Double standards in understanding communalism?

Rohit Dhankar

[This one was send as a rejoinder to an article published in The Hindu. Their response is “as a policy we don’t carry rejoinder to opinion pieces. If there are factual inaccuracies we will be happy to correct them. Thanks for writing.” I am not a regular writer for newspapers, so can easily understand the lack of tightness in language and even argument; but it is strange that rejoinders to ‘opinion’ pieces are not published!]

Mrs. Sonia Gandhi recently has expressed a communal mind-set that believes that appeal to en-block voting to Muslims is ‘secular’ and a similar appeal to Hindus is communal. The general principle here is that Hindu communalism is communalism proper; and Muslim communalism, if not secular, is certainly a reaction. This thinking has been exhibited time and again by almost all so-called ‘secular’ parties. Is this mind-set and skewed logic limited to crafty politicians like Mrs. Gandhi? Unfortunately, by no means, Indian intelligential is the biggest and strongest up-holder of this un-defendable principle. To understand how subtly they built it into their thinking and writing let us analyse a recently published article by Praveen Swami. Mr. Swami wrote an article in The Hindu, on 1st April 14, titled “Second Rise of Indian Jihad”. (Here I must add that in past Mr. Swami has written fine and very balanced insightful pieces, the present analysis is only for the mentioned article; not on his all writings.) Its concluding wisdom is summarised by Mr. Swami as: “Each bombing the Indian Mujahideen carries out is a medium for a political message enmeshed with India’s dystopic communal landscape: that democratic politics cannot defend India’s Muslims.” This complex sentence needs simpler unpacking, to go beyond its impressiveness and deliberate scholarship. Let’s make some sense out of it:
1. Each bombing of Indian Mujahedeen is a medium for a political message. It is not senseless violence, and it is not important in-itself. It should be ‘read’ as a ‘medium’, like email is a medium for a message, bombing is a medium for a political message.
2. This message is caught in the landscape of human misery created by communalism. So the bombing is not irrational act of some sick religious bigotry. It is a rational act aimed at ending the human misery caused by communal violence.
3. The message itself is “that democratic politics cannot defend Indian Muslims”. And this message is acceptable to Indian intelligentsia of which Mr. Swami is a noted member.

This is a classic case of absolving Islamic terrorism of all moral responsibility and condoning it. Always someone else is responsible, the poor Islamist terrorist simply acts out of misery to end it. S/he is not a perpetrator of violence, s/he is only resisting violence inflicted on her. S/he is justified to do so as a human being. The ‘other’ who has instigated, nay forced him/her into it, should be blamed, and should be held responsible to stop this violence.

This conclusion occurs in the last paragraph of Mr. Swami’s piece with a nashihat to Indian politicians: “but it is time for politicians to act to heal our fractured nation.” This is strange that material quoted in Mr. Swami’s article to arrive at this fantastic conclusion goes squarely against it and lends itself to a very different conclusion. It is an exercise in mental dexterity to find a logic so that the quoted material may support Mr. Swami’s conclusion.

Let’s look at the key landmarks in Mr. Swami’s logic, I am paraphrasing parts from his article below.
Mr. swami tells us that the cadres of Indian jihad “are inheritors of a long political tradition”. That the bombings of 2008 September in Delhi, according to their perpetrators were carried “in the memory of two most eminent Mujahids of India: Syed Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed (may Allah bestow His Mercy upon them) who had raised the glorious banner of Jihad against the disbelievers.” It is notable that the jihad of Syed Ahmed and Shah Ismail was “against the disbelievers” and was carried out in early part of the 19th century, against Sikh Army, in Swat valley. Against what grievances and to alleviate what misery, apart from existence of disbelievers on God’s earth, Mr. Swami must know.

Mr. Swami quotes Yoginder Sikand approvingly: “that Islam alone was the solution to the problems of not just the Muslims of India, but of all Indians and, indeed, of the whole world.” “Islam alone” is notable, nothing else can solve the problems. Compare it with a Bombay based popular preacher Dr. Zakir Naik who says that Islam is a religion of peace and peace will come when all accept Islam. The interpretation being that peace can come only if all accept Islam. Till then if there is no peace, it is responsibility of those infidels who do not accept the only true faith.

