Coming from the Indian nation, a civilization dating to ancient times and today the world’s largest democracy, I write this appeal to the governments and people of Britain and the United States out of concern for the victims and potential victims of jihadist terrorism globally (the victims and potential victims do include even innocent Muslims, and jihadism need not be equated with the Quranic idea of jihad with multiple interpretations, and several liberal Muslim commentators have assertively stated that the doctrine of armed jihad in any context should be discarded as anachronistic by all Muslims, as you can see here, here, here and here, something I wholeheartedly agree with). Just like the Jews and Christians, my Hindu religious grouping too is mentioned as an enemy of Islam by jihadist terrorists and has bled much in attacks by them, while we have also occasionally been misunderstood to be Muslims owing to the brown skin of most of us and we’ve also, therefore, occasionally borne the brunt of Islamophobic scorn, which even innocent Muslims mustn’t be subjected to.
Britain has been the world’s oldest existing parliamentary democracy, and the land of John Locke, the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution and the Fabian Society. While many civilizations, including the Indians, have, in ancient and medieval times, made their own priceless contributions to humanity, and Europe underwent its Dark Ages of the Inquisition and the Crusades, and America has its own history of genocides of Red Indians and even more recently, legally imposed racial segregation, the modern framework of human rights owes a great deal to Britain and the United States, and as an Indian, I totally concur with our prime minister Narendra Modi when he recently declared that the soil of Britain had given rise to India’s struggle against British colonialism for a modern democratic state (I am otherwise an ardent critic of Modi’s, not in the least for his religion-based politics), given that some of our most prominent nationalist statesmen like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (ironically, in spite of their iconic status globally, there are many very misconceptions floated about them today in India by sections of the Hindu right, Muslim right, economic right and even far-left, as discussed here and here) and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (whose legacy sections of India’s Hindu right have attempted to misappropriate), had pursued their education in Britain, as had other Indian nationalist leaders like Asaf Ali, Mohammed Currim Chagla and Sarojini Naidu. Some British people like Margaret Noble (better known as Sister Nivedita), Annie Besant, Verrier Elwin and Philip Stratt had even joined the Indians in their relentless struggle for independence, while many others, especially socialists, had been sympathetic. When Mahatma Gandhi visited England for the Second Round Table Conference in the 1930s, many British workers greeted him, and eminent personalities like Charlie Chaplin and George Bernard Shaw met him. He was even invited to Cambridge University, and when he even walked into the lion’s den visiting textile mill workers in Lancashire rendered unemployed owing to his call for boycott of British goods in India, one of the workers told the press, “I am one of the unemployed, but if I was in India, I would say the same thing that Mr. Gandhi is saying.” Our shared history includes the Indian entrepreneur Dean Mohamed who introduced the therapeutic massage of shampooing (‘champi’) to England in the early 1800s, Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian nationalist democratically elected to the British parliament in 1892 overcoming obstacles of race prejudices (here’s a report on the same in the Guardian back then), Noor Inayat Khan, a female Indian-origin British Muslim spy for the Allied Powers during the Second World War, who undertook a very dangerous mission and helped protect many innocent Jews from the Nazis (interestingly, there is much in the text of the Quran clearly suggesting no hatred for Jews as a collectivity), other than having written the book ‘Twenty Jataka Tales’ relating to Buddhist legends published in 1939 (the British government has issued a stamp commemorating her), and Sophia, an Indian princess from Punjab known to have been Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, a celebrated horse woman and hockey player, who campaigned for giving women the right to vote in Britain.
Today, however, the modern values that we believe in face a serious ideological threat, the way they did from Nazism back in the times of the Second World War, and this time, the threat comes from Islamism (not Islam per se, which, like all major global religions, has multiple versions), a worldview of a global pan-Muslim fraternity (the Muslim ummah) that ought to rule by supposedly religious laws (the Islamic sharia) that don’t advocate equal rights for all, irrespective of religion (or not being religious), gender or sexual orientation. The more extreme forms of Islamism, exemplified by the ISIS, even involve killing innocent people in terrorist attacks to attain this goal in the name of jihad.
Jihadist terrorism recently hit California and had earlier in May 2015, hit Texas, and in both cases, the attackers were of Pakistani origin. Now, terror experts have warned that the UK may be the next target. Whether or not the London subway attack amounted to terrorism, we’ve already had an instance of a man parading the streets of London with a toddler carrying the ISIS flag, and the police was criticized for not even arresting him and indeed rightly so!
