By Karmanye Thadani:
For those who have not followed the earlier articles in this series or are not cognizant of the term ‘Islamism’, I may clarify that it is not to be confused with Islam as a faith per se but with a totalitarian ideology of imposing a certain version of Islam, as also stereotyping in a negative fashion other religious communities, Islamism being to Islam somewhat similar to what Hindutva is to Hinduism. In the second article in this series, the views of the Islamist secessionists in Kashmir, as also those of liberal Kashmiri Muslim secessionists, have been examined in some depth.
As regards engaging with the Islamist secessionists in Kashmir, the ideology of Islamism will have to be fought tooth and nail and the myths about India, USA or Israel being enemies of Islam as a faith per se would have to be busted (Mirwaiz, a ‘moderate’ Hurriyat leader has declared that Israeli tourists should not be allowed to visit Kashmir, even though they come in large numbers and contribute to the economic development of the valley). In all these countries, a non-Muslim has complete freedom to embrace Islam, though for many of these Islamists, apostasy from Islam would be a crime punishable by death in the independent Kashmir of their imagination. There have been rogue elements in the armies of Muslim countries like Pakistan as well, that have inflicted atrocities on fellow Muslims in what are today South Sudan and Bangladesh (or even Balochistan) respectively, and the US Army did so in Vietnam, which isn’t a Muslim-majority country, and so did the Indian Army in Punjab and the north-east (including Hindu-majority Assam), which are not Muslim-majority; so, this has nothing to do with religion. Besides, Muslims, practising Muslims included, have been prominent figures in all walks of life in India, the United States and Israel, and many non-Muslims in these countries have raised their voices for Muslims in their own countries and other parts of the world when they (Muslims) have been wronged. The Islamist secessionists in Kashmir must give up the anachronistic idea of a global Muslim fraternity or even bother much about religion as a badge of social identity within a country in this age of multiculturalism, country-oriented nationalism and international human rights activism.
As pro-India Kashmiri Sunni writer Sualeh Keen, whom I have the good fortune of being acquainted with, has articulated in a piece-
“The centripetal pull of an island mentality is offset by a centrifugal push to connect with the outside world. Presently, this outward-looking impulse manifests itself in the Kashmiri Muslim majority’s romance with Pakistan, and in their latching on to issues concerning the Muslim world. Controversial issues in faraway Muslim countries can incur fierce responses in the valley. Thus, its unique identity together with the special feature of being a Muslim majority region in India is the religious-regional complex around which secessionism in the valley is constructed.”
In fact, in this connection, I recall a conversation I had with an otherwise liberal Kashmiri Muslim journalist with secessionist convictions who envisages an independent Kashmir as a secular state and asserts that secessionist Kashmiri Muslims must respect the pro-India convictions of most Kashmiri Hindus and some Kashmiri Muslims, but he too has an Islamist outlook when it comes to viewing Muslims globally as some sort of consolidated political unit (I had mentioned earlier in this series that the classification into liberals and Islamists can’t be watertight).
In spite of being an award-winning journalist currently working for a reputed media house and whose articles feature even on the BBC website, he was completely oblivious to the historical background and contemporary scenario with respect to the secessionist movement in Balochistan (the mostly Muslim people of which, with very few exceptions, want secession from also Muslim-majority Pakistan), in spite of Kashmir and Balochistan having a similar history of the monarch signing an instrument of accession, and my telling him about the Baloch scenario came as an eye-opener to him, though I discovered in a later conversation that he was, on the other hand, quite well-versed with the dispute in faraway Chechnya and had a long debate with me over the same (however, the conflict closest to the hearts of Kashmiri Muslims other than their own is the Israel-Palestine conflict, something many non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims are also quite passionate about and, in fact, many Muslims cutting across geographical barriers, are). When I argued that the Chechen secessionist movement doesn’t really have a basis in international law, he started trashing international law per se conflating the body of law itself with its efficacy, but didn’t continue when I reminded him that he and his Kashmiri separatist ilk invoke international law (UN resolutions) as the basis for their demands!
