Islamophobia and the two “great democracies”


Read this piece from Daily Kos: State of the Nation.

It won’t take you long. A few minutes to skim through, and a few more to read it more thoroughly. It’s a really frightening view of the emerging fascistic bigotry that is being spawned in the United States by right-wing bigots who want to whip people up into a frenzy against Muslims, mosques, Islamic community centers, the hijab, indeed Islam itself.

What’s scary too, from a desi perspective, is not just that this bigotry will directly impact all of us living abroad. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan–it doesn’t matter to these pigs, so long as you have brown skin and “look Muslim.”

There is good reason, then, for the sense of easy unity that exists among many expat desis. Unlike back home, here we find ourselves having to reach out to one another, at the gas station, the local desi grocery store, the deli…. When I stop by the gas station around the corner from my home, the Pakistani sardarji who pumps my gas, an elderly gentleman who seems to suffer from a hip problem that forces him to limp from car to car, greets me with a smile.

“Hello,” he says.


“Fill it up?”

“Haan ji. Thank you.”

Garmi bahut hai aaj,” he says as he pumps the gas.

And thus begins our ritual 3-4 minute Hinglish conversation, which, remarkably enough, almost always moves within a couple of minutes from the vagaries of the weather to the stupidities of politicians in India and Pakistan.

Pehle aapas mein koi farq nahin tha–yeh sab Britishers ka kaam hai.”

Sadly, though, such sentiments are sorely lacking in India these days. I can’t say much for the small towns or villages–I haven’t been back to Anantapur or Akkirampura, the places where I spent my summers months as a kid–in decades. But what I see of the urban, middle-class, “educated” folks, gives me little cause for hope or optimism. It has become rare indeed to find a secular, humanistic spirit amidst the starry-eyed shoppers of Gurgaon’s or Bangalore’s malls.

To even broach the question of Pakistan, or Kashmir, or Muslims with Hindus in India these days is to provoke a seemingly unwinnable argument. The anti-Muslim bigotries, lies, and distortions of history that have been peddled for decades now by well-funded (with NRIs contributing much of that funding) fascist organizations, the Sangh Parivar, the RSS, the VHP and Bajran Dal, etc, have become commonsense among the urbanites.

One’s hopes ought to be inspired and awakened by the youth in every epoch. Depressingly enough, it is among the urban, “educated” youth that political complacency and apathy, passivity and resignation, is most marked. Unschooled in anything but the skills needed to be a good worker in a globalized marketplace, unfamiliar with their own history, let alone that of other peoples or lands, and intoxicated with get-rich-quick schemes, EMI-driven consumerism, and a corporate-driven work ethic, their blind adherence to the prejudices of the society around them renders them incapable of inspiring anything but despair, if not disgust.

Pakistan is drowning from below, and being bombed from above, while its ostensible leader enjoys a junket in London, preening for the cameras and obsequiously reassuring David Cameron of his commitment to the “war on terror.” The courageous Kashmiris are left to the mercy of the gun-toting state-terrorists that are the “Security Forces” (whose security, one wonders) by a callous and unfeeling Indian populace. And in large parts of central India, thousands of adivasis are being mowed down in the name of “national security.”

And when voices like Arundhati Roy’s are raised against this madness, they are shouted down by loud-mouthed hate-mongers whose intolerance of others is only matched by their ignorance of themselves. It was in 2008 that Roy wrote about Kashmir that azadi is what they want, and that “denial is delusion.” Back then, she faced a barrage of attacks on OutlookIndia’s comments pages. But can anyone who reads that article today say that she was wrong in her prediction that this isn’t going away?

Here’s how she concluded that piece:

Of course there are many ways for the Indian State to continue to hold on to Kashmir. It could do what it does best. Wait. And hope the people’s energy will dissipate in the absence of a concrete plan. It could try and fracture the fragile coalition that is emerging. It could extinguish this non-violent uprising and reinvite armed militancy. It could increase the number of troops from half-a-million to a whole million. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted assassinations, some disappearances and a massive round of arrests should do the trick for a few more years.

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going is money that ought by right to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnourished population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir?

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimize Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir. It’s all being stirred into a poisonous brew and administered intravenously, straight into our bloodstream.

At the heart of it all is a moral question. Does any government have the right to take away people’s liberty with military force?

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much—if not more—than Kashmir needs azadi from India.

When the Sri Lankan military virtually massacred the LTTE into oblivion, killing untold numbers of Tamil civilians in the process, and when they subsequently sequestered the still-living refugees in mass concentration camps, did the urbanite sophisticates of our “Great Democracy” march through the streets denouncing human rights abuses? Did they write editorials decrying the use of indiscriminate force to end an insurgency? When the Sri Lankan state murdered independent journalists, did those urban youth who grandstand about how democratic we are hold dharnas in the name of free speech or democracy? After all, no “national interest” was at stake here, so there was no need to pussyfoot around the question.

But why should they? For business as usual, stability is a must. So, following in the footsteps of the Rajapaksas and Fonsekas (themselves the eager pupils of Israeli counter-insurgency tactics), the Indian military apparatus and the paramilitary security forces are murdering and maiming thousands with impunity.
The moral turpitude, the utter degeneration of urban Indian political culture means that lives that are destroyed in the name of “stability” or “security” or “national unity” are expendable in the eyes of the public.

Fortunately, for expats in the U.S., there are many, many people who I am confident will be willing to come out and stand up against the kind of bigotry towards Muslims that the fascists are whipping up, although it must be said that progressive forces here are not at all well-organized. But the fascists can easily overplay their hand and face a tide of opposition, particularly from the youth, who are far less prone to prejudice and hate these days than either their elders in New York and Washington or their peers in Bangalore and Gurgaon.