Pseudo-liberalism and its impacts on Indian Muslims

By Muhammad Zuhair

Recently, Najmul Hoda (an IPS officer) has written his opinion in The Print, “Indian Muslims and Liberals are trapped in a toxic relationship.” On reading the title, I started anticipating this article would bring new insights into how and why in contemporary India, “liberals” and Muslims are fighting the ideological battle. I was expecting this article balanced in its approach and would conclude how this deteriorating relationship between the two could be invigorated. However, this article begins with reproaching Muslims. It reminds them how they were responsible for partition and goes on bashing them. I was still hopeful that in the following paragraphs, he would highlight the loop-holes in the existing approach of liberals that led to effluent toxicity. I was expecting he would address why Muslims feel sabotaged by such liberals and how the trust among them was lost.

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But the article fails to address the intricacy and mental violence Muslims face from such self-claimed liberals, and he goes on to remind Muslims that how backward they were. They are the ones who lost their trust to Indian majority, according to him. At one point, I felt whether this article is written to address the roots of such toxicity or just to revile and demonize Muslims, and to please Indian majority. I felt the author is entirely unaware of the development and reformations that took place in the last few decades within the Muslim community. He is oblivious how several researchers pointed out Muslims are being left out from educational mobility in India through structural political marginalization. The rest of the article deficits argumentative cohesiveness. It provides no supporting facts and data that could support his conclusion that Muslims are not putting efforts to become Atma Nirbhar. His unrelenting approach in addressing the Muslim issues, by pointing the finger back at them and not blaming the political backstabbing and incompetence of political circles both within and outside the community will fan more toxicity, in my opinion.

While arguing that the Muslim community wanted a separate nation before Independence, he ignored the facts that the rivalry between Hindus and Muslims surged because of the Arya Samaj’s systematic attack on Islam. On the other side, the rise of a section of Muslim leadership led by Jinnah that realized the incompatibility of the two religious ideologies amplified the conflict. This conflict manifested in the fifteen major riots between 1883 and 1891, as historian N Gerald Barrier mentioned in his research published in Journal of Asian Studies, in 1968. He forgot to mention why an intellectual like Allama Iqbal, who once celebrated India’s multiculturalism and called Ram ‘Imam-e-Hind’ and India the land of Chisti and Nanak, later became an adherent advocate of a separate Muslim nation. Najmul Hoda smartly left the reader to imagine that the Muslims wanted a separate country because they didn’t want to assimilate with non-Muslims. He also forgot to mention the contribution of Muslims who were against the Muslim league and vehemently criticized the idea of Pakistan — a Muslim nation. Ali Usman Qasmi and Megan Eaton Robb in his book “Muslims against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan” have addressed this issue. I would refer to you and others this well-researched and informative book written from a scholarly perspective.

According to Najmul Hoda, the subjugation of Muslims and structural discrimination in each field are century-old tropes. He is not aware of the current advancement in the Indian political dispensation and drawing conclusions based on his understanding dated back to pre-Independence India. I would encourage him to read political scientists, especially Christophe Jaffrelot’s work on Hindu Nationalism and its impact on Indian Muslims. According to his research, attacks and discrimination against Indian Muslims have “gained momentum” in recent years. Such heinous acts have become more systematic and conventional because of the post-2014 political dispensation — that allows the rise of vigilantes, like Gau Rakshaks. Christophe, in an interview with Edward Anderson published in Journal of Contemporary South Asia, argues that these developments of discrimination and attacks on Muslims are not new. However, their magnitude is unique, which is alarming. He further argues that with gau rakshaks, parallel police is becoming legitimate across India. He cites the examples of gau rakshaks using police jeeps or policemen looking at people being lynched by mobs without making any efforts to intervene. He also mentions the blessing of ministers on such cohort, who even, sometimes, garland them. According to Christophe, a parallel state structure is being established. Therefore, the idea of Hindu Rashtra is materializing. Besides, I would also encourage Najmul Hoda to explore research in terms of psychological impacts of Hindu nationalism on Indian Muslims, if he can muster the courage to challenge his fixated views on Indian Muslims’ systematic marginalization.

Further in the article, he made a claim “Muslims love Hindu liberals conditionally.” The fact is, Muslims are forced to love such liberals or any liberal, who stand with Muslims only on their terms and conditions. Such liberals neither try to research nor listen to the solutions given by Muslims and are always ready to provide ineffective solutions without delving into the complexity of the issue. On top of that, they push atheism down the Muslim throats day in and day out. For them, a “cool” Muslim, who is away from religion could only be a good Indian Muslim (sounds familiar as Sanghi’s definition of a good Muslim?). This practice to contain Muslim identity facilitates crystallizing the ‘good Muslim’ and ‘bad Muslim’ binary. Such liberals set boundary conditions, and if Muslim refuses to constrain his/her identity within the defined conditions, these Muslims are pigeonholed as extremists. For them, a Muslim who proudly wears his/her Muslim identity can’t be ‘a good Muslim’ until he/she strictly follows their set bars. This regressive and un-humanist approach is the primary reason that led to the surge in toxicity from the Indian Muslims side.

From the encyclopaedic definition, “Liberalism is a political and economic doctrine that emphasizes individual autonomy, equality of opportunity, and the protection of individual rights (primarily to life, liberty, and property), originally against the state and later against both the state and private economic actors, including businesses.” But the self-proclaimed liberals of an en-route Hindu state have very clearly gone against each of the above basic principles of Liberalism. They have actively supported the Uniform Civil Code, thus hampering the individual right to follow religious laws. They have openly supported the removal of the reservation system meant for the upliftment of the marginalized classes that include a significant section of the Muslim population, jeopardizing equality of opportunity in the name of saving equality. And many such stances can be found to follow suit. And thus, apparently, the last surviving goal of them seems to be the massive task of “liberating” Indian Muslim women of the “oppression” of their headscarves!

Such liberals (categorized as pseudo-liberals here) should understand the sensitivity of religious identity for Indian Muslims and must stop forcing them to keep their religious identity aside. On the one hand, right-wingers perpetrate physical violence. On the other hand, such liberals take the lead on mental violence against Muslims. They leave no stone unturned to demonize Muslims. Let it be when ISIS attacks innocents thousands of kilometres away or when Tablighi Jamat makes “mistake” at home. Indian Muslims are on the verge and are subjected to all sorts of violence, physical and mental, not only from right-wing, but also from such self-claimed liberals, and liberal Muslims like Najmul Hoda. I believe the deteriorating relationship between the two could be rejuvenated if such liberals ponder on what has been said here, and liberate themselves from such oppressive practices.

So, the question pops up: Why no one bats an eye on such structurally institutionalized discrimination and violence against Muslims? The answer is: because of the irrational fear of Islam and Muslims, i.e. Islamophobia, as coined by Prof. Todd H. Green, which is ossified in almost everyone’s mind through continuous anti-Muslim propaganda.

“Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended. (Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project 2016, UC Berkeley)”.

Muhammad Zuhair lives in Melbourne and pursuing PhD in Geosciences at Monash University, Australia. He is an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University and IIT Kharagpur.