Gujarat II: Muslims in India

Suman has posted a lengthy response to my Gujarat riots post. In my post, I presented a list of fairly comprehensive links from the BBC and the Times of India, and argued that the pogrom was an example of state-sponsored terrorism. By this, I meant the following:

"The officials of the State of Gujrat, who are linked to an extrmist political party called the BJP, were complicit in the riots in Gujrat. Complicity means that they knew the attacks were being planned well before the train fire, that the response of the state to the riots was to hold back so that the civilians who were attacked did not have sufficient protection, and that there has been essentially no punishment to those officials for their role in looking the other way. The sole purpose of this complicity was to achieve political gain."

Note, that the question of which religion the rioters were, which religion the BJP party happens to be, which religion the victims were, etc is all irrelevant. It's unsurprising that Suman took my post as some kind of polemic against those awful hindus, because very little happens in India which is not immediately forced through a religio-sectarian filter.

However, as I have been arguing consistently on this blog, religion is solely a wrapper, which lends legitimacy (and allows recruitment) to a political cause. I have been focusing on Islam, but none of my arguments are limited to that faith. In fact, it would be rank hypocrisy for me to suggest that when muslims enact atrocities in Islam's name, they are outside the faith, but when hindus do so in Vishnu's name, they are acting according to the basic teachings of theirs.

So, I am not searching for a root cause to the Gujarat riots, I already know what the cause is, it is simple Bonehead Tribalism:

These kind of barbaric decisions are always made in remote villages by a band of grizzled elder men, who invariably call themselves an "Islamic court". The truth is that these are immoral primitive tribal customs, which are used by the tribal elders as a power play of enforcing their authority. They are wrapped in poorly-argued Islamic reasoning, often bundled with some selective out-of-context Qur'anic verse, so that no one dares argue. But this is not Islamic, it's purely a primitive cultural practice, with its sole aim as a power play of I-have-control-over-you.

That is an example from Islamic bonehead tribalism, the Gujarat riots are an example of Hindu bonehead tribalism, but it is bonehead tribalism all the same. The political motivations behind the Gujarat riots, and the benefits and advantages it lent the BJP, are well documented. And the benefits that their political allies continue to reap. Here is an article in The Hindu, another in the Times of India (Google cache), and here is an org chart illustration of the relationships between extrmist Hindu groups like the VHP to political groups like the BJP, from Suman himself.

Suman also questions the BBC as a source for "unbiased news" about India. Since most of the pieces I linked to were simply factual accounts of people being burned, ministers being investigated, etc, ithey were highly factual with very little editorializing. Presumably the article which causes Suman the most concern regarding bias is the one which suggests that the Muslim mob did not initiate the train fire which was said to have sparked the Hindu rioters in revenge. Read the BBC article and judge for yourself:

Forensic investigators in India have raised questions over an attack which killed almost 60 Hindus and led to widespread anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat. Hindu pilgrims travelling by train were said to have been attacked by a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra which forced the train to stop and set fire to one of the carriages. But a report by forensic scientists in Gujarat says it does not appear that the fire on the train was started from outside ... The new theory does not answer the key question of who started the fire and why and seems at odds with eyewitness accounts given at the time.

But if one reflexively dismisses the BBC, then what about the Times of India report on the same? (slow website, here's the Google cache):

Investigations made by the Ahmedabad-based Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) have now shown that almost 60 litres of inflammable material was poured from inside the compartment before it was set on fire.

A report by the FSL's Assistant Director Dr M S Dahiya, which is part of the charge-sheet filed in the Godhra case about a month back, is based on a study of the pattern of the burns in the compartment and a simulated exercise conducted on May 3 to recreate the incident. The report contradicts the view held so far that the mob which attacked the train threw inflammable liquid at the train using buckets and cans from a distance, even while the passengers had shut all the windows and doors of the compartment.

There was in fact extensive and parallel coverage by the BBC, the Times of India, Karachi Dawn, and The Hindu during the riots. None of the links I provided in the previous post were unique to the BBC. Allegations of bias imply that the events did not happen - but they did, and I can't fathom why anyone would try to deny it. It happenned, it was a tragedy, it was well documented everywhere in India and the international community.

Except in the United States. which was really my main point.

Suman seems to be implying that memory of Muslim atrocities if the fuel by which the riots burned. He then goes on to make a case that the entire history of Islam in India has been profoundly violent. While it's true that there has been great violence in India's history, to ay the onus upon Islam is hardly accurate. Take his specific examples, one-by-one:

1. Islam invaded India and conquered in it 1000 A.D. (historical link)

Well, true. And before that, the Aryans arrived, around 1500 BC. Let's not forget Alexander the Great, whose invasion of India severely weakened the Mauryan Empire of Ashoka. This in turn paved the way for further invasions, from Central Asia such as the White Huns. India, as a geographical entity, is as close to paradise on earth for agriculture as can be imagined, and it's hardly surprising that it was the target of settlement by numerous outsiders who arrived and settled in, and in so doing, contributed vastly to the rich tapestry that makes India more diverse than any other place on earth[1]. One could just as easily pine for the good old days of the Harrapans, but what's the point? I confess that I don't see what relevance the arrival of Islam specifically has to this conversation.