But even before the ISIS became such a major international problem, global jihadist terrorism had hit London in the 7/7 bombings, in which the bombers were of Pakistani origin, as was the man involved in the failed attempt at bombing Time Square in New York, and Pakistan was the country where Osama was hiding near a military base. As far as India is concerned, it has bled much at the hands of Pakistani terrorists over the last two-and-a-half decades, the latest prominent examples being the attacks at Pathankot a few days ago (soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Pakistan where he extended a hand of friendship) and Gurdaspur in July 2015 (the victims of which included an economically backward Muslim shepherd) and the most significant instance cited in the international media entailed the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. As noted liberal Pakistani columnist and former civil servant Irfan Husain had pointed out in 2008-
“Over the last few years, I have travelled to several countries across four continents. Everywhere I go, I am asked why Pakistan is now the focal point of Islamic extremism and terrorism, and why successive governments have allowed this cancer to fester and grow. As a Pakistani, it is obviously embarrassing to be put on the spot, but I can see why people everywhere are concerned. In virtually every Islamic terrorist plot, whether it is successful or not, there is a Pakistani angle. Often, foreign terrorists have trained at camps in the tribal areas; others have been brainwashed in madressahs; and many more have been radicalised by the poisonous teachings of so-called religious leaders.
Madeline Albright, the ex-US secretary of state, has called Pakistan `an international migraine`, saying it was a cause for global concern as it had nuclear weapons, terrorism, religious extremists, corruption, extreme poverty, and was located in a very important part of the world. While none of this makes pleasant reading for a Pakistani, Ms Albright`s summation is hard to refute.”
I may add in the current context that several Pakistanis have joined the ISIS as well.
While the American government had blundered in creating the Taliban and Al Qaeda to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Taliban was a barbarian government, of which I have heard first-hand accounts from Afghan friends, and which has been captured beautifully in novels by Khaled Hosseni. Later, the Taliban and Al Qaeda chose to turn against their erstwhile masters, annoyed with US policies in the Middle East, and orchestrated the World Trade Centre twin tower attacks, which justifiably led to a US war against the Taliban that despite US excesses, some unpardonable, gave the Afghans respite by way of having a democratic framework, something many Afghans are happy with, but which many non-Afghan Muslims and left-liberal non-Muslims elsewhere globally fail to understand, being overly critical of the US for having waged a war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (which was indeed very different from the rather unfounded war in Iraq based on false claims of weapons of mass destruction). The US ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan following 9/11 involved taking up the Pakistani state as a partner, but the latter played a dirty, duplicitous game of taking American and British aid to fight the barbaric Taliban, but instead misused it to strengthen the Taliban to kill American and British soldiers, as a former Pakistani intelligence chief has even gleefully conceded in an interview to Mehdi Hasan on British soil. Too much emphasis has been put on the Middle East by many of those assessing the Islamist threat, without focusing on Pakistan, which is what this article seeks to deal with, without in the least making any negative generalization about the entire Muslim populace of Pakistan, acknowledging the many genuine liberals among them and how the ordinary Pakistani Muslim too has become a victim of jihadist terrorism (though Pakistani Muslims falling prey to jihadism doesn’t reduce the accountability of the Pakistani state to fight this life-threatening malaise but rather increases it manifold).
This ideological threat of Islamism has to be recognized for what it is and combated accordingly, not only in the realm of fighting terrorists militarily but by way of ideology, as also taking the right diplomatic steps, and that the West made some blunders that led to the rise and spread of this totalitarian ideology, in no way, undermines the lethality of this ideology or absolves the West of the responsibility of doing what it can to fix this menace. However, before proceeding further, it must be unambiguously clarified that combating Islamism should not be equated with an attitude of generalized bigotry towards those we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. Sure, Islamism cannot be combated by way of platitudes that such issues should not be linked to any religion or religious grouping, for Islamists do act in the name of a religion, and no dangerous ideology can be defeated by mouthing slogans of peace without specifically delving into the context, and that can be done only by incisively rebutting prejudiced notions and making people realize the baseless nature of their extremist worldview, but to just dehumanize in a baseless fashion all those identifying themselves as Muslims or even practising Muslims would be an intrinsically unfair exercise, other than being counterproductive, and we have seen hate crimes against innocent Muslims in Britain, the United States and India, which is a matter of shame for those of us believing in modern human rights values, and those engaging in such hate crimes are very similar to the jihadists, as British prime minister Cameron has indeed rightly said about the anti-Muslim far-right.