Another important information and a chain in his logic that Mr. swami provides us is that “Ranchi resident Haider Ali, …, raised volunteers … for the bombing of the revered Buddhist shrine at Bodh Gaya last year, as an act of vengeance for communal violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority.” (Emphasis added) One starts thinking what the Buddhist shrine in Bodh Gaya had to do with communal violence in Myanmar? But that is a question only a small minded communal person can ask, as all opinion makers in India know that Muslims of the world; according to Islamist’s mind, even if a common peace loving Muslim does not believe that; are a unified umma and any act against the umma can be avenged by killing any non-believer in the world. So, of course, Mr. Swami wants us to believe that Bombing in Bodh Gaya was a legitimate “medium for a political message”, which Indian politicians and citizens should heed, and ‘heel’.

According to Mr. Swami “[T]he recruits” for the jihad “include young people, their minds fired by Internet Islamism, as well as veterans once linked to the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).” One needs only ten minutes on the net to see the true face of Internet Islamism. It is daily preached by Zakir Naik, ‘Islam if the only true religion, all others will go to hell. Those who do not accept Islam are the real cause of violence in the world’. SIMI was established in 1977 and, among other things “SIMI maintains that concepts of secularism, democracy and nationalism, keystones of Indian Constitution, are antithetical to Islam. They aim to restore the supremacy of Islam through the resurrection of the khilafat, emphasis on the Muslim ummah and the waging of jihad.” And all this to solve all the problems of the world by the only true faith. Which violence perpetrated on Muslims would Mr. Swami site for this?

The article is opened with a very revealing quote by an al-Qaeda ideologue Asim Umar: “[Y]ou who have ruled India for eight hundred years, you who lit the flame of the one true God in the darkness of polytheism: how can you remain in your slumber when the Muslims of the world are awakening?….. If the youth of the Muslim world have joined the battlefields with the slogan ‘Sharia or Martyrdom,’ and put their lives at stake to establish the Caliphate, how can you lag behind them? Why is there no storm in your ocean”. And suggests that some among the Indian Muslim youth are inspired by this kind of appeals.

And in the face of all this mentioned in the same article Mr. Swami, in his infinite wisdom, concludes that this zeal for bombing is “driven by communal events”, obviously by Hindus against Muslims! To quote: “The renewal of a jihadist constituency within India shouldn’t be a surprise: the rise of Mr. Modi, and the Hindu nationalist tendencies that he represents, has unleashed existential anxieties among large numbers of Indian Muslims.” Therefore, the ‘Hindu nationalist tendencies’ are to blame. Which communal violence was being avenged by jihad of Syed Ahmed in early 19th century? Why his jihad was more morally acceptable than anything else going on at that time? Why Islamists today are justified to glorify this jihad against “disbelievers” while other religious bigots would be wrong to do the same? Would avenging Somnath not be justified by the same logic?

It is important to understand this logic. What are the assumptions that Mr. Swami has necessarily to accept if he wants to come to his wise conclusion: “that democratic politics cannot defend Indian Muslims” and bombing is a political message to that effect incited by violence against Muslims? He necessarily has to accept that:
1. The bigoted miniscule fringe in Islam has the right based on their tradition to wage jihad against disbelievers.
2. The violence that happens in this jihad, even if not acceptable, is sympathetically understandable.
3. But the communal violence against this jihad is the cause of fresh rounds of jihad, and therefore, should be condemned.

Are these assumptions acceptable to silent Indian majority? Would people like Mr. Swami openly defend these assumptions or they will simply keep on using them un-articulated but in a clever manner? Is Mr. Swami aware that accepting his logic provides very sound arguments for Hindutva brigade? The logic in a nutshell can be expressed as:
• Since Mahmud Ghazni the Islam has been attacking Hinduism in various ways.
• At the least since Maulana Shirhindi’s reaction of separation from Hindus as a reaction to Akbar’s Deen-e-ilahi the idea of keeping clear of Hindus and if possible subjugating them was available to some Muslims.
• The jihad waged by Syed Ahmed in early 19th century was a part of the same pattern and tradition of annihilating all disbelievers.
• Sir Syed Ahmed khan’s two nation theory was directed against Hindus and finally divided the nation. It was part of the same pattern to make the whole world accept Islam or not to live in harmony with others.
• The modern day proclamations of likes of Zakir Naik are manifestations of the same tendencies.
• Islamist bombing is driven by this idea and wherever Muslims see a political conflict (a natural occurring in any democratic polity) they will invoke religion and rather than peaceful democratic negotiations will start bombing.
• Therefore, Hindus are under direct attack of this Islamisation project. If they want to save themselves—the existential anxiety—they have to unite and counter this violence. If they do not have expertise in bombing, let them have large scale communal violence.
• Therefore, they can be condoned and need healing, recommended by Mr. Swami.

