Civil liberties are integral to democracy, which make it different from majoritarian tyranny. There are some basic rights guaranteed to every citizen, which he/she can exercise, even if the majority disagrees. To give a caricatured example, if the majority of a nation doesn’t like a singer’s voice, they can’t ban him from singing or a minority from listening to him! In a democracy, freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct, though it may be subjected to some somewhat defined supposedly reasonable restrictions.
A letter that BJP MP Satish Gautam wrote to the VC of AMU instructs the latter that there should be no public criticism of the RSS and the BJP on the AMU campus, for he does not want AMU to go the JNU way. Trying to advocate the ‘barbadi’ of India or calling someone convicted for terrorism a martyr is completely unacceptable for it undermines the rule of law and is very provocative like communal hate speech, as discussed here (the disproportionate reaction of the Modi sarkar in arresting the apparently innocent Kanhaiya, having male policemen enter girls’ hostels and OP Sharma, a BJP MLA, engaging in violence in court premises, is another story, though indeed a very important and relevant one), but how can the RSS, BJP or any socio-political group be seen as above criticism in a democracy?
Such statements are not very unusual for the BJP. BJP leader Ashwani Kumar Choubey even declared that his political opponents like Nitish Kumar should pack off to Pakistan, while minister ‘Sadhvi’ Niuranjan Jyoti created that neat binary of BJP-supporters being Ramzade, while all other Indians being haramzade, and before the national elections, Giriraj Singh said all those not voting for the BJP should go to Pakistan, suggesting there should be no room for them in India.
Equating the RSS and/or the BJP with the nation, silencing all contrarian voices, is blatantly undemocratic. Would someone like Aruna Asaf Ali, who took to guns to fight British imperialism, be branded as anti-national, for she joined the CPI after independence? Should Manik Sarkar, the CM of Tripura from the CPI-M, who is noted for his integrity and who has almost eliminated the secessionist insurgency in Tripura, be called anti-national? Or Julio Ribeiro, who, as a police officer, was instrumental in crushing the Khalistani insurgency but is critical of the RSS and the BJP? Or Lal Bahadur Shastri, who gave the Pakistani establishment a tough retaliation in the wake of Operation Gibraltar, be branded as anti-national for he too was critical of the RSS? And should anyone have just been unquestioningly assumed to be great nationalists for their association with the RSS and/or the BJP, when we’ve had RSS-BJP folks like Bangaru Lakshman caught compromising on national security?
If affinity to a certain political outfit is actually equated with nationalism, that reeks of a certain totalitarian ideology that asserted itself in the early 20th century, and it’s called fascism. It’s premised on majoritarianism, but even the majority is stripped of its civil liberties. The fate of Germany after the Second World War tells us the outcome of charting that course, as does the fate of Afghanistan in its post-Taliban phase. We have to be careful to safeguard our civil liberties, for dictators are often not benevolent, as we can see in North Korea. Our media, judiciary and activists, with all their flaws, make the political class accountable for its corruption and non-delivery of promises. A government without checks and balances can chart any course disastrous for the nation.
No, I am not engaging in fear-mongering here, but urging all Indians to keep up a fight against authoritarian tendencies. We may disagree with what others say, but we must indeed defend their right to say it, at least as long as it falls within the constitutional guarantees, which would certainly entail allowing criticism of the RSS and the BJP. While nt everyone in the RSS and BJP thinks alike, large sections of people in these organisations harbour Hindu chauvinism and bigotry towards Muslims, which is not good.
We should only be glad that we opted for being a modern, inclusive state, rather than defining our nationalism based on religious identity, as Pakistan and Uganda did, and we all know the havoc that religious extremism has wreaked for even the majority Muslim and Christian communities respectively in those two countries by the TTP and Lord’s Resistance Army respectively. As much as some tend to level baseless allegations against and float nonsensical conspiracy theories about Gandhi and Nehru (to clarify any misconceptions you have about them, see this article and this one), these two personalities, while certainly not being above criticism, undoubtedly have great legacies, and one should not fall prey to the Hindu right trying to appropriate the legacies of Sardar Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose either and Hindu Mahasabha leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee (recently hailed by Amit Shah as a “selfless patriot”) had offered to help the British in crushing the Quit India Movement and who actually formed a coalition with the Muslim League to keep the pro-freedom Congress out. (I am not a supporter of the Congress party of today if anyone inferred that, and I am a supporter, though not uncritical admirer, of the AAP.) It is wonderful to identify with the heritage of one’s civilization, which has also evolved, but to imagine scientific or artistic creativity or valid notions of morality to be the sole preserve of one’s own version of Indian culture, imagining other influences as necessarily being pollutants, is nothing but intolerance (which the Rigved opposes, saying one should accept noble thoughts from all directions), and one must guard against chauvinistic notions of tolerance that can and indeed do also produce very lethal intolerance.