Before one generalizes Muslims, it must be noted that terrorism in the name of religion has not been a Muslim monopoly, something the British know only too well, given their historical experience with Northern Ireland, and Americans with their history of white supremacists and Catholic fanatics killing innocent people, and that much predates the rise of jihadist terrorism as a global phenomenon in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when the American and Pakistani governments helped create militias of radicalized Muslims from across the globe. As you can see here, very many instances of terrorism globally, even in the name of religion, have been carried out by those identifying themselves as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even Buddhists, the victims of the acts of terrorists from each of these religious groupings not always being Muslims. However, just like most people of these religious groupings are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims (and not supporting terrorism applies to even most of those Muslims with other regressive and not-so-liberal attitudes on issues like gender and homosexuality, and many peaceful Muslims have deluded themselves with bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories attributing jihadist attacks to non-Muslim entities carrying them out to malign Muslims, a notion that needs to be incisively rebutted, as I have attempted to do here).
It is possible to quote any scripture (allegedly out of context according to its liberal adherents) to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved, an ancient Hindu scripture, is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion. This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this regard, as does this video make an interesting watch in this connection. There are Quranic verses like 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 10:99, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and preaches nothing but peace, and the Quran and Hadiths devote considerable space to talking about honesty (there’s an anecdote of Prophet Muhammad punishing a Muslim for stealing from a Jewish gentleman’s house), kindness, forgiveness, humility and striving for socioeconomic egalitarianism.
Very many mainstream Muslims do indeed believe that Islam is the only religion that can lead to God since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, as mainstream Christians believe the same for Christianity since the advent of Jesus, but that doesn’t entail intolerance towards those of other faiths. To explain this with an analogy, if a certain coaching centre (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coaching centre, it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups (the relevant verses in the context of the Quran have already been cited, and Rom. 12:18 and 1 Tim 2:2 may be cited in the context of the Bible).
Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that does not in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people.
And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s.
Yet, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists.
It is not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists make all of them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist).
Notwithstanding the important digression emphasizing that anti-Muslim bigotry is no solution to Islamism, coming back to what does need to be done to combat Islamism, of course, the strategy would very importantly have to involve ideologically rebutting Islamist narratives, and I have discussed my ideas on the same here. However, in this article, I seek to explore the diplomatic initiatives that I feel Britain and America must take and the modification in narratives those lording over the Western left-liberal human rights discourse must make. Also, since many in Britain carry a historical guilt of colonialism, I would say that in my humble opinion, the biggest reparation that they can perform for the ordinary citizens of the Commonwealth countries like me is to take the steps suggested in this article, and indeed, as has been stated earlier, those who have contributed to a problem coming up in the first place have a responsibility to fix it.
HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ROLE IN STRENGTHENING ISLAMISM IN SOUTH ASIA
Indeed, the story of Islamism becoming a global problem is linked historically not only to the Middle East but even South Asia where I hail from. Historically, Islam came to India both peacefully and through invasions, and India saw much peaceful cultural confluence between Hindus and Muslims, though there were also many Muslim rulers intolerant to the Hindu majority (while many upper caste Hindus too considered Muslims as outcastes), as Portuguese Christian invaders had been to Hindus in the Indian region of Goa, and prior to the advent of Islam, there were some Hindu rulers too who had been intolerant to Buddhists. Many historians have tried to overlook or even to some extent, deny wrongs by many Muslim rulers, while some historians have chosen to not accept clear instances of tolerance by some others.
Coming to the modern period, after the Revolt of 1857 against British colonialism in which Hindus and Muslims put up a united front, the British colonial government in India tried to accentuate divides between Hindus and Muslims, and subsequently, in trying to contain the Indian nationalist struggle led by the Indian National Congress formed in 1885 (that went on to be led by the likes of Gandhi and Nehru), based on modern secular, democratic and economic-egalitarian ideas, helped create in 1906 the Muslim League, a political party of Muslim agrarian feudal lords (agrarian feudal lords were called zamindars) and professionals vying for government jobs, seeking less competition from the Hindu majority. The Muslim League had indeed tried very hard to tell the Indian Muslim masses that their interests would be best served by being loyal to British imperialism.
