Opinion | Why India’s Muslims Reach for Liberalism

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Opinion | Why India’s Muslims Reach for Liberalism

All such liberal moves, according to Sharik Laliwala, a Muslim Indian commentator, signify “a fundamental transformation in the political strategy of the Muslim community.” Indian Muslims, he added, are “marrying a constitutional phraseology of freedom, justice and equality with religious notions.”

Irfan Ahmad, an Indian anthropologist based at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, argues that what is happening is a new emphasis rather than a transformation, which Indian Muslims have always sought along with pluralism. The protests in Shaheen Bagh, he adds, highlighted the rift between the B.J.P.’s rule by and for the Hindu majority and a new vision of democracy that would uphold the rights and dignity of all Indians, including Muslims.

Yet there is still a danger that B.J.P. ruthlessness may backfire and drive Muslims into radicalism. In September, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating Hindu-Muslims riots last February in Delhi, where most victims were Muslim.

All of this means that India is on a very wrong track. A country that does not treat its minorities as equal human beings will be not the world’s biggest democracy, but rather a tyranny of the majority.

The results may be social strife, radicalism, decline of economic progress, and the ruination of India’s image abroad. The country is already being criticized by human rights organizations for violating human rights in Kashmir, and more recently for forcing Amnesty International’s office in India to close.

India’s story could hold lessons for Muslims elsewhere. Across the border, Pakistan long ago established what India’s B.J.P. seeks: an ethno-religious state dominated by the majority. In Pakistan’s case, this means the hegemony of Sunni Muslims at the expense of minorities such as Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis or Christians.

Farther in the East, in Malaysia, Malay-Muslim supremacy has been an official ideology since the founding of the multireligious nation in 1957. In Turkey, the Islam-infused populism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with its own insatiable wrath against “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” has strong parallels with Mr. Modi’s populism. And in the parlance of Islamist movements everywhere, “liberalism” and “secular state” are only dirty words, if not heresies.

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