The agony of being a secular Indian Muslim

Islamists insist on religious solidarity. The Hindu Right insists on patriotism tests. Both are wrong
Taliban fighters patrol as two Traffic policemen stand, left, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday by declaring they beat the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running a country severely short on cash and bureaucrats to potentially facing an armed opposition began to emerge. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) (AP) PREMIUM
Taliban fighters patrol as two Traffic policemen stand, left, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday by declaring they beat the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running a country severely short on cash and bureaucrats to potentially facing an armed opposition began to emerge. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) (AP)
Updated on Aug 26, 2021 03:00 PM IST
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PHOTO: Afghanistan

CAP: At a time of economic distress, Covid-19, floods and price hikes, it is politically expedient to turn the gaze on a Taliban-like enemy figure in Afghanistan rather than address other more urgent concerns

It can’t be easy being a secular, constitutionalist Indian Muslim in “new” India. The Hindu Right demonises Indian Muslims in a manner that they are expected to take a patriotism test on almost every issue. Islamist groups demand that all Muslims must assert a fierce religious identity, above all else. Caught between fanatical Islamism and majoritarian Hindutva, the secular Muslim is endangered and disempowered. The latest example of this is the manner in which the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is playing out in domestic political narratives in India.

The Hindu Right wants the Indian Muslim to speak out against the atrocities being committed by the Taliban. Islamists want the Indian Muslim to express community solidarity with the Afghan militia as “freedom fighters”. Every time a Muslim in India voices any kind of support for the Taliban, it leads to gloating “I told you so” chants and sedition cases being initiated. Conversely, every time a Muslim is attacked in India, it throws up accusations of a Hindu Rashtra being foisted upon the minorities. Toxic social media campaigns have only widened fissures.

Lost in the cacophony are harsh realities that reveal the hollowness of the vicious politics of religious polarisation. Let’s first expose the Taliban cheerleaders.

First, the Taliban is a violent militia which has acquired power, not by democratic means but by use of force. The gun cannot decide the will of the majority nor provide the predominantly Pashtun Taliban leadership with the impunity to discriminate against other communities.

Second, the main victims of the Taliban’s brutal regime in the past have been co-religionists. Muslims have suffered the most in Afghanistan’s bloodied recent history. How does the return of the Taliban absolve it of the heinous crimes it has have committed against fellow Muslims? How can it be seen as an authentic representative of an Islamic brotherhood?

Third, those who seek to pardon the Taliban’s sins on the grounds that it is strictly implementing Islamic Sharia laws have got it horribly wrong. It is pure opportunism and hypocrisy to endorse a secular Constitution in India where Muslims are in a minority, and then support the imposition of Sharia in those countries where the Muslims are in a majority. Moreover, who gives the Taliban the sole prerogative to decide the framework of Sharia laws for its people, and women in particular?

Let’s now turn to those who seek to target the Indian Muslim for the Taliban’s wrongdoings.

First, the Taliban resurgence is fundamentally an internal Afghan issue, not tied up in any manner with India’s fraught inter-community equations. It is not just for the Indian Muslim to speak up but for every citizen, irrespective of religious denomination, who swears by democratic freedoms to raise their voice against the Taliban’s excesses. The Taliban resurrection is not a “Muslim” issue, but a mirror to a catastrophic global failure to enforce the peace in Afghanistan.

Second, those who wish to see Indian Muslims publicly reject the Taliban must disown all forms of religious extremism themselves. One cannot, for example, legitimise the hate-filled, violent activities of the Bajrang Dal against minorities in India and then demand that the Taliban be ostracised. Lynching of Muslims cannot be rationalised under the guise of cow protection laws or anti-conversion or the so-called “love jihad” type spurious campaigns, while breathlessly outraging when the Taliban violate human rights. Universal human rights cannot be selectively embraced or abused. A rejection of the Taliban must be accompanied by an elimination of a Talibani mindset.

India is not a Taliban State, as a recent court order reaffirmed, but there are self-styled vigilante groups who demonstrate a bigoted mindset akin to the Taliban. This isn’t about whether an unlawful group of thugs is fringe or mainstream, Hindu or Muslim. The identity of the oppressed and oppressor must be irrelevant when acting against violent mobs.

Third, while harshly condemning the Taliban’s criminal deeds, there must be a recognition that the fiercest resistance to the armed force has not come from the United States (US)-led global military alliance but from local Afghans themselves; 70,000 Afghan security personnel have died. While the US leads a desperate evacuation from Kabul, spare a thought for the brave Afghan citizens who have stood their ground despite a life-threatening situation. Don’t they deserve unequivocal support? Aren’t they also Muslims who break the stereotype sought to be imposed on an entire community?

Radical Islamists and Hindutva rabble-rousers divide and rule by preying on the fears and anxieties of their followers only because they have so little else to offer. At a time of severe economic distress, Covid-19, floods and price hikes, it is politically expedient to turn the gaze on a Taliban-like enemy figure in Afghanistan rather than address the more urgent local concerns in the immediate neighbourhood. It’s the age-old trap of using religious politics as a weapon of mass distraction, one which all Indians must collectively battle.

Postscript: More than 140 leading Indian Muslim voices have spoken out against the Taliban on the Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy platform. Unfortunately, their sane voices are rarely amplified while any Muslim influencer who aggressively defends the Taliban instantly grabs the headlines. It reveals as much about the state of a compromised media ecosystem as it does about a fractured society where hate speech has a large constituency.

Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rajdeep Sardesai is senior journalist, author and TV news presenter. His book 2014: The election that changed India is a national best seller that has been translated into half a dozen languages. He tweets as @sardesairajdeep

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