However, as the nationalist struggle became stronger and independence became imminent, in the 1940s, the Muslim League demanded a partition of India with a separate country Pakistan, carved out of Indian territory, for Indian Muslims, wherein the zamindars could retain their privileges and wherein the Muslim professionals and businessmen would face less competition, this movement being justified on the historically fallacious notion that Hindus and Muslims in India not only followed different faiths but had different, nay antagonistic, cultures and economic interests, though the economic interests of a Muslim peasant or labourer were, for instance, much more similar to a Hindu counterpart than a Muslim zamindar or businessman, and culturally, Indian Muslims had much more in common with their Hindu countrymen than Muslims in other parts of the world. While MA Jinnah, a Britain-educated lawyer and the leader of the movement for Pakistan, did not clearly spell out a theocratic conception of Pakistan (and there is indeed even much to suggest that he did not believe in theocracy) and he was certainly not religious in his personal life, he did take on board very many Muslim clerics desirous of a theocratic framework for the movement for creating Pakistan (including Maulana Maududi whose version of Islam was all about Muslims grabbing political power, denying non-Muslims their rights and not allowing women the freedoms they enjoy in modern societies, and interestingly, Maududi, who was a South Asian and not an Arab, has been extensively quoted by the ISIS chief Baghdadi, showing how very important South Asia is to the history of Islamism), many of whom issued all kinds of diktats to Muslim washermen, barbers etc. to boycott those particular Muslims who were opposed to the partition of India, and Jinnah even resorted to calls of unconstitutional “direct action” entailing mob violence against innocent Hindus to create the Muslim-majority country he desired. Interestingly, many Muslims in the Indian National Congress, like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (a scholar of Islam whose commentary of the Quran is universally appreciated by liberal Muslims), Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Asaf Ali and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, as also many other Muslims in other political outfits, vehemently opposed the idea of a partition of India. A prominent Muslim leader Allah Baksh, opposed to the partition, was even assassinated, allegedly by Muslim League goons.
The British government had, at first, been indifferent or even hostile to the demand for Pakistan, but as declassified papers reveal, it relented after the Second World War, with the rise of the Soviet Union as a superpower, once it realized that it would be useful to have a buffer zone to serve Anglo-American interests between a left-liberal Nehru-led India, which would either be non-aligned or in the socialist camp, and a heavily Soviet-influenced Afghanistan, and so, the British government even secretly funded Jinnah’s campaign for Pakistan, given his agreeing to Anglo-American military bases in the country he wished to create.
MISPLACED READINGS OF SOUTH ASIA AMONG SECTIONS OF LEFT-LIBERALS AND THE NEED TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE ROLE OF THE PAKISTANI MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT IN FERMENTING TERRORISM
India was partitioned in the backdrop of horrendous Hindu-Muslim riots. While India went on to have a constitution with religious freedom for all and abolished the zamindari system other than outlawing caste discrimination among Hindus and rightly or wrongly introducing affirmative action for the so-called lower castes to remedy the same, with Gandhi and Nehru risking their lives to protect Muslims who chose to stay back in India and not migrate to Pakistan, the newly created Pakistan went on to declare itself as an Islamic state and has still retained the zamindari system, despite the Quran emphasizing socioeconomic egalitarianism and the first land reforms in world history possibly having been introduced by Caliph Umar bin Khattab. India even allowed the Muslim League that partitioned the country to continue its political existence in India, while Muslim leaders who had opposed the partition, like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, were denied a political existence in Pakistan and undemocratically made to languish in jails, as a liberal Pakistani columnist has done well to highlight in this piece. Though Jinnah had assured that the religious minorities would not face trouble from the state, the first Hindu minister of Pakistan eventually resigned, and his letter of resignation explaining his stand makes a painful read. While India chose non-alignment (which meant taking an impartial stand on a case-to-case basis, but not joining any power block unlike Swiss-type neutrality entailing taking no stand) in its foreign policy, Pakistan offered its territory to be used for American bases, and Pakistan’s military refused to be tied down by norms of democracy, often overthrowing the democratically elected government in coups and insisting on an anti-India foreign policy to justify its legitimacy and huge budgetary share, launching four wars against India (a fact many Pakistani liberals and even defence veterans concede is that their army initiated all the wars, and while many in Pakistan complain of the Indian armed intervention of 1971 in the erstwhile East Pakistan, that has been held as justifiable even by Noam Chomsky, and there was indeed a genocide of Bengalis taking place there, even acknowledged in official Pakistani reports, as much as we may have some people now in denial, and Chomsky has also expressed fears about the nuclear threat from Pakistan), in which India was defended well by its defence personnel, including many Muslims, some of whom won gallantry awards. In this context, it is ironic how many left-liberals in the West seem to be more critical of India than Pakistan, the reason unfortunately lying in the general affinity of many left-liberals for Muslims, the causes of which have been discussed subsequently. Also, very many British and American media houses have presented the Indo-Pak conflict as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, but while some ultra-rightist Hindus in India may and indeed do view it that way, for millions of secular Indians, including even many Muslims, it is a conflict between secularism and Islamism. Indeed, it is only understandable that Pakistan, a country created on the basis of religious exclusivist ideas that sought to even underscore linguistic, sectarian and other differences among Muslims was undoubtedly bound to be a breeding ground for religious extremism, even though not everyone there is an extremist, and while some Pakistani liberals lament that Jinnah’s secular legacy has been undermined, there are other Pakistani liberals explicitly critical of Jinnah too, as you can see here and here.
