Needless to emphasise that mutually hostile sentiments between Muslims and Christians, the major religious entities and civilisations of the world, have always been there in one form or the other. But these feelings were never manifested in an extremist ferment. Different societies had accepted multifarious cultural co-existence as a way of life and modern-day reality. However, 9/11 has changed the global scenario most radically. There has been a phenomenal rise in the anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiment—also called Islamophobia—in western societies. Islam has come to be identified with violence provoking angry and catastrophic reactions by individuals and groups harbouring anti-Islam feelings.
The ugliest manifestation of Islamophobia was witnessed in Christchurch in New Zealand last year when 50 Muslim worshipers were killed in an attack on three mosques. It has been reported that some members of a far-right group have been arrested in Germany a few days ago who were planning a similar attack on mosques in Germany. Attacks on members of Muslim community, harassment of Muslim women and incidents of desecration of the Holy Quran have occurred with increased frequency.
No wonder that it has sent a wave of alarm among the global community and strong voices are being heard for promoting inter-faith harmony. Nations and different communities within them are realising the grave threat that this phenomenon poses to peace and tranquillity within their societies as well as at the global level, and have taken initiatives to discourage this hate syndrome and promote religious harmony.
The biggest proponent of inter-faith harmony is Pope Francis who is on record to have repeatedly said, “It is not right to identify Islam with violence as all religions have a small fundamentalist group as such faith is not the only cause of terrorism. Social injustice and idolatry of money are the prime causes of terrorism. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.” The Pope is right on the money in his analysis of the causes of terrorism and in dispelling the impression of all Muslims being violent. He has also tried to reach out to Muslims by visiting several countries in Asia and Africa, showing solidarity with Muslim communities affected by violence against them.
But regrettably, Islamophobia continues to raise its ugly head sporadically. Last week, some anti-Islam elements indulged in the desecration of the Holy Quran in Norway and Sweden which invoked a strong reaction by the Muslim community. Pakistan rightly condemned the incidents saying “The rise of such Islamophobic occurrences goes against the spirit of any religion. Freedom of speech cannot justify religious hatred. Ensuring respect for religious beliefs of others is a collective responsibility and is absolutely critical for global peace and prosperity”.
While hate against Muslims in the West remains confined to individuals and far-right groups the redeeming factor is that it is not practiced as a state policy by any country. The only country which regrettably is engaged in anti-Muslim acts as a state policy is India under BJP regime headed by Narendra Modi. The BJP government inebriated by the RSS ideology of ‘Hindutva’ which aims to reshape India as a Hindu state has been pursuing communal policies, mostly targeting the Muslim minority.
The BJP government first deprived 1.9 million Muslims in Assam of Indian citizenship and then followed it up with the Citizenship Amendment Act which seeks to grant citizenship to six persecuted minority communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan—except Muslims. These two anti-Muslim legislations provoked countrywide protests, particularly against the Citizenship Amendment Act. To quell this movement, BJP activists were let loose on the demonstrators and the law enforcing agencies remained a silent spectator while Muslims were being butchered. More than 50 Muslims were killed during the protest movement. It was manifestly state-terrorism against its own citizens.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in an article published in The Hindu on March 6, referring to the situation in Delhi said, “Delhi has become subjected to extreme violence over the past few weeks. We have lost nearly 50 or our fellow Indians for no reason. Several hundred people have suffered injuries. Communal tensions have been stoked and flames of religious intolerance fanned by unruly sections of our society, including the political class. University campuses, public places and private homes are bearing the brunt of communal outbursts of violence, reminiscent of the dark periods in India’s history. Institutions of law and order have abandoned their dharma to protect citizens. Institutions of justice and the fourth pillar of democracy, the media, have also failed us. Just in a matter of a few years, India has slid rapidly from being a global showcase of a model of economic development through liberal democratic methods to a strife ridden majoritarian state”.
A renowned Indian writer, political and human rights activist Dr Arundhati Roy joined the protests against anti-Muslims laws and remarked” you cannot get more raw and open fascist than this. These laws are breaking the back of the Indian constitution. The Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Register of Citizens combined together are making petitioners out of the entire population. The Act is anti-Muslim even it was meant only for undocumented immigrants. To discriminate against Muslims, to leave out Sri Lankan refugees and to not talk about persecuted Muslim minorities in other countries is unconstitutional. When you say that citizenship will be based on the government scrutiny of a certain set of documents, this is what happened in 1935 Germany, these were what were known as the Nuremberg laws.”
Unfortunately, the Indian government has not stopped at only these anti-Muslim legislative measures within India but has also taken this hate syndrome to Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir. The BJP government first scrapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution, ending special status of the state followed by annexation of the state through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act and finally bringing in a new domicile law meant to change demographic realities, in blatant violation of the UN resolutions, bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan and the 4th Geneva Convention.
IIOK is under siege and complete lockdown since August 5, and the Indian security forces have killed more than 200 Kashmiris in extra-judicial killings while the world maintains criminally indifferent to their plight. Indian security forces even attacked a Muharram procession and reportedly killed ten people and injured many.
India’s belligerent disposition towards Pakistan, its Muslim neighbour, also poses a grave threat to peace and security in the region. One really wonders when the world would realise that Muslim lives in India and IIOK also matter and the Indian Islamophobia needs to be stopped in its tracks before it is too late.