IN his speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly highlighted the fact that the scourge of Islamophobia is growing, and Muslims are being targeted in various parts of the world. He made particular mention of the worrying condition of Muslims in India where — under the BJP’s watch — a majoritarian wave has gripped the country and Indian Muslims are being singled out as ‘outsiders’ by the Hindu ultra-right, from which the BJP has sprung. Moreover, Islamophobic sentiment in the West is also growing, fuelled by a number of factors, including increased immigration and as a reaction to the acts of violence unleashed by Islamist militant groups on Western soil.
Where the situation in India is concerned, Narendra Modi and company have very carefully peeled away nearly all vestiges of secularism in their effort to rechristen the state as a Hindu rashtra. Under this scheme of things, Muslims are eternal outsiders and not worthy of full citizenship. The Indian state’s anti-Muslim policies have manifested themselves in legal edicts that seek to strip members of the community of citizenship, as well as lack of action where punishing perpetrators of violence against Muslims is concerned. In fact, senior Indian government functionaries have made comments regarding Muslims that in any civilised set-up would qualify as hate speech. The passage of laws designed to make it harder for Muslims to retain their citizenship; the lack of punishment for cow vigilantes; and the brutal siege of India-held Kashmir are all stark reminders of what it is like for Muslims to live in Mr Modi’s India, as most of the world ignores this grim reality.
While in India’s case anti-Muslim policies are being promoted by the state, in the West hatred is being stirred up mostly in reaction to the atrocious violence perpetrated by extremists in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, the brutality of Al Qaeda, IS and similar outfits is affecting the way non-Muslims in the West look at Islam, especially when fighters affiliated to these groups carry out acts of terrorism in Western states. This feeds the toxic narrative of the ultra-right in the US, Europe and elsewhere, whereby all Muslims are tarred with the same brush. As the prime minister has said, there is a need to address Islamophobia. This can be done through greater dialogue between the West and the Muslim world. It needs to be communicated clearly that those who act violently in the name of Islam do not represent the majority of Muslims. In fact, many of these groups have capitalised on the pitiful sociopolitical and economic conditions across the Muslim world, as well as failed Western attempts at nation-building in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc. Also, the West must realise that republishing offensive caricatures or similar acts that offend Muslim sensitivities will only encourage extremism, and must be discouraged.
Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2020