The Muslim League or Mr. Jinnah indeed never participated in any mass movement for Indian independence or in support of labourers or peasants for their legitimate rights. Nonetheless, the affinity of sections of the Left for Islamism dates to those times, and the Communist Party of India accepted the right to self-determination in territorial terms for Muslims as a religious grouping (though a truly leftist perspective would look at the proletariat as just that, irrespective of religion), and was rebuffed on this point by Muslims opposed to such a view, but the irony does not end there – the Communist Party was banned in Pakistan soon after its creation! This has a striking similarity in how Islamists treated their leftist fellow-rebels in Iran after the monarchy was overthrown.
The Pakistani state, soon after its creation, invaded a sovereign, oil-rich Muslim-majority kingdom in its neighbourhood, namely Balochistan, parts of which the British had earlier incorporated in undivided India (that had included Pakistan) but had returned to the ruler before Pakistan and India attained independence. The Pakistani state also sought to coercively take over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (which was sovereign and could choose to opt for India or Pakistan), and sent tribal raiders who committed rapes and other atrocities against non-Muslims and in some cases, even plundered Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri Muslims themselves had no consensus on whether to join India or Pakistan and their then tallest leader Shaikh Abdullah, an ardent socialist opposed to the zamindari system, had already declared his affinity towards India. When Pakistan attempted to invade J&K, the ruler sought Indian help and decided to join India, and during the course of this war, in which several pro-India Kashmiri Muslims formed militias with Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs to resist the Pakistani onslaught, and some pro-India Kashmiri Muslims like Maqbool Sherwani were killed by the raiders, India took the matter to the United Nations, which brokered a ceasefire, leading to a part of the erstwhile princely state occupied by Pakistan to remain under its control, while the rest to be a part of India, with the United Nations resolution of 1948 asking Pakistan to hand over its occupied territory to India, following which there would be a plebiscite with the people of Jammu and Kashmir opting for India or Pakistan. Pakistan never let go of its occupied territory or conducted any plebiscite there, but keeps accusing India of being a colonial power, having demonized India as an “enemy of Islam” and itself sponsoring terrorism against innocent Indian civilians in the name of fighting for Kashmiris’ ‘freedom’, with some ultra-orthodox Kashmiri Muslim leaders on the Indian side like Asiya Andrabi wanting all women to publicly only wear burqas advancing the cause of Kashmir joining Pakistan! Even the more moderate separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have, in their public utterances, displayed contempt towards Jews, converts to Christianity, and those who are in his view adherents of the deviant sects of Islam, other than making patriarchal statements. While Kashmiri Muslims do indeed have some very legitimate grievances with the Indian state concerning alleged rigging of elections till the 1980s and human rights violations by rogue elements in the Indian security forces when the valley came to be militarized after the onset of the jihadist militancy in 1989, the separatist movement for an independent Kashmir or for joining Pakistan is, on the whole, Islamist, howsoever much some left-liberals may want to dodge this reality, and some Kashmiri Muslims living in the West and talking in Western-accentuated English should not be taken to be authentic representatives of that movement, a mistake the Western intelligentsia can indeed ill-afford to repeat after the Arab Spring. Besides, what is often conveniently overlooked is the genuine suffering of the people of the parts of the erstwhile princely state of J&K under Pakistani occupation, who were for long disenfranchised and have been deprived of development with their resources exploited, with severe restrictions on freedom of expression other than large-scale changes in demography.
