Islamophobia

Islamophobia: a term liberals like myself grew up tip-toeing around, carefully choosing our words while talking about Islam lest we slip into the territory of ‘Islamophobia’. So what is Islamophobia? Wikipedia describes it as ‘fear of, hatred of or prejudice against the religion of Islam or muslims in general…’ Does this mean that nobody can ever, criticize Islam? Does not agreeing with the idea that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ amount to Islamophobia?

One of the downsides of free speech is that you might have to hear things that you don’t agree with, or even things that offend you. You have the right to put forth your own point of view, but you can’t demand that the other person shut up. As long as someone is not promoting hate speech (All muslims are terrorists and deserve to be thrown out!) and promoting violence (We need to unite against outsiders and erase them from the map of this country!) – you really cannot do much. If someone goes on a platform and talks about how Harry Potter is their god and they would like a day to celebrate the death of Voldermort, no matter how outlandish it may sound to you, you can’t do anything about it. Similarly, if someone goes on a platform and says that they don’t agree with Islam and think it promotes bad ideas, you cannot go on a rampage, call for this person’s arrest and term it ‘Islamophobia’. If, in the eyes of Islam, free speech is allowed to the extent of praising the doctrine and singing praises about it’s teachings, then perhaps its best not to call it free speech in the first place.

In October 2020, a teacher was beheaded by a radical muslim for showing cartoons (published by Charlie Hebdo) of Prophet Muhammad in class, talking about freedom of speech. Thousands of muslims across the world joined protests against French President Macron’s decision to protect the rights of a magazine to publish these cartoons. Note that it was not the beheading of a teacher that they found blasphemous, but the cartoons of an alleged Prophet. France is known for it’s secular fabric and discouragement of any religious expression in public. Freedom of speech is considered sacrosanct and nothing is above it. So the question is – why should islam get a special right to be excluded from this fabric? Why should, as Christopher Hitchens put it, muslims be allowed a divine right to bigotry? Why shouldn’t Islam be criticized, questioned and even mocked like anything else? What makes it ‘special’? The cartoons offended you. Well, too bad. Deal with it.

It’s ironic that muslims in democratic countries rally behind the idea of expression of religion, when their own doctrine does not permit leaving and/or adoption of another religion, or dropping of religion entirely. When questioned about laws regarding apostasy, they’re quick to claim – ‘it’s not the faith, it’s the culture!’. Well, no. It IS the faith as the quran explicitly talks of killing people who leave islam. 12 countries have death penalty for apostasy by law. Others, including Pakistan, have the death penalty for blasphemy. Ex-muslims across the world (even in western countries) fear for their lives when they leave their faith. Some are even killed brutally by their own families. Some go into hiding. Richard Dawkins very famously asked ‘What is the punishment for apostasy?’ to a Islamic representative during a debate, which he tried to dodge and avoid for a very long time before admitting that it is the death penalty. The fact that some muslims are able to talk about ideas like ‘expression of religious freedom’, ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘freedom of clothing’ is precisely because they live in democratic countries where the state is separate from religion. In most islamic countries, ‘choice’ is an alien concept that is often termed as ‘western immorality’. I can go on about the various other barbaric and regressive ideas promoted both in the Quran and the Hadith but I just might have to write a book for it.

On January 7, 2015, two french muslim brothers killed 12 members of staff of the Charlie Hebdo magazine for publishing cartoons on Prophet Muhammad. The magazine had been threatened before for it’s satirical portrayals of Islam, but it refused to back down. On January 11, 2015, Journalist Rana Ayyub published an opinion that said ‘French have my condolences, not my apology’, where not once did she mention the importance of upholding ideals of free speech and the right to dissent, something she so truly believes in herself. All she talked about was her frustration at being asked to apologize on behalf of the terrorists who did this, along with the famous ‘they’re not true muslims’ argument. First of all, it’s not necessary for you to apologize on behalf of anyone. What IS necessary, however, is that you (and others like you) stop dissociating extremist elements from Islam entirely, thereby halting any possibility of any discussion about the teachings of the faith completely. It’s quite easy (and rather cowardly) to run away from facing any criticism of the faith by claiming – ‘that’s not islam!’ – well, then WHAT is islam? An overwhelming majority of muslims across the world want sharia as the official law of the land (pew research center) – are they true muslims? Majority of the muslims believe that apostasy is wrong (to say the least) – are they true muslims? Muslim countries (and even non-muslim countries) saw riots against Charlie Hebdo – are they true muslims? Or are you the only ‘true’ muslim who understands the teachings of the faith? Read: No true scotsman fallacy.

