Muslims — India’s new ‘untouchables’

Asra Nomani is a taboo name for mainstream Muslims, all around the world. However, in this reportage she has moved away from strictly religious issues to the topical subject of the socio-economic condition of Indian Muslims. Her assessment of the institutionalized discrimination of Muslims in India and their vulnerability to radicalization, is a fair early warning, that should be headed to, both by the movers and shakers in India and the international community, that is quick in demonisation of Muslims, of whatever nationality or background, without bothering to go for prevention first and rather preferring to go for surgical strikes later.

The following account published in Los Angeles Times, where the neo-con American Jewish Zionist writer William Kristol, the founder-conspirator of the infamous document – The New American Century — had started a controversy over another article empathizing with Indian Muslims— written by another American Jewish writer, Martha Nussbaum. Asra’s intervention on the subject, therefore, should be treated as a first hand account of what Indian Muslims are going through in their social, economic, political marginalization as a distinct religious group in secular democratic India..

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

ghulammuhammed3@gmail.com

http://www.ghulammuhammed.wordpress.com

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-nomani1-2008dec01,0,4752.story

Muslims — India’s new ‘untouchables’

The condition of the country’s Muslims has deteriorated, and the world has overlooked the nation’s problems.

By Asra Q. Nomani

Published in The Los Angeles Times on Dec. 1, 2008

The news of the attacks in Mumbai eerily took me back to a quiet morning two years ago when I sat in Room 721 of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, reading the morning newspaper, fearing just the kind of violence that has now exploded in the city of my birth. The headlines recounted how the socioeconomic condition of the people of my ancestry, Muslims in India, had fallen below that of the Hindu caste traditionally called “untouchables,” according to a government report.

“Muslims are India’s new untouchables,” I said sadly to my mother, in the room with me. “India is going to explode if it doesn’t take care of them.” Now, indeed, alas it has. And shattered in the process is the myth of India’s thriving secular democracy.

Mumbai police said over the weekend that the only gunman they’d captured during the attacks — which left nearly 200 dead and more than 300 wounded — claimed to belong to a Pakistani militant group. But even if the trouble was imported, the violence will most certainly turn a spotlight of suspicion on Muslims in India. Already, my relatives are hunkered down for a sectarian backlash they expect from anti-terrorism agencies, police and angry Hindu fundamentalists.

India, long championed as a model of pluralism, used to be an example of how Muslims can coexist and thrive even as a minority population. My extended family prospered as part of an educated, middle class. My parents, who settled in the United States in the 1960s when my father pursued a doctorate at Rutgers University, were part of India’s successful diaspora. I love India, and on that trip, I wanted to show it off to my son, Shibli, then age 4.

But on that visit, across India from Mumbai to the southern state of Tamil Nadu and north to Lucknow, the hub of Muslim culture, I was deeply saddened. Talking to vegetable vendors, artisans and businessmen, I heard about how the condition of Muslims had deteriorated. They had become largely disenfranchised, poor, jobless and uneducated. Their tales echoed those I’d heard on previous trips, when my extended family recounted their humiliating experiences with bureaucratic, housing, job and educational discrimination.

Indeed, the government report I read about in the newspapers two years ago acknowledged that Muslims in India had become “backward.” “Fearing for their security,” the report said, “Muslims are increasingly resorting to living in ghettos around the country.” Branding of Muslims as anti-national, terrorists and agents of Pakistan “has a depressing effect on their psyche,” the report said, noting Muslims live in “a sense of despair and suspicion.”

According to the report, produced by a committee led by a former Indian chief justice, Rajender Sachar, Muslims were now worse off than the Dalit caste, or those called untouchables. Some 52% of Muslim men were unemployed, compared with 47% of Dalit men. Among Muslim women, 91% were unemployed, compared with 77% of Dalit women. Almost half of Muslims over the age of 46 couldn’t read or write. While making up 11% of the population, Muslims accounted for 40% of India’s prison population. Meanwhile, they held less than 5% of government jobs.

The Sachar committee report recommended creating a commission to remedy the systemic discrimination and promote affirmative-action programs. So far, very few of the recommendations have been put in place.

Since reading the report, I have feared that Islamic militancy would be born out of such despair. Even if last week’s terrorist plot was hatched outside India, a cycle of sectarian violence could break out in the country and push some disenfranchised Muslim youth to join militant groups using hot-button issues like Israel and Kashmir as inspiration.

