to protect Shahrukh Khan. The return from Indian politicians and the media was strong worded, Indian Home Secretary RK Singh said "We are capable of looking after our own citizens, let him worry about the security of his country's citizens."
Comments from the Jamaat-ud-Dawa founder, Hafiz Saeed, inviting Shahrukh Khan to take up residence in Pakistan, responded with even more vehemence. Saeed is the alleged mastermind behind a 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed at least 164 people. Ironically, the situation that arose as a result of the interview, is the exact one that Shahrukh Khan said he did not agree with.
“I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India. There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighboring nation than my own country -- this even though I am an Indian whose father fought for the freedom of India. Rallies have been held where leaders have exhorted me to leave my home and return to what they refer to as my original homeland.”
Shahrukh Khan is proud of his Indian heritage. His home is India and his religion is Islam. He does not see the conflict. He is just one of millions of Muslims in India who feel this way. He is happy that Pakistanis identify with him and support him, but Pakistan is not his real homeland, it is a country that neighbors his own.
The leaders of both India and Pakistan will use almost any excuse to hurl insults at each other, avoiding the real issues and using real people like Shahrukh Khan in their political games. Shahrukh Khan is completely innocent in these proceedings, but the animosity created by the governments of both countries, and other groups in each nation, have endangered his life.
Shahrukh Khan is not a metaphor for the shared heritage of India and Pakistan, nice as that might be. He is not a tool to be used to attack one country or the other, he is man. The use of Shahrukh Khan as a weapon, may cause harm to the man, and it has certainly made his life more difficult.
Mumbai police today said that they were reviewing the actor's security situation, and guaranteed his safety. If the governments of India and Pakistan continue to raise tensions, and invoke Shahrukh Khan's name in the process, his safety might be much, much more difficulty to guarantee.
Shahrukh Khan is being used as a political football, in the current climate that could lead to his injury, or even his death. If anything like that happens, Pakistan's politicians, and India's, are unlikely to be upset, they will push the blame onto each other, further poisoning the relationship.
The question is whether those currently writing articles and comments in support of one side or the other will recognize their own guilt if something like that happens. Their responsibility for poisoning the climate weighs as heavily as that of the politicians. there are no sides to support in this argument, the only support should be given to Shahrukh Khan, and his personal safety.