I personally know several Muslims who are unprejudiced and are strongly patriotic Indians, and I see no reason to see Indian Muslims loyal to their country as being exceptions to the general norm. In fact, a Hindu acquaintance of mine, who studied at AMU, told me that while those cheering for Pakistan were quite a vocal lot there, most Muslims cheered for India, and this was in a Muslim-majority setting where the apparently pro-India majority did not have to conceal its true feelings, and another friend of mine, who is an Assamese Hindu from Guwahati and who is very resentful of the Bangladeshi Muslim influx in his state, told me that on a train journey, he overheard a conversation between two Muslims from AMU bashing the students who cheer for Pakistan. Also, another friend of mine whose father is an Indian Army officer once told me that he loves the entire Muslim community (though I don’t support any stereotyping, positive or negative!), for once, his father was fired at by militants in Kashmir and his father’s driver, a Muslim, rushed to bear the bullet to save his father’s life! He also narrated another anecdote of how a Muslim once donated blood to save his father’s life and asserted that he was not in the least ashamed of the fact that “Muslim blood” (whatever that is supposed to mean!) runs through his veins!
I am not even suggesting that it is so much as possible to classify any religious grouping into watertight compartments of ‘communal’ or ‘secular’, and communalism among those we identify as communal does vary in degree. I would even assert that not every instance of Muslim communalism in India necessarily, in the conventional sense, amounts to affinity with Pakistan or hostility to India, and while communalism, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or any other, strikes at what Tagore called the “idea of India”, any communal statement from a Muslim, like Azam Khan’s ridiculous statement attributing India’s victory in the Kargil war only to Muslim soldiers (but he did indeed explicitly glorify these Muslim soldiers serving India’s national cause in the same speech), should not be seen as “anti-national” in the conventional sense of the term if Hindu communal statements are not seen in the same vein, and even Asaduddin Owaisi has ridiculed Pakistan for the partition dividing the Muslims of the subcontinent as also for being backward as compared to India but bearing animosity towards India, making life difficult for Indian Muslims.
Terrorism, and even terrorism citing a theological basis, is not a Muslim monopoly. 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).
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, with the US-backed Islamist resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan having signalled its rise. And, 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 very laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists, and Kurdish, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian Muslims have also been fighting the ISIS. In India too, most of the terrorism is not by Muslims, as you can see here and here.
It is not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is also not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make 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 indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, 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), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.
Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!
There are also misplaced notions of Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India, though the Muslim population growth rate is declining (not the population itself, which cannot decline usually for any community), and the population growth rate of Keralite Muslims is less than UPite Hindus, for instance, and yes, even otherwise, if someone sees Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India as a real problem, they should appeal to the Indian government to legally impose a two-child norm for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion, rather than just generate unnecessary hatred for an entire community and divide the nation. Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having many children because they practise polygamy as permitted by their faith (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy), even though that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would respectively give birth to the number of children they would, irrespective of whether they are married to one man or four different men! In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith (and, in fact, it was outlawed for Hindus only after independence, and Nehru faced stern opposition for the same from orthodox Hindus). The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man – to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna‘s mother) and Rohini (Balram‘s mother) and Ram‘s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach‘s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna‘s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after his multiple wives (if he has multiple wives in the first place) equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today. As for harems, these too have not been a monopoly of Muslim rulers, and the practice has existed among Hindu rulers too, such as in South India, and even among Buddhist rulers in Sri Lanka. And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. Many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former president V.V. Giri, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children, and even Narendra Modi is the third of his parents‘ six children.
Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Parsis as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram‘s daughter (though this is a South Indian folk adaptation not to be found in the Puranic lore, it shows that the idea hasn‘t always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.
And for those suggesting any marriage between a Hindu boy and Muslim girl as amounting to “love jihad”, they may note that many Muslim women too have married Hindu men, like Katrina Kaif, Sussanne Khan, Zohra Sehgal (formerly Zohra Khan), Neelima Azim (Pankaj Kapoor’s wife), Nargis and leading Mumbai cyclist Firoza, and some have even converted to Hinduism upon marriage, like famous sitarist Annapurna Devi (formerly Roshanara Khan), fashion model Nalini Patel (formerly Nayyara Mirza), Maharashtra politician Asha Gawli (formerly Zubeida Mujawar), South Indian actress Khushboo Sundar (formerly Nakhat Khan) and Bollywood actress Zubeida.