Also, some make erroneous comparisons of Pakistan’s military attempt at taking over J&K with India’s militarily taking over the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh, but in Hyderabad and Junagadh, a vast majority of the populace was Hindu and absolutely unambiguously desirous of joining India (though the Muslim majority of J&K was not unambiguous about joining Pakistan) rather than being a part of any monarchy, and subsequent plebiscites proved their pro-India tilt. Not only the Hindu majority of these princely states, but even many Muslims with secular views in these princely states did strongly support India, perhaps the most notable example being journalist Shoebullah Khan of Hyderabad killed for his convictions.
Yes, India has had a Hindu ultra-right with elements involved in generalized hate-mongering and condoning or endorsing violent hate crimes against Muslims (I have written a book aimed at incisively countering their narrative), which was politically quite insignificant before independence, though its importance was exaggerated by the Muslim League to justify the creation of Pakistan, and equally, the partition of India in a bloody fashion only strengthened these elements thereafter. However, they could not acquire much political significance in independent India for many decades either, but for in the late 1980s and early 1990s when regressive sections of Indian Muslims outright rejected a progressive judicial verdict concerning the rights of Muslim women (the Shah Bano verdict), openly disrespecting the judicial process under the constitutional setup, and when the Pakistani state sponsored terrorism in Kashmir that killed or drove away most of the Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits (other than even many pro-India Kashmiri Muslims), from their homeland (other than shutting down all pubs and cinema halls and firing at radio stations, for the militants perceived cinema and music to be un-Islamic, though interestingly, some of India’s biggest names in cinema and music are Muslim, and yes, for an incisive rebuttal to rationalizations and conspiracy theories offered about the displacement of the Kashmiri Hindus, see this piece), but since India was closer to the Soviet Union then, sections of the American government and media actually exhibited sympathy to Kashmiri terrorists, even having called them freedom fighters.
However, the Pakistani establishment has misused aid to fight terror to instead support terrorists against India, Afghanistan and Iran. The terror infrastructure in Pakistan depends on several ultra-extremist madrasas brainwashing children into hatred of non-Muslims, and even their official school curriculum, while being relatively more moderate, is full of lies and half-truths taught as history, on which much has been written and said, and here’s one piece on that from a liberal newspaper in Pakistan. Thankfully, there are still genuine liberals in that country, but many of them run the risk of being shot at, as several journalists and politicians from that country espousing liberal ideas have. The Frankenstein monster of jihadist terrorism unleashed by Pakistan’s military establishment that amounts to the de facto power centre in that country has come to bite the hand that fed it, with sections of jihadist terrorists wanting to Talibanize Pakistan and resorting to killing Pakistani soldiers, intelligence officers and even innocent civilians in the process, perhaps the most horrendous recent example having been the killing of school children in Peshawar in December 2014.
SOME SUGGESTIONS TO THE BRITISH AND AMERICAN GOVERNMENTS AND LEFT-LIBERALS
Prime Minister David Cameron of England has done well to acknowledge the Islamist threat for what it is, as has President Obama of the United States, and the latter did well to highlight the lack of a strong enough pushback against extremism among the Muslims themselves. A well-coordinated strategy against Islamism would have to involve putting pressure on governments of countries that are known to sponsor terror. In the current scenario, these include unfortunately Turkey (under Erdagon, who is facing much resistance from sections of his own people), which had showed the way to the rest of the Islamic world when it came to secular democracy, and of course, Pakistan.
China has sought to counter its own Islamist threat from sections of Uighur Muslims by befriending and appeasing Pakistan (and even the Afghan Taliban in the past), also given the mutually shared antipathy to India. Because of the economic significance of China, it seems that Western governments have been very reluctant to isolate Pakistan by way of sanctions (that’s the impression I got in an interaction with a European diplomat). If that isn’t an option, a closer monitoring of aid or giving aid in kind rather than cash can and indeed should be considered, and the Pakistani government should not be accepted as a stake-holder in Afghanistan, other than which military aid must be minimised, if any given at all, for their army consumes a disproportionate share of their budget anyway, but quite unfortunately, the policy that your governments are following are indeed exactly the reverse, not in the least owing to the possibility of senior officials in your governments being on Pakistani pay-rolls. Any diplomatic initiatives by India, Afghanistan and Iran, Pakistan’s neighbouring countries that have bled in terrorism sponsored by the Pakistani military establishment, to help checking radicalism in Pakistan, should be supported.