For any other religion, or even atheism, an article such as this one would be considered abhorrent. For it to surface days after this ghastly attack and the author to take a defensive stance is downright inhumane. But, as we have established earlier, Islam has procured for itself a special right to be immune from any form of criticism or questioning. If it gets too much, people end an argument with ‘My faith is private and I do not need to explain to anybody’. In that case, perhaps it would be a better idea to not reveal your religious identity in the public domain at all. You cannot claim to be a ‘proud muslim’ and then shut yourself off of any questions. If I publish an article saying ‘I’m a proud Harry Potter fan, but it’s personal so please don’t talk to me about it’ is ridiculous to say the least. What is truly private remains private. End of story.

Ultimately, this systematic propaganda to whitewash islam is damaging sections of society such as women and LGBTQ massively in Islamic countries. They have no avenues or platforms from where they can seek help. Very few of them manage to escape and seek refuge in other countries. Their voices are lost amidst the ‘proud muslims’ debating their right to ‘wear a burqa’ when most of the women and girls in islamic countries don’t even get a say in it. What we should be focusing on is the human rights abuse that happens in the name of Islam, rather than slapping it’s critics with ‘Islamophobia’.

Raise a voice against police misconduct in India!

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India is a country where every person or group in authority assumes autocratic power. Whether it is your local welfare association, development authority, MLA, MP or Police. They unabashedly abuse the power given to them by the public to serve them. They thrive on feeling powerful and in control – An unfortunate misuse of taxpayer’s money.

When was the last time you felt satisfied by the steps taken by the police to address your grievance? Were they sensitive? Did they listen to you properly? Did you ever get a proper account of the follow up conducted? Was your grievance ever really solved or did you just move on due to lapse of time?

Or, when was the last time you were harassed by the police in the following ways: (i) Verbal intimidation (ii) Verbal abuse (iii) Unlawful detention (iv) Mental torture (v) false accusation (vi) Been asked for a bribe and (vii) Physical torture? Or known someone who has been harassed by the police?

When was the last time you truly felt safe calling the police?

Unfortunately, Police misconduct and human rights violations are commonplace in India. What should be an exception is treated as a norm. People are illegally detained and tortured in police stations for days at a time. Abusive intimidation tactics that know no boundaries are incessantly used to break a person. False charges and accusations are lodged in order to get their way. Stalling or slowing the process down of FIR retrieval, deliberate attempts to not follow up a case, delay carrying out an investigation to let mitigating factors come into play are some of the other ways in which police abuses it’s power.

The citizens are extremely fearful of the police. The moment you see a police car next to your house, you start panicking. The kind of fear that the police induces in people is astonishing and shocking. It’s hard to believe that this establishment has been put in place for our own protection and well-being. No one wants to go against the police. No one wants to fight them in case they trap them in a false charge or build a criminal case against them. No one wants to even get involved in a police case. This is the way the police manipulates the citizens to follow their command. They have led people to believe that their authority is absolute and binding, and that they can make life difficult for anyone who opposes them.

Why is this happening? Why, in a country that preaches “of the people, by the people, for the people”, is letting such shameless harassment of it’s people go unnoticed? Unfortunately, the answer is that there is no mechanism in place to hold the police accountable for their actions. When something bad happens to us, we’re supposed to go to the police. But where do we go when the police does something wrong to us? Any answers?

A Police Complaints Authority has been put in place for namesake. You can go to the court but the Indian judicial system is slower than a snail on wheels. You can file a complaint in NHRC, but they too, take their time. Bottomline is there is no independent authority that can be summoned immediately when you are being harassed or abused by the police. There is no helpline that will respond to your grievance and set up a case against the officer in question.

We need an authority that induces the kind of fear in the police that they induce in the public. They need to know that someone is on their watch, that they cannot misuse the power given to them. We also need CCTV cameras to be installed in every room of every police station, so that they cannot detain or torture illegally. Every concerned citizen should be allowed to access the footage.

I have made a petition to get supporters for this cause. The reason that I have made this petition is because I have personally gone through a harrowing experience with the police recently, where I was manhandled, abused and denied of basic rights. I was shocked at the sheer injustice of it all and realized that something needs to be done about this. I plan to file a PIL in the supreme court if I manage to get enough volunteers and signatures. So if you agree with me, please sign this petition and forward it to as many people as you can.

Raise a voice against Police misconduct and harassment! – Please sign this petition!