An allegation often leveled against Islam and Muslim societies is sexism. It should be noted that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was a successful businesswoman, and the world’s oldest existing university, which is in Morocco and dates back to 859 AD, was set up by Fatima al Fihri, a well-educated Muslim woman. Prophet Muhammad is even believed to have mandated education for all, irrespective of gender, as you can see here and here, and in fact, the education cutting across gender lines even includes physical education. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad himself is believed to have said that children (he did not specify only boys) must be taught archery, horse-riding and swimming. In fact, a woman, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, fought in his army, just as Hindu lore refers to Arjun’s wife Chitrangada as an ace fighter and how Kaikeyi and Madri were ace charioteers. This article discusses in some detail the freedoms accorded to women by Islam and early Muslim societies, and how they partook in war, diplomacy, business and several other fields of life, and how the veil came in later as a norm in Muslim history. Currently, many Kurdish Muslim women are bravely fighting the ISIS, and there was news of an Iraqi Kurdish woman, Rehana, killing over a hundred ISIS terrorists. Major Mariam Al Mansouri, a female fighter pilot from the UAE, has also been involved in anti-ISIS operations. While one would not assert that Islam or any other major global religion (and in this, we include the oriental faiths as much as the Abrahamic religions) is completely free from patriarchy (with all due respect to everyone’s religious sentiments), this mindset of prohibiting girls’ education represents a deeply patriarchal mindset among these ultra-conservative terrorists hailing from tribal Pashtun communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has no basis in Islamic theology, and very many people across the globe who have identified themselves as Muslims have educated their daughters.
No Muslim-majority country (but for parts of them ruled by militias like the Taliban and ISIS), not even Saudi Arabia, has legally imposed wearing burqas (though only Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards wearing burqas, it must be noted that the Quran does not ordain it, nor do quotations attributed to Prophet Muhammad of undisputed authenticity), or prohibited women from driving (though only Saudi Arabia, other than militia-ruled regions, has imposed a ban on women driving, but a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibits women from driving. In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, another Islamic state which largely follows the same Wahabi sect of Islam as Saudi Arabia, there are women-run family taxis, and Laleh Seddigh, an Iranian Muslim woman, is among the best car-racers globally, competing with men.
If we, as Hindus, expect Muslims and Christians to oppose their extremists, isn’t it fair on their part to expect us to oppose ours? If we want Hindu minorities to not feel victimized elsewhere (be it the Gulf, Malaysia or anywhere else), don’t we owe the same to non-Hindu minorities here? While most Hindus are not to blame, with many of them (myself included) raising their voice for minority rights whenever the occasion arises (and some even going to the other extreme of exaggerating minority victimhood), the religious rightists among the Hindus need to understand this. As mentioned earlier, majoritarian bullying is something we rightly criticize large sections of the government and society of Pakistan and Uganda for, and these countries went on to have ultra-rightist militias (the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Lord’s Resistance Army respectively) wanting to govern their country in a fascist fashion, in which even the majority community would be deprived of the civil liberties underlying a democracy (our current culture minister Mahesh Sharma is already trying to define an “Indian culture” cast in stone). We don’t want to go down that route, do we?
