Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Talking Point - Leave Muslims Alone

This blog is becoming more and more political; that is how I would like it to be. I initially planned a mix of humor and politics. But I am staying at home now and nothing humorous comes to mind.
One of the original intentions of this blog was to handle intellectual talking points. I used to participate in online debates on society, economics, culture and politics in message boards and forums. At that point I realized that most people around me in the real world had no interest in such debates. Online, on the other hand, was useful - it is anonymous, easy to use and people around the world participate.

Cultural Memes

There has been lots of research done on cultural "memes" - ideas that spread around society and influence people's thinking. Let me explain with an example - when Indira Gandhi died, 2000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi in cold blood. Prime Minister Mr.Rajiv Gandhi explained it thus: "when a big tree falls, the earth shakes".
This was an easy-to-remember, but meaningless and dangerous phrase. But it comforts people and lets them know that they could not have done anything different. It tells them to go on with life as usual.
Another talking point that Sridhar has raised in a comment to my blog is this - that as a democracy, we, the people, are to blame for all our problems (Sridhar also explained his reasoning; I am paraphrasing here). At its core, as he elaborates, the idea is that we do not have a healthy society. And the reason is not politicians as we reflexively blame, but ourselves. It is our own corruption that is the root cause. I have heard of other people say this, but I think this point of view is wrong. I will explain in a later post.
These are ideas - the idea that blacks are to blame for the credit crisis in the USA is a rightwing idea. That climate crisis (global warming) is bogus is a talking point.
What is common to these? They take a simple idea and repeat it over and over again, rarely substantiated with anything more than hysteria. But these talking points have lots of power. Most people in a society are not "engaged" in politics or history - and such talking points embed themselves in cultural memory and refuse to be dislodged. Some are mere differences of opinion, while others cause genocide.

Talking Points can only be fought with vigorous challenging and debunking at a public level. The Tamil writer Gnani writes a weekly column in Kumudham (he used to write in Vikatan). This column very effectively challenges different talking points. His article on the Indo-US nuclear deal was a classic - he pointed out that shifting to nuclear energy does nothing to reduce global warming (a talking point) because most global warming gases are caused by transportation such as cars and trucks.

There is actually a website called talkingpointsmemo.com run by Josh Marshall that articulates liberal points of view and debunks right wing talking points in the United States.

My goal in this blog (with all humility) is to address a few talking points that bother me. Debunking them here, hopefully spreads a message across. Even if I reach a few people, the idea is in the internet and also helps to me as a future reference.

Having said that, let me discuss a prime talking point here - the question of "Islamic" fundamentalism.


Here are a few ideas I find floating around online and even find expression by educated people:

Item 1: Muslims should explain why terrorism happens. Muslim leaders should condemn terrorism and they don't.
Answer: Terrorism is a tactic of achieving political goals with the threat of violence against citizens. That tactic is practiced throughout the world by different groups. For example, Israel's current bombing of Gaza is a clear act of terrorism - it tries to achieve political goals with collective punishment of Palestinian civilians.
Now, states practice terrorism, and so do non-state actors. Such non-state actors happen to be prominent in formerly colonized countries of the globe, because developing countries have not ironed out issues of sovereignty and self-determination of ethnic minorities. Many of these formerly colonised countries of the world happen to be Muslim. There are also Christian terriorist groups in Africa and of course, LTTE in Sri Lanka.
As an example, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a "Christian" terrorist group operating in Uganda and Sudan. Some estimates say that the LRA has killed more people than all other such groups put together.
Thus, terrorism as a tactic is practiced by many non-state actors and state actors throughout the world and the phenomenon was neither "started" by Muslims nor do they have to defend their community. We have to note that the word terrorism is heavily abused - for example, the USA designates Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, although they are seen as legitimate freedom fighters by people of the Palestine and Arab countries.
Thus, the demand, that Muslim leaders condemn terrorist acts performed by a few extremists, is absurd. Muslims suffer as much from terrorism as Hindus.

Item 2: Muslims have their own civil law and do not respect the Indian constitution.
Answer: The Indian constitution makes a uniform civil code optional. The directive principles of state policy, article 44 states the following:
The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.