What has irked me these last years is how the world has glossed over India’s problems. In 2006, for instance, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, whose Cohen Group invests heavily in India, said the U.S. and India were “perfect partners” because of their “multiethnic and secular democracies.” When I asked to interview Cohen about the socioeconomic condition of Muslims, his public relations staffer said that conversation was too “in the weeds.” But, to me, the condition of Muslims needs frank and open discussion if there is to be any hope of stemming Islamic radicalism and realizing true secular democracy in the country.

India’s 150 million Muslims represent the second-largest Muslim population in the world, smaller only than Indonesia’s 190 million Muslims. That is just bigger than Pakistan’s 140 million Muslims or the entire population of Arab Muslims, which numbers about 140 million. U.S. intelligence reports continually warn that economic, social and political discontent are catalysts for radicalism, so we would be naive to continue to ignore this potential threat to the national security of not just India but the United States.

Throughout my 2006 journey, I found the idea of India’s potential for danger unavoidable. On one leg, my son tucked safely in bed with my mother in our Taj hotel room, I went out to watch the filming of “A Mighty Heart,” the movie about the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Muslim militants in Pakistan. When the location scouts needed to replicate the treacherous streets of Karachi’s militant Islamist culture, they didn’t have to go far. They found the perfect spot in a poor Muslim neighborhood of Mumbai.

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http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-nussbaum30-2008nov30,0,5178593.story

OPINION

A cloud over India’s Muslims

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai may be indelibly linked to the country’s Muslims, despite the likelihood of outside influence.

By Martha Nussbaum
November 30, 2008

If, as now seems likely, last week’s terrible events in Mumbai were the work of Islamic terrorists, that’s more bad news for India’s minority Muslim population. Never mind that the perpetrators were probably funded from outside India, in connection with the ongoing conflict over Kashmir. The attacks will feed a powerful stereotype of the violent and untrustworthy Muslim, bent on religious conquest, who can never be a good democratic citizen. Such stereotypes already shadow the lives of Indian Muslims, who make up 13.5% of the population.

But it’s important to consider Indian terrorism in a broader context.

Terrorism in India is by no means peculiar to Muslims. A string of recent incidents has been linked to Islamic groups, most of these with foreign ties and pertaining to Kashmir. However, the most bloody recent example of terrorism in India was the slaughter of as many as 2,000 Muslim civilians by Hindu right-wing mobs in the state of Gujarat over several months in 2002.

This horrendous pogrom was portrayed at the time as retaliation for an alleged Muslim torching of a train car carrying mostly Hindu passengers. Two independent inquiries have since concluded that the fire was, instead, a tragic accident caused by passengers’ kerosene stoves.

But even if that was not known at the time, most of those killed — or raped or beaten — lived long distances from the original incident and could have had no connection to it. Moreover, there was copious evidence of pre-planning: Hindu right-wing groups had kept lists of Muslim dwellings and businesses.

Evidence that Gujarat’s state government egged-on the perpetrators was also overwhelming and led to the U.S. State Department in 2005 denying a visa to Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister. Recently, the Indian investigative journal Tehelka uncovered even more proof of government complicity in the murderous, anti-Muslim attacks. A Tehelka reporter using a hidden camera interviewed participants in the Gujarat violence, who described how bombs were manufactured in factories owned by members of the Hindu right; how arms were smuggled from other states; how the police were instructed to look the other way.

One leader of the Bajrang Dal (a paramilitary Hindu right-wing group) described his own role with pride: “There was this pregnant woman, I slit her open. …They shouldn’t even be allowed to breed. I say that even today. Whoever they are, women, children, whoever, nothing to be done with them but cut them down. Thrash them, slash them, burn the bastards. … The idea is, don’t keep them alive at all; after that, everything is ours.”

The revelation that members of the Hindu right have embraced ethno-religious cleansing should amaze nobody. Since the 1930s, their movement has insisted that India is for Hindus, and that both Muslims and Christians are foreigners who should have second-class status in the nation.

This year, in the eastern state of Orissa, members of the Bajrang Dal have murdered scores of Christians who refused to reconvert to Hinduism. (Most Indian Christians are descendants of converts, often from the lowest Hindu castes.) Peaceful villages have been reduced to ashes; a church-run orphanage was torched; dozens of churches have been destroyed; missionaries and priests have been murdered in cold blood. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes, and at least 30,000 are homeless. The rallying cry: “Kill Christians and destroy their institutions.”

