Stop clubbing all Muslims together
I agree that the bombings in Varanasi were a despicable act of violence, and it is a cue for all of us to stand firm against this kind of communal instigation. However, I disagree with the notion that all Muslims are in some way responsible for the actions of any other Muslims. Such simplistic thinking, that Muslims share some kind of inherent commonalities regardless of class, ethnicity or political persuasion, is fuelling the fire of the so-called national and global ?clash of civilisations?.india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 11:39 IST
This is in response to Vir Sanghvi’s editorial of March 9, 2006, ‘Against the Current’ as well as his March 12 piece ‘Muslim Vote-Bank Politics.’
I agree that the bombings in Varanasi were a despicable act of violence against innocent people, and it is a cue for all of us to stand firm against this kind of communal instigation. However, I disagree with the notion that all Muslims are in some way responsible for the actions of any other Muslims either in India or at an international level.
Such simplistic thinking, that Muslims share some kind of inherent commonalities regardless of class, ethnicity or political persuasion, is fuelling the fire of the so-called national and global ‘clash of civilisations’ and whether Mr Sanghvi would like to stem this tide or exacerbate it (I am sure he would want the former), the fact is that it is just this kind of thinking that is contributing to the polarisation of people, at the national and global level, in the name of religion.
Sanghvi responded to the charge that all Muslims are not responsible for the acts of some in his March 12 piece. He wrote that all liberals have a responsibility to speak out against such acts of extremism regardless of their religious persuasion. However, he still concluded that the most effective responses come from within the so-called community (whether it be Hindus speaking for Hindus or Muslims speaking for Muslims). In this way, Sanghvi remains within the confines of communal thinking—there are coherent communities of Hindus and Muslims in India, which contain within them a variety of political persuasions.
These supposed communities share a commonality of interests and it is up to these communities to tame their unacceptable elements. This argument remains entrenched in the idea that religious identity is the primary point of identification in Indian society and increasingly, at the global level as well.
If this is the organising principle of Indian secularism, than might this be a root flaw in the way that we think about politics in India? Is it possible to begin to break out of this mould?
Just because I have a Muslim name does not mean that I naturally have an affinity with all other people identified as Muslim, whether that person is a Kashmiri, a UP-ite or an Iraqi, by the mere commonality of my religious identification.
Might not my class, gender, ethnicity or personal political beliefs (among other innumerable identities) at times dictate my opinions and my political motivations? Am I even allowed to think about myself in any other way than as a Muslim? I certainly agree that it is time for all progressive people to stand up against the rising tide of fundamentalisms of all kinds—whether that be against Hindu extremism, Islamism, or the unbridled spread of global, US-led capitalism.
I do not stand up against these fundamentalisms as a moderate Muslim but as an ethically conscious human being (and, while we are on the subject, it is my humanity rather than my Muslim identity which led me to protest Bush’s arrival in and alliance with India).
However, until we all stop thinking that such a thing as a unitary ‘Muslim community’ exists (whether that person thinking this is a Hindu, a Muslim, George Bush or Narendra Modi), extremism of all kinds will keep growing.
The only way to fight extremism is to stop thinking in simplistic, unitary, terms. Only Muslims are not responsible for taming ‘their’ community, all people are responsible for creating a world where human beings are not confined in narrow, religiously-defined boxes.