The case of the secular Muslim

By Rajdeep Sardesai

“The Hindu right wants the Indian Muslim to speak out against the atrocities being committed by the Taliban forces. The Islamists want the Indian Muslim to express community solidarity with the Afghan militia as ‘freedom fighters’. Every time a Muslim cleric or public figure in India is seen to voice any kind of support for the Taliban, it leads to gloating “I told you so” chants. Conversely, Every time a Muslim is attacked in India, it throws up accusations of a Hindu Rashtra being foisted upon minorities.’’W

It can’t be easy being a ‘secular’, ‘constitutionalist’ Indian Muslim. The Hindu Right constantly demonises the Indian Muslim in a manner that every Muslim is expected to take a patriotism test on almost every issue; the Islamist groups on the other hand 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 increasingly 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 forces. The Islamists want the Indian Muslim to express community solidarity with the Afghan militia as ‘freedom fighters’. Every time a Muslim cleric or public figure in India is seen to voice any kind of support for the Taliban, it leads to gloating “I told you so” chants. Conversely, Every time a Muslim is attacked in India, it throws up accusations of a Hindu Rashtra being foisted upon minorities. Cases of sedition have been slapped against those who are seen to cheer for the Taliban in UP and Assam, both BJP-ruled states, one which has just finished its elections, the other set to begin its election cycle shortly. And toxic social media campaigns have only widened the fissures.
Lost in the maddening cacophony are harsh realities that reveal the hollowness of the vicious politics of religious polarization. Lets first expose those who are Taliban cheerleaders. Firstly, the truth is that the Taliban are a violent militia who have acquired power, not by democratic means but by use of force. The unshaken belief of Islamist advocates that the Taliban represent the will of the majority of the Afghan people against a puppet regime installed by Western super-powers is spurious and dangerous. The gun cannot decide the ‘will of the majority’ and cannot provide the predominantly Pashtun Taliban leadership with the impunity to discriminate against those from other communities.
Secondly, it needs to be re-emphasised that the main victims of the Taliban’s brutal regime in the past have been co-religionists. Muslims have suffered the most in the blood-letting in Afghanistan’s tortured recent history. How does the return of the Taliban in any way absolve them of the heinous crimes they have committed against fellow-Muslims and how can they by any stretch of imagination be seen as authentic representatives of an Islamic brotherhood?
Thirdly, those who seek to pardon the Taliban’s sins on the grounds that they are strictly implementing Islamic Sharia laws have also got it horribly wrong: you cannot submit to constitutional secularism in the Indian state where Muslims are in a minority and then applaud the imposition of Shariah in Afghanistan where the Muslims are in a majority. Moreover, who gives the Taliban the sole prerogative to decide the ‘framework’ of Shariah laws for their people and women in particular? Net-net, any attempt to become an apologist for the Taliban only does grave disservice to the Muslim community and citizens rights in India and Afghanistan.
Lets now turn to those who seek to target the Indian Muslim for the Taliban’s wrongdoings. Firstly, 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.
Secondly, those who wish to see Indian Muslims publicly reject the Taliban must come to the debate with a clean conscience that discards all forms of religious extremism. One cannot, for example, legitimise the hate-filled and violent activities of the Bajrang Dal – an offspring of the ruling sangh parivar – against minorities in India and then seek to demand that the Taliban be ostracized. It cannot be that the lynching of Muslims are conveniently rationalized under the guise of cow protection laws or that anti-conversion and ‘love jehad’ like legislation are designed to hound minorities and then there is breathless outrage 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 in each instance when acting against violent mobs.
Thirdly, while condemning the Taliban’s criminal deeds in the harshest possible terms, there must be a recognition that the fiercest resistance to the armed force has not come from the United States-led global military alliance but from local Afghans themselves. While the US leads a desperate evacuation from Kabul, spare a thought for the brave Afghan citizens, men and women, who have stood their ground despite a terrifying life threatening situation. Don’t they deserve unequivocal support and are they not also Muslims who break the stereotype and labels that are sought to be imposed on an entire community?
Which is why we need to reject both the Islamophobes and the Taliban apologists and seek to embrace instead the liberal value systems that offer hope in times of despair. Politicians and clerics divide and rule by preying on the fears and anxieties of their followers only because they have so little else to offer. At times of severe economic distress and Covid, of floods and price hikes, it is so much more politically expedient to turn the gaze on a Taliban-like ‘enemy’ figure in Afghanistan rather than address the more urgent local matters in the immediate neighborhood. It’s the age-old trap of using religious politics as a weapon of mass distraction, one which all right thinking Indians must collectively fight against.
Post-script: More than 140 leading Indian Muslim voices including prominent actors, journalists, activists, jurists have spoken out against the Taliban on the Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy platform. Unfortunately, their sane voices are rarely amplified by the media while any Muslim influencer who aggressively defends the Taliban instantly grabs the headlines. It reveals as much about the state of an acutely compromised media eco-system as it does about a fractured society where hate speech has a large constituency.
(The writer is senior journalist and author. Mail: [email protected])

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.