In August, the Catholic bishops of India closed Catholic schools across the country “as a protest against the atrocities on the Christian community and other innocent people.” Such actions, aimed at transforming India’s pluralistic democracy into an ethnocentric regime, pose a grave threat to India’s future.

All of this is terrorism, but most of it doesn’t reach the world’s front pages. When it does make it into newspapers outside India, the word “terrorism” is rarely used. The result is a perception, in India and abroad, that Muslims are the bad guys in every incident of terrorist violence.

Such stereotypes are so prevalent that many state bar associations in India refuse to defend Muslims accused of complicity in terrorism — despite the fact that India’s constitution guarantees all accused a cost-free defense.

Meanwhile, Muslim youths are often rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence, an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.

Some Muslims are criminals. However, this does not justify demonizing Muslims, any more than the violent acts of the Hindu right justify stereotyping all Hindus as rapists and murderers. Let’s go after criminals with determination, good evidence and fair trials, and let’s stop targeting people based on their religious affiliation.

Martha Nussbaum is a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago. Her books include “The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future” (2007) and “Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality” (2008).

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http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/opinion/01kristol.html

OP-ED COLUMNIST

Jihad’s True Face

By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Published: December 1, 2008

Much of the reporting from Mumbai the last few days has been informative, gripping and often moving. Some of the commentary, on the other hand, has been not just uninformative but counter-informative — if that’s a term, and if it’s not, I say it should be.

Consider first an op-ed article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times by Martha Nussbaum, a well-known professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago. The article was headlined “Terrorism in India has many faces.” But one face that Nussbaum fails to mention specifically is that of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic terror group originating in Pakistan that seems to have been centrally involved in the attack on Mumbai.

This is because Nussbaum’s main concern is not explaining or curbing Islamic terror. Rather, she writes that “if, as now seems likely, last week’s terrible events in Mumbai were the work of Islamic terrorists, that’s more bad news for India’s minority Muslim population.” She deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”

So jihadists kill innocents in Mumbai — and Nussbaum ends up decrying racial profiling here. Is it just that liberal academics are required to include some alleged ugly American phenomenon in everything they write?

Jim Leach is also a professor, at Princeton, but he’s better known as a former moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who supported Barack Obama this year. His contribution over the weekend was to point out on Politico.com that “the Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary.” This wouldn’t have been my first thought. But Leach believes it’s very important that we consider the Mumbai attack not as an act of “war” but as an act of “barbarism.”

Why? “The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group’s view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone’s. … To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime. … It may be true that the perpetrators viewed themselves as somehow justified in attacking Indians and visiting foreigners, particularly perhaps Americans, British and Israeli nationals. But a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective.”

If, as Leach says, “it may be true” the perpetrators viewed themselves as justified in their attacks, doesn’t this mean that they did in fact have a “rationale” that “infused” their action?

But Leach doesn’t want to discuss that rationale — even though it’s not hard to find. Ten minutes of Googling will bring you to a fine article, “The Ideologies of South Asian Jihadi Groups,” from the April 2005 issue of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. It’s by the respected journalist and diplomat Husain Haqqani, who, as it happens, is now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani explains, is a jihadi group of Wahhabi persuasion, “backed by Saudi money and protected by Pakistani intelligence services.” He notes that “Lashkar-e-Taiba has adopted a maximalist agenda for global jihad.” Indeed, the political arm of the group has conveniently published a pamphlet, “Why Are We Waging Jihad?,” that lays out all kinds of reasons why the United States, Israel and India are “existential enemies of Islam.”

So much for Leach’s notion that the Mumbai terrorists had no “cause” or “rationale.” But Leach’s refusal to see this is in the service of persuading India not to respond in a “nationalistic” way — and of persuading the United States not to see itself primarily as standing with India against our common enemies.

But if terror groups are to be defeated, it is national governments that will have to do so. In nations like India (and the United States), governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens to fight the terrorists. In a nation like Pakistan, the government will have to be persuaded to deal with those in their midst who are complicit. This can happen if those nations’ citizens decide they don’t want their own country to be dishonored by allegiances with terror groups. Otherwise, other nations may have to act.

Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism. That was brought home over the weekend in an article in The Times of India on Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a major in India’s National Security Guards who died fighting the terrorists at the Taj hotel. The reporter spoke with the young man’s parents as they mourned their son: “His father, dignified in the face of such a personal tragedy, was stoic, saying he was proud of his son who sacrificed his life for the country: ‘He died for the nation.’ ”

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