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’.

Caste and Religion Politics: Is the power of voting any power at all?

We all know the famous tag line that is often associated with Indian politics – “You don’t cast your vote, you vote for your caste”. India is a culturally rich country. We have an array of religions, languages and cultures. Not to mention that the caste system has existed for centuries. Yet the vision of our leaders at the time of Independence was secularism. Our diversity should be our strength, not our weakness. But over the course of time politics became more about winning and less about public service, and our diversity became a tool for the politicians to pit us against each other.

Religion

Indian politics was easily about three things – Religion, caste and regionalism. Each National party had different candidates that appealed to all three vote banks. During the Congress led government (since 2004), the then marginalized and ghettoized Muslims were a major vote bank for them. When Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, he appointed the Sachaar committee to collect data about the state of the average Muslim in India, who was shockingly underrepresented in the BJP led government. During the tenure of Congress, more Muslim MPs were elected and brought to the forefront. Thus Congress established a strong relationship with the Muslims. This, however, was not a new development as the Congress has been accused of harbouring a soft corner for the Muslims ever since the times of Nehru, followed by Indira Gandhi.

The BJP, on the other hand, has always been very vocal about its Hindutva ideologies. It’s many affiliations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (with it’s militant wing – The Bajrang Dal) are a testament to the fact. It’s history regarding it’s involvement in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and then the Gujarat riots in 2002 is still very unclear and murky. Both the acts have still not been punished in the court of law. Under BJP’s tenure, Hindu majoritarianism took precedence over other minority groups. The Christians in Orissa were heavily attacked by the Bajrang Dal in 2008. When they retaliated, the Bajrang Dal reacted with even more violence, forcing people to flee from their villages. It was declared that only the refugees who converted to Hinduism would be allowed back in their villages.

Caste

In the 1990’s, the very infamous Mandal commission was established that declared a 27% reservation for all OBCs in the public sector. The upper caste retaliated with strikes and movements, because of which the OBCs were forced to come together in solidarity to protect their common interests. They began voting together and for their own caste, which was marked by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rise to power in UP and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. Both these politicians took their politics to the home of a Dalit.

In the beginning of the 2000s, however, the OBC solidarity went down mainly due to the fact that both National Parties, namely – BJP and Congress, conjoined hands with OBC candidates and provided them with representation in relevant areas. In Madhya Pradhesh, all BJP Chief Ministers have been OBCs since 2003. Despite the disintegration of the OBC unity, Bahujan Samaj Party is still on a steady rise.

These facts converge to form one fact – in India, parties don’t manage to get a majority or even enough seats to exert any influence in the Parliament without Identity politics. Since it’s Independence in 1947, Indian politics has always relegated itself to caste or religion politics rather than focusing on real issues like poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, unemployment and crime. It is rather unfortunate that we, as a people, are never moved by the core issues that form the basic infrastructure of any economy, but are rather more invested in differences that, at the end of the day, are someone’s personal choices. ‘Power of voting’ is a powerful right only as long as the people are not manipulated or brainwashed into believing in one particular ideology only because it’s being perpetrated by the leaders of their own caste, religion or state. In that case, this power isn’t any power at all, but rather an illusion that makes us believe we’re voting out of free will.

With the grand sweep by the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2015 Legislative Assembly Elections in Delhi, people are now hoping that AAP will bring about a change in the face of politics and the focus will be on developmental issues. Whether or not it will succeed is a question that will be answered in the next 5 years, but here’s hoping that it doesn’t disappoint us.

Source: Religion, Caste & Politics in India by Christophe Jaffrelote