He also does have a romance for Pakistan (he told me that he was earlier pro-Pakistan and later became pro-azadi, somewhere around the mid-1990s; in fact, while Kashmiri separatists on the Indian side of the LoC espousing the cause of azadi do condemn the rigging of elections and human rights violations on the other side of the LoC, their condemnation seldom reaches the extent of unanimously considering Pakistan as an enemy just like India), praising it for taking up the Kashmiri cause in international forums, and he portrayed global conflicts to be of a basically religious character, a rather immature analysis not expected from a journalist of such a stature. When I pointed out the secession of East Pakistan as an independent Bangladesh, he put the blame on India, but when I stated that though India had a role in supporting the rebels, there were basic fault-lines that India exploited to its advantage, just as in Kashmir, there were basic fault-lines even though Pakistan funded and trained the secessionist militants or that non-Talibanized Afghanistan and Bangladesh under the Awami League have more cordial relations with India than the contemporary Hindu-majority Nepal (where we have seen a rather interesting confluence of religion and Marxism in spite of the state now being declared as secular), he had no answer!
The Islamists must be made to understand that the basic tenets of Islam, like any of the other major global religions, are grounded in humanism, tolerance of diverse opinions, including even other religions, and striving for socioeconomic egalitarianism, and laws introduced in the Middle East in the 7th century may not be relevant now, though the basic moral values underlying those laws are still relevant but would manifest themselves in a different form in a different age and a different geographical and cultural setting.
They must grasp the simple logic that nothing is correct because a supposedly great man said it but a man should be regarded as great because he is able to convince others of the wisdom and insightfulness of his philosophy so as to not blindly follow blatant misinterpretations or anachronistic interpretations of their noble faith, and to promote Islam compatible with Indian culture in a modern context would be a task in itself. Actually, many already existing versions of Sufi Islam do so quite well, but to convince those not adhering to them to embrace such versions of Islam is not easy, and promotion of a certain sect is not a feasible option, but to give a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of and promote a healthy respect for the underlying beauty of India’s composite culture, including what has come to be associated with Hinduism as a faith with its diverse strands, is necessary. Liberal Muslim scholars in Europe such as Bassam Tibi and Abdel Samad are making efforts to do so in the European context. Some of their statements may seemingly amount to a critique of Islam per se, but they desire that the religion be interpreted in the modern context to conform to international human rights standards for which there should be no room for theocracy, and they are not selective about criticizing a certain religion and demonizing it the way some pseudo-intellectuals from the Muslim community, who make a big show of renouncing and denouncing their own religion, are, though this is not to call all apostates of Islam pseudo-intellectuals but those who intentionally misrepresent and demonize their faith, perhaps for publicity.
In the Indian context, the task of promoting the practice of Islam compatible with a composite Indian culture in a modern setting becomes even more complicated, but would have to be taken up not only for the sake of helping quell separatism in Kashmir but also because Islamism is a problem across India, as can be inferred from the way many Muslims protested against the Supreme Court decision in the Shah Bano case (though there were indeed also practising Muslims liberal by outlook who welcomed it) which obviously can be equated to their strong aversion for a uniform civil code, and even worse, many non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims taking up the path of terrorism in recent years (following the terrible politically backed anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat in 2002), and the Islamist sentiment manifested itself in the rather violent protest in Mumbai not too long ago against the recent killings of Muslims in Assam (as though the lives of Bodos don’t matter) and even more strangely, Myanmar, even though the Indian government gave considerable aid to its Myanmarese counterpart to help the Muslim victims of violence there.
Rather than looking up to Maulana Maududi (he is a great influence in Kashmir) who wanted to give virtually no rights to Pakistani Hindus and openly declared that there was no hypocrisy in his stand as he had no problem if Indian Muslims were meted out the same treatment, Kashmiri Muslims should turn to progressive visionaries like Maulana Azad, a great scholar of Islam and a very prominent Indian nationalist who remarkably prophesized as early as 1946 the secession of East Pakistan, further ethnic conflicts in what would remain of Pakistan, foreign powers attempting to control Pakistan and Pakistan turning into a military dictatorship!
Once such Muslims are comfortable identifying themselves as citizens of India as a secular state with a non-Muslim majority as well as identifying themselves as adherents of Islam as a faith, seeing no contradiction between the two and without yearning for being governed under a theocratic setup that imposes a certain version of religion (and there are, of course, undoubtedly already many such Indian Muslims, including even some Kashmiris), Islamism in Kashmir and the rest of India as an issue will die out. It may not be possible to completely wipe out Islamism or Hindutva, but the space for these discourses would have to be nearly eliminated, making them quite irrelevant, just like the racist ideology of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.[box bg="#fdf78c" color="#000"]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]