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Manufacturing Islamophobia

By Ram Puniyani

21 February, 2007

A friend's son Murali, a bright engineer, was studying in US. Murali is amongst the commonest of names amongst Hindus. This word Murali stands for flute, the musical instrument of Lord Krishna, which acted as a big lure for Gopikas (daughters of milkman) to fall in love with the Lord. But my friend's son Murali had a different fate. The US security agencies thought this is a name in disguise for a Muslim called Moor Ali, and the rest was the usual harassment meted out to the Muslim youth, resulting in Murali, returning to his home town, swearing at the US security agencies and all else concerned notwithstanding.

Post 9/11 the demonization of Muslims has gone several notches up. As such the demonization of Islam, Islam being presented as the new threat coincided; on one hand with the decline of Soviet states, and on the other with the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, who succeeded in coming to power on the crest of the revolution which threw away the US stooge, Raza Shah Pehlavi. US was making merry with the Shah, who in turn was installed after the overthrow of democratically elected Mossadeq. Incidentally Mosaddeq to the great annoyance of US interests, nationalized Iran oil, and so was overthrow by a coup engineered by US agencies. The phenomenon overlapped in time to pave the way for US media and other propaganda mechanisms to project 'Islam as the new threat', the earlier threat as per the US was Communism. This propaganda picked up by and by and today, God forbid, if you have a Muslim sounding name or face or any other characteristic, the 'security' hounds will get for themselves enough work to show their prowess. The average person on the street will think twice before shaking hands with you, the lurking fear being that you may be carrying some bomb hidden on your body somewhere.

Immediately after 9/11 2001 a Sikh was murdered in US, as the killer took him to be a Muslim. In many a European countries, the Muslims have faced intense intimidation, which is going up lately. The situation has gone to the extent that even the state governments have to wake up now if they want harmonious sailing of their affairs. Starting from innocuous looking jokes against Muslims, the matters have gone to the extent that a full fledged attempt is on to project Islam as the religion preaching hate and violence and Muslims as the intolerant fanatics. Every other person will tell you as to how Islam preaches to kill the Kafirs, How Jihad is an integral part of Islamic teaching and as to how Jihadis are mere Islamic soldiers. Here in India there is a long list of charges against Muslims, starting from the misconceptions about Muslim Kings breaking temples to humiliate Hindu religion to every Muslim having four wives twenty children to every
terrorist being a Muslim. As such of course, whatever be the underlying cause of these misconceptions, currently there had been enough number of incidents in which Muslims have been involved in such acts, to give a pretext to the political forces benefiting from this, to give bad name to the whole Muslim community.

To add to the problem, here in India, this Islamophobia, and fear of Muslims has come on the top of ongoing RSS project of spreading Hate against Muslims which has been in operation since last more than seven decades. The interesting point is that a numerical majority has been indoctrinated to believe that this minority is a threat to them. The US propaganda and RSS designs match to a great extent. This outfit has been spreading hate against Muslims using the distorted view of history and lopsided presentation of their current social life. This propaganda succeeds as an average person will not exercise her critical faculties at every juncture when seeing the content of what is beamed on the tube of idiot box or what one keeps reading in print over and over again. As such Gobbles did grasp this mechanism to the hilt and could create the phobia against Jews, as a prelude to the genocide launched by his mentor, Adolf Hitler. Even today one is not interested in the historical content of the use of word Jihad or Kafir, or one has nothing to do with the fact that no religious community can be uniform. But this phobia against the minorities has a serious political role to play. It forms the ground on which violence stands. Which in turn ghettoizes the community, intimidates its large chunk and its political rights are taken away despite the formal operation of democracies.

Culture as a disguise for religion; is shown to be at odds with the culture of others. Power stalks in the apparel of religion or culture. While this phobia plays it role in legitimizing the aggression against some countries or the carnage launched against them, it in turn also creates a society with deep fractures along the religious lines. The phobia directed outside also turns inside, to create scare amongst the more powerful sections within the community itself. Most of the retrograde processes are bidirectional. Hate outside creates intimidation inside. Creation of phobia against the outsider, the increase in insecurity within.

Even if we grant that the communities such targeted will become used to a new rhythm of survival under stress and fear, the bigger question is; can democracy survive in such states/ communities? While the political goals and purposes of imperialist powers on one hand and social elite on the other are well served in such an atmosphere, surely the progress of society is the victim on the altar of atmosphere of phobia against others. In this political scenario it is no coincidence that the sectarian understanding of communities thrives. One such sectarian nationalism was propounded by RSS chief, Golwalkar (We, or our Nation hood defined), where he asserts that Indians are basically Hindus, so others have not to be given equal citizenship. This proposition put forward in 1938, has made a strong social and political impact during last two decades. On similar lines, one does not know if there is an inspirational connection, the current US ideologue Samuel Huntington, in 'Who are we?' argues that US is essentially Anglo Saxon and others are a threat to the American ethos. While Golwalkar is the local sectarian ideologue Huntington is currently playing the similar divisive tunes at global level. The similarity between these two ideologues is striking on one hand and the coincidence of the latter coming precisely in the decades of nineties with Hindutva, Gowalkars ideology, picking up nineties, is not just coincidental.

The maters have gone too far. The targeted hate against the Muslims, the construction of phobia against Islam has crossed the threshold. While it served the US to attack many a countries for the sake of oil wealth, while it has helped the Hindu right to appropriate the social privileges, at the same time it has played and more so now than anytime before; is playing a counterproductive role to those states/societies and communities themselves. The schism between communities is acting on the nerves of democracies and weakening them as the process of societal development is getting retarded. It surely will have the impact on weaker sections of society and also will affect the economies worldwide. Humane values have taken a back seat during this period. This era of dark sectarianism needs to be overcome as soon as possible. The rise of right wing, rise of religious right at various places is a warning to the democracies and the progressive liberal elements all over the World that if this Islamophobia is not checked, the acts of terrorism will continue. The reality in the World is standing on the head many a times; though it seems currently as if terrorism is due to violence inherent in Islam and Muslims, the fact is that it is the political lust of vested interests that Islam is demonized.

We need to work on intercommunity relations, on spreading the words of harmony and peace, to look at religions as a set of moral values and not just a set of rituals or identities. We need to have the humane spirit prevail over the machinations of the interests of those out to grab the global and local resources for their own selves.


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