To the Western left-liberals, I must say that I am very well aware of the fact that not all of you are apologists for Islamism, but to those of you who are, I would say that given your dislike for US foreign policy and the fact that Islamism has emerged as the biggest enemy of the US ever since the fall of the Soviet Union as also that given your commitment to fight for the rights of minorities given the increasing anti-Muslim bigotry (which is indeed actually owing to increasing Islamism), you have developed an attitude of being sympathetic to, even if not supportive of, Islamists and gunning for Western foreign policies as the root of all problems (though many of you, I’m sorry to say, hypocritically gloss over Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan as also the Chinese state, to put it very politely, restricting the Uighur Muslims’ religious freedoms). While I share your concern for fighting anti-Muslim bigotry and being critical of the foreign policies of Western governments, that should not translate into sympathy for Islamism, which goes against all values that are leftist or liberal, and by demonizing anti-Muslim bigots but being sympathetic to Muslim bigots, your biased worldview will, in no way, help to eradicate anti-Muslim bigotry. Islamism is not just about antipathy to non-Muslims but even subjugating Muslim women, liberal Muslims and apostates of Islam. Instead of extending more support to left-liberals and other liberals within Muslim societies fighting Islamism, which you often don’t do (as some Muslim left-liberals fighting Islamism have also complained about with respect to their non-Muslim Western counterparts, as you can see here and here, and ironically, we’ve even had non-Muslim left-liberals trying to lecture liberal Muslims threatened by Islamism on how Islamism is not such a big problem, as you can see here and here), like expressing solidarity with Kurdish men and women militarily taking on the ISIS, having protected the Yazidis, a tiny non-Muslim minority, from the barbarian ISIS, you often choose to be sympathetic to, even if not supportive of, the ISIS, getting into all kinds of discussions about how they are, in a way, fighting a legitimate struggle against neo-imperialism, without strongly enough condemning the barbarianism they stand for, as if condemning the ISIS strongly amounts to condemning Muslims strongly, thus equating the ISIS with Muslims in general, which is the biggest possible insult you can inflict upon Muslims! Muslims must be seen through the same prism of universal human rights as anyone else is, but the “regressive left” (a term used by Maajid Nawaz, himself a liberal Muslim) somehow wants to treat Islamists with kid’s gloves based on a very flawed notion of multiculturalism at variance with human rights. The principle of ‘might is right’ in some form or the other has persisted in human history, as it still does with US neo-imperialism in Iraq, Christian-majority Congo, Buddhist-majority Vietnam and Christian-majority Nicaragua, but when democratic human rights values are under attack, the topmost priority at the time should be eliminate the ideological cancer of Islamism threatening those believing in those values, those believing in modern democratic values including very many Muslims. This cancer has, to a great extent, emanated and spread from Pakistan, which the British and American governments indeed had a role in creating, and so, they must do what they can to nip this cancer in the bud. In fact, Pakistan’s Nobel Laureate, scientist Abdus Salam, had to leave his country for opposing laws restricting the freedom of speech and religious freedom of the Ahmedia sect, deemed by the government as non-Muslim, and he settled down in Britain, which has also become the abode of Malala, Pakistan’s only other Nobel Laureate.
India has had its own Hindu-Muslim tensions, and while any killing of innocent civilians (the victims have been both Hindus and Muslims) must be condemned in the strongest terms, Muslims in India and even the West, on the whole, enjoy much better civil liberties and security of life and property than Muslims in Pakistan and many other Muslim-majority countries. The Hindu ultra-right in India certainly deserves very strong condemnation, but to be overly judgmental of Indian politics sitting in Britain or America and analysing Indian elections only through the prism of religion would be grossly unfair, and while I did not vote for Narendra Modi (of whom I was extremely critical, as you can see here and here, and indeed continue to be, as you can see here and here), to view his electoral victory as an expression of an ultra-rightist Hindu sentiment by a majority of Indians would be a gross error of judgment (as I have discussed here), as would be the idea that India’s secular and democratic constitutional ethos can be very conveniently wished away by Hindu rightists, and Indian democracy with its civil society (such as the writers, scientists etc. who, over the Modi government apparently fanning religious intolerance, returned awards conferred upon them by the government, an initiative I extended my solidarity with as an ordinary citizen) has its inbuilt mechanisms to deal with any threats to secular democracy (as the defeat of Modi’s party in the provincial elections in Delhi and Bihar has demonstrated), and while being no apologist for the Hindu right, I would say that though some of the rhetoric of right-wingers of all religious labels can be remarkably similar, the Hindu right is indeed, on the whole, very different from its Muslim counterpart in several ways. There is much exaggeration of Muslim victimhood in India, even by Indian left-liberals, and you can read this to know how very misplaced it is, and in India too, the intellectual elitism in fighting Hindu chauvinism, casteism and anti-Muslim bigotry, making left-liberals see themselves as the sole custodians of minority rights, has led to this bias.