But, the directive principles are aspirational and are not enforceable by courts (Article 37).
The BJP and RSS drum this again and again - that Muslims should not have their own civil code. But minority rights are guaranteed by our constitution - the party that introduced POTA has no right to talk about the constitution.

Item 3: Muslims are not patriotic enough. They are not proud of India
Answer: No group can demand patriotic proofs from any other citizens - Muslims are under no obligation to prove their patriotism to anyone. Further, these same guys who call Muslims unpatriotic have called everyone who opposes them as unpatriotic. People tend to forget this, but the Shive Sena's origins were in anti-South Indian movements in Mumbai. The Sangh Parivar would call anyone who does not want to speak Hindi unpatriotic.
Note that I am not talking about sacrifices that Muslims have made for India or their contribution. There is no point in emphasizing "contribution". Even if I have not contributed anything to my country, no one has any right to question my patriotism, period.
I would ask members of the Sangh Parivar if they have ever felt proud about India's Muslim heritage - they seem to pretend that Indian history stops after Mohammed Ghazni. Why are they not proud of the Mughals or Lodi dynasty? These are the people who demolished the Babri Masjid - yet they talk about pride in heritage.

Item 4: Islam and the Koran encourage violence
Answer: Every religion does. The Old Testament Bible is full of violence. So are Hindu scriptures. You could literally interpret the Gita as encouraging violence and killing relatives in pursuit of wealth. That interpretation would be absurd, but you can do the same thing with any religious text. Most mature adults can distinguish between a literal interpretation of religion and what is practical. I am always amazed by the capacity of the people who celebrate 3000 years of the caste system to then turn around and accuse other religions of intolerance.
The India Policy Institute has published statistics on the communal riots in India since independence.
Casualties in communal clashes during the period 1968-80 were as follows :-

Year No. of incidents Hindus Muslims Others/Police Total
1968 346 24 99 10 133
1969 519 66 558 49 674
1970 521 68 176 54 298
1971 321 38 65 - 103
1972 210 21 45 3 70
1973 242 26 45 1 72
1974 248 26 61 - 87
1975 205 11 22 - 33
1976 169 20 19 - 39
1977 188 12 24 -- 36
1978 219 51 56 1 108
1979 304 80 150 31 261
1980 427 87 278 10 375
Total 3949 530 1598 159 2289

There are more such statistics and coverage in the pdf here.
As any reasonable person can see from these statistics, Muslims have suffered heavily in communal riots. The data also shows that police firings targeted and killed more Muslims than Hindus.
How can we claim, in such a communally charged country, that only one community is to blame for everything from terrorism to rioting?

Item 5: Muslims will overwhelm Inida with their population growth
Answer: This hysteria reached its peak with a report released a couple of years back that showed Muslim population growth to be slightly higher. Some magazines headlined this thus: "Muslims will be majority in India in another 250 years".
But that result does not make sense. Even if the population growth is 0.1% high, you could do the same extrapolation and conclude that in a thousand years India would be a Muslim majority state. This is just fear-mongering. In relative terms, Muslim population growth is declining. Further I think with a billion people, the last thing Hindus should worry about is population decline.

Many of these ideas are actually caused by common xenophobia - a feeling that the "other" person would eliminate us. It has parallels in every culture - the Germans treated Jews and gypsies as the other. USA treated black people as the other.
There is a strong desire among a few among majority cultures to completely eliminate any diversity. Today it is Muslims, tomorrow it will be Tamils.
The Sangh Parivar and its supporters will call all of their enemies as unpatriotic and owing allegiance elsewhere. They suffer from xenophobia and a good psychiatruc therapy session would cure them of their fears.


Shaffi said...

Abosolutely makes sense!!

But I differ on the following one aspect,

Item 4: Islam and the Koran encourage violence
Answer: Every religion does.

Not really. I dont think Islam or any other religion encourages violance, it's after all the individuals, who tries to impose their thought, and fear into other's and initiating the violance.

As for as I know about Islam, It teaches the peace.


Kunal said...

Every single religious book has talks about being violent when needed. It's because even god believed that sometimes an aggressive intent is required..

But the fact remains, There is more good than bad, and it is upon us to absorb the good and filter the bad!