2. Muslim rulers of India were tyrants.

To support this overly broad claim, Suman disingeniously links to Aurangzeb who was probably the most evil man in India's history. My own Dawoodi Bohra community has sufferred at the hands of Aurangzeb, actually, in that he found our Shi'a version of Islam to be heretical (sound familiar?). The leader of the community, Syedna Qutubkhan Qutbuddin AS, was beheaded by Aurangzeb in 1646 AD under the charge of being a 'raafzi' (one who has deviated from the path of Islam), a charge which Syedna refuted by saying that; far from being a 'raafzi' - he was upon the essence of the 'Sunnah'. Syedna chose martyrdom over admittance to such a charge (which would have destroyed the community), and the Bohras survived with beliefs and teachings intact.

But Aurangzeb was the last of the Mughal emperors. His predecessors were every different. To quote Suman's own reference on the subject:

The most important Islamic empire was that of the Mughals, a Central Asian dynasty founded by Babur early in the sixteenth century. Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun and under the reign of Humayun's son , Akbar the Great (1562-1605), Indo-Islamic culture attained a peak of tolerance, harmony and a spirit of enquiry.The nobles of his court belonged to both the Hindu and the Muslim faiths, and Akbar himself married a Hindu princess. Leaders of all the faiths were invited to his court at Fatehpur Sikri to debate religious issues at the specially built 'Ibadat Khana'. Akbar tried to consolidate religious tolerance by founding the Din-e-Ilahi religion, an amalgam of the Hindu and the Muslim faiths.

Mughal culture reached its zenith during the reign of Akbar's grandson Shahjehan, a great builder and patron of the arts. Shahjehan moved his capital to Delhi and built the incomparable Taj Mahal at Agra.

Having been to the Taj Mahal myself, I can only say that it is a place of divine tranquility. The beauty of the structure is simple, yet profoundly moving. I stood mesmerized in front of it. I took rolls of photos but could not bear to put them on the web, so inadequate were they to convey even a small portion of the Taj Mahal's grace. It was built as a monument to love.[2]

And to lay the burden of violence on the Mughals is also applying some rather well-crafted blinders. The Marathas were a ferocious group that came close to rivaling the Mughals, led by their legendary leader Shivaji. They were feared and were paid protection money by many smaller kingdoms to ward off their ruthless plundering raids.

3. The Partition was the bloodiest event in Indian history.

well, I agree. But again we seem to be laying the blame upon only one of the two combatants in the sordid chapter. If there is blame to be laid anywhere, it is upon the British, who deliberately fanned the lames of Hindu-Muslim tension during their rule in order to maintain control of the large population with their small, small numbers. The Partition was enacted by playing to the conceit of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, against Ghandi's objections, and soon gathered steam among both Hindus and Muslims. It was the darkest chapter in India's history, and it is the shame of Hindus and Muslims both.

4. and 5. Violence over Kashmir and Bangladesh.

Again, we have conflicts that have everything to do with politics and almost nothing to do with religion. The truth is that Kashmir has never been allowed to choose its own fate, and if India were willing to allow free and fair democratic elections, and allow Kashmiris to determine for themselves their future, the issue would disappear.

The Bengali Holocaust was entirely the fault of Pakistan. Again, it was a ploy for regional power - losing East Pakistan meant that the economic and agrarian strength of the Pakistani state would be (and has been, as it turned out) even more compromised. But apart from playing a propaganda role, religion itself was not at fault, it was the fault of the Pakistani leaders and the public who turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed ostensibly in their name.

The truth is that there are many Hindus who feel that Islam has been a blight upon their society. Muslims are also the subject of conspiracy theories such as controlling the media, the government, the banks. Many Indians - especially in the poorer and lower castes - have fixated upon muslims as the Evil Within, and skewed versions of history (such as the one Suman linked to to illustrate the revisionism taking place) exist to serve the ideological needs of these people.

All of this actually is very reminiscent of the status of Jews in Europe during the early 20th Century, and the climate under which an entire ethnic group in German society could be targeted as a source of all ills, and subsequently eliminated. Muslims are the Jews of India.

[1] Indian territories and kingdoms have been ruled by polytheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. The subcontinent is so diverse that each state has a separate language - not a dialect, but a full language!
[2] Few people know that Shah Jahan planned to build an identical monument, out of black marble, across the river from the white Taj Mahal. Thus he intended to symbolize the love between himself and his wife. But he was deposed by his son and confined to a small cell which had an overlook to the white Taj, where he spent the rest of his life gazing at the beauty of his half-finished monument. Somehow, to me, the fact that the Taj Mahal is only half completed, makes it all the more beautiful.

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