Rather than promoting exaggerated portrayals of minority victimhood in a secular democracy like India, which even offends many centrist Indians, potentially pushing them more to the right, and allowing Hindu rightists to play victim crying racism, citing not wrongly how the Western media, on many occasions, actually shies away from even using the term ‘terrorists’ for Pakistani jihadists killing innocent Indian civilians, Western left-liberals should indeed rather focus their energies more on fighting Islamism, especially emanating from countries like Saudi Arabia (that unfortunately the British government actually helped secure a place for at the United Nations Human Rights Council, though the international community should be talking more about Raif Badawi facing potentially fatal lashes in that country for advocating secular democracy), which Germany is now doing well to take on, and yes, Pakistan (I may clarify that the bracketing of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was in the context of exporting Islamism; otherwise, Pakistan as a country, in spite of all its flaws, is much better than Saudi Arabia when it comes to civil liberties, women’s rights and religious freedom of non-Muslims). While I know that my preceding statements can be construed as some kind of chauvinistic Indian nationalism, that is certainly not the case, and I have been critical of hyper-nationalism among sections of Indians, as you can see here and here, but what I am saying is out of genuine concern for not allowing India’s Hindu right to play victim and what is indeed a bigger challenge globally to human rights values, while not in the least undermining the hate crimes of the Hindu ultra-right.
Pakistan’s religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, face serious problems in terms of violence by Muslim extremists (compared to which problems faced by Muslims in the West are minor, as a Pakistani liberal points out) and are often detained under the easy-to-misuse blasphemy laws (something I am glad Left Foot Forward, a British left-liberal portal, has carried a piece on, and I may clarify yet again that as much as I oppose majoritarianism, I equally oppose generalized majority-bashing, even in the context of Pakistan). The Baloch people fighting for their lost independence have been subjected to gross human rights violations, but those screaming their lungs out against Israeli aerial bombings in Gaza are usually silent on Pakistani aerial bombings in Balochistan (and Saudi aerial bombings in Yemen, for that matter) and those complaining of rapes and fake encounters by rogue elements in the Indian security forces in Kashmir are usually silent on the Baloch being subjected to the same by Pakistani counterparts. Do Kurds and Balochs, believing in a version of Islam compatible with secular democracy and influenced by socialist ideas, not deserve the support of left-liberal intellectuals globally? By not exposing intra-Muslim conflicts as being the political conflicts that they are, as are conflicts between non-Muslim political entities and conflicts between a Muslim political entity and a non-Muslim political entity, left-liberals are doing little to counter the mythical Islamist narrative of an anti-Muslim Hindu-Jewish-Christian alliance, which I have sought to debunk in some detail here.
Obviously, all Pakistanis or Pakistani-origin people are certainly not our enemies, and in fact, intellectuals from Pakistan, many of them practising Muslims, have indeed emerged as the biggest critics of Islamism (unlike many non-Muslim left-liberals), some of them having even written for British left-leaning portals like Left Foot Forward, but trying to fix the Pakistani military establishment and ultra-orthodox clergy is something Britain and America owe to themselves, to India, and to humanity as a whole. The war against Islamism is the war of the 21st century, and appeasement of the pattern of Neville Chamberlain will not help. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, an Indian socialist leader and globally acclaimed statesman, had, in his very classic article ‘On The Brink’, slammed Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Nazism, and had also critiqued India’s Muslim right (and Hindu right) in his speeches and writings, including his autobiography. However, very many of the left-liberals of today invoking his name support the very politics of appeasing regressive ideologies he had opposed, and have even sought to engage with Muslim citizens of liberal democracies on religious rather than modern constitutional terms, and there lies the irony. But lamentation is not the solution, action is.