Are we ready to accept this logic? Obviously not, it is all poisonous and product of a sick mind. Then why not the jihadi logic also a product of a sick mind? Why jihadi violence should be condoned, why others should be held responsible for this, why others should be charged with the responsibility of healing this sickness? Why should it not be pointed out that all this logic of revenge is wrong and the perpetrators are responsible; they should heal themselves of this skewed mind-set?
This kind of always available condoning and explaining-away the jihadi acts will strengthen a similar logic in Hindu communalists. And there is a difference in ‘explanation’ and ‘explaining away’; the above mentioned trend of opinion making does not ‘explain’ it ‘explain away’.

Overwhelming majority of Indian population consists of two major religions: Hinduism and Islam. Hinduism by many is considered a conglomerate of many religious sects rather than a single religion. Islam is more often considered a single religion in the classic sense of the term ‘religion’, but does have its own sects and factions. Here, without getting into this fine distinction, I am treating both as religious groups.

Both these religious groups have their bigoted lunatic fringes. The fringe elements have a mind-set of victim-hood and vengeance. They also feel threatened by the other and want to gather strength to contain, if not to annihilate the other. Support and sympathy to the extremist fringes from within their respective communities is a matter of speculation, there are no hard data to say one has greater support then the other. But condoning and explaining-away their heinous acts by Indian intellectuals clearly has a pattern. The Hindu communalist is recognised for what he is, a communalist; but mostly a Muslim communalist is seen and defended as a victim.

Unless we treat each one of them fairly and as equally condemnable, we will strengthen the rivalry by comparison, the fringes will grow. The healing has to be two pronged: kind and humane treatment by the state and calling a spade a spade. The idea of India as a Hindu-rashtra has to be condemned and firmly put down. This idea has to be shown morally wrong, politically unviable, theoretically stupid and totally unacceptable. But simultaneously the ideas of universal Islamism, Caliphate and establishing Shariya as the universal code have to be condemned, shown morally bankrupt, politically impossible and theoretically stupid.

The second cannot be done without bringing in their religious figures (mythological and historical); be that Manu, Rama, Krishna or Muhammad; in the debate and showing that ideas associated with them might be unacceptable, wrong and morally debased, as well as some of them might be very laudable. The historical sheen from their persona has to be taken off and they have to be shown as ordinary mortals which are fallible and can be wrong, even severely condemnable. Similarly the principles articulated in their religious scriptures; be that Gita, Veda, Manusmriti, Quran or Hadith collections; have to be analysed and their untenable defence and soft interpretation have to be abandoned. If there is bigotry and in today’s world morally unacceptable ideas in them in them, it has to be shown clearly and status of God’s word has to be declared as bunkum for all. This has no value in public affairs and politics; however essential it may be for the believers.

Thus three principles that can help us remain secular and contain religious bigotry are:
1. Equal treatment to all perpetrators of communal disharmony and violence.
2. An unforgiving rational critique of their religious books and religious figures. Creation of an environment of tolerance of genuine criticism; even if that makes them angry at first.
3. Kind but non-condoning and firm treatment to bring sense to the misguided. Zero tolerance for the seriously indoctrinated bigots.

Mrs. Gandhi’s and Mr. Swami’s ways of thinking and acting will increase communalism and will not combat it.
In the vitiated atmosphere of India today, I feel compelled to state that no mention of BJP, VHP, Modi, RSS etc. does not mean that they have been paragons of communal harmony and that they are not to blame, or that they are any less responsible. It their divisive politics and hate mongering is generally accepted, and rightly so. They are not mentioned here for the simple reason that this piece is a response to Mr. Swami’s article, and not a general analysis of roots and kinds of communalism in India. Reading support or condoning of BJP etc. in this again will be an example of the same skewed logic used by Mr. Swami in arriving at his untenable conclusions.


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