Also, to my Muslim countrymen, I must say that those of you (I may emphatically assert that I am not in the least generalizing all of you) who wish to demonstrate your “secularism” and “human rights activism” by idolizing anti-AFSPA Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila and wrongly generalizing the Indian security personnel as all being murderous, pervert rogues by pointing to their human rights violations in the northeast (and not only Muslim-majority Kashmir to showcase secularism), just like harping on the problems of Dalits and Adivasis, or Christians targeted by Hindu extremists, ought to speak up more openly against your own politicians like Azam Khan (who hasn’t even been charge-sheeted for his alleged role in the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur, unlike Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, who were duly convicted and spent some years in jail, after which they were rightly or wrongly conferred bail, and my point is not with respect to how much evidence is available in which case for what sentence, but whether the narrative of “Hindu riot-instigating politicians always go scot-free and Muslims are only victims, not perpetrators of riots” is true, and I believe that the issue should be ‘powerful vs. non-powerful’, ‘vote-bank politics vs. the spirit of democracy’ etc., rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts), other instances of violence against innocent Hindus (take, for instance, the recent news of a Hindu boy in Bihar being murdered by Muslim extremists for marrying a Muslim girl, or the killings of innocent Hindus in a communal riot in Rampur over a petty issue of some Hindu farmers’ cattle having strayed into Muslim peasants’ farms or how before the Dadri incident, an innocent constable in Maharashtra was killed as a retaliation against the beef ban in that state, or how very many innocent Hindus were killed by Muslim rioters in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and Gujarat in 2002 and not only the reverse), anti-Jewish hatred within your community, the forced displacement of the Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits (as for rebutting the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece), Shia-Sunni violence (which has occurred in India in places like Lucknow), the intolerance towards Ahmedias who are socially boycotted and occasionally violently targeted in India by Muslim extremists in India and whose right to free speech and freedom of religion is to a great extent legally denied in Pakistan, refusal to accept progressive verdicts of the Supreme Court as in the Shah Bano case, curtailment of females’ rights in Muslim communities in India in different ways, like disallowing them from playing football or acting on stage or forcing them to wear burqas in many cases, non-Muslims not being given equal rights in many Muslim-majority countries and being violently targeted in our neighbouring countries (if such Muslims can shout against injustices by the US and Israel in Iraq and Gaza respectively, they can certainly look at our immediate neighbourhood), blasphemy and apostasy laws in Muslim-majority countries and so on (and for those of you, Muslims, not genuinely caring about the rights of others, why do you expect others to care for the rights of Muslims?). Supporting northeasterners against what one perceives as a common foe with one’s Kashmiri co-religionists (the Indian Army), or riot-affected Christians against one’s common enemy (the Hindu communalists), or deriving cheap thrills by pretending to be concerned for Dalits with the objective of Hindu-bashing does not make one secular, impartial or someone who genuinely cares for universal human rights. The same holds true for left-liberal non-Muslims who try to showcase some intellectual elitism by selectively raising their voice usually against the wrongs of non-Muslim extremists or non-Muslim states.
Also, Muslim friends must note that while it may indeed be intellectually fashionable to talk about humanism without nationalism (for nation-states are, after all, man-made constructs), till such time as nation-states are real, they need nationalist cohesion for progress and security, and just as loving your family over other humans is not inhuman, nor is identification with one’s country, and those Muslim rightists pleased by strong denunciations of nationalism in general should indeed realise that those critiques would even apply to pan-Muslim nationalism, with territorial nationalism based on a shared political and economic destiny being much more rational, and global pan-Muslim nationalism of the “Muslim ummah” variety is anachronistic, even going by the Muslim scriptures, as I have discussed here (I know that some Muslims would question whether I, as not being a Muslim, can give my own interpretation of Islam, but if non-Muslims are not expected to study and analyze Islam, how do Muslims expect non-Muslims to not have prejudiced views about their faith?).
Often, opponents of any kind of statist nationalism cite Tagore and Gandhi to validate their views, but what they do is to present a misinterpreted version of what Tagore and Gandhi said. Tagore did indeed lament as to how the division of the world into nation-states became a cause of antagonism, and how nationalist biases often prevented impartial, humanistic assessments in an era that saw two world wars, but Tagore was very clear on the point that human nature had its doses of both good and bad (in his own words – “We must admit that evils there are in human nature, in spite of our faith in moral laws and our training in self-control”), which is why both good and evil shall always exist, and he did not advocate any utopian ideas of a world without borders, presuming that we can all actually possibly happily have a totally fair and reasonable central government accommodating the concerns of the entire human race with all its diversity, when in reality, provinces within countries also have bitter conflicts over resources, and there will always be administrative demarcations of territory for governance. Tagore pointed out in his popular essay on nationalism–
“I have often been blamed for merely giving warning, and offering no alternative. When we suffer as a result of a particular system, we believe that some other system would bring us better luck. We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong. The system which is national today may assume the shape of the international tomorrow; but so long as men have not forsaken their idolatry of primitive instincts and collective passions, the new system will only become a new instrument of suffering.”
While Tagore’s writings make it seem that he was against nationalism per se, an analysis would reveal that he was opposed to chauvinistic worldviews of asserting the infallibility of one’s civilisation, refusing to learn from others, and jingoistic antipathy to fellow human beings of a certain other state, but he did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
Likewise, as for Gandhi, while he disliked the institution of the state as an instrument of violence, he did consider the state to be a necessary evil (for human beings do need to be regulated to check crime at the very least), and suggested a decentralised state pattern based on indirect elections in the form of concentric circles with the village at the centre, but not doing away with the idea of government. Gandhi even supported state coercion in the context of land reforms, though he wanted the land reforms to be voluntary as far as possible, and Gandhi too, like Tagore, did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
(Image Courtesy: http://satishgautam.com/)