Confession of a liberal: Islamic fault lines within nation states

Have you ever wondered why Muslims are a target in most of the countries around the world? Is Islamophobia for real? Why there are increasing Islamic fault lines within nation states across the world? The prejudice and subsequent discrimination against the Muslim people has been defined by using various terms such as Islamophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments, intolerance against Muslims, anti-Muslim prejudice, anti-Muslim bigotry, hatred of Muslims, anti-Islamism, Muslimophobia, demonisation of Islam etc.

In German, Islamophobie (fear) and Islamfeindlichkeit (hostility) are used. The Scandinavian term Muslimhat literally means “hatred of Muslims”.

Crises of Conscience: Liberal Dilemma

As a liberal Indian, I was apologetic about this issue and use to attribute the problem to lack of knowledge about Islam, and stereotypes created by the mainstream media.

Post the Muzaffarnagar riots (2013), I was in the liberal club that blamed the state for inaction, and also blamed it onto the growing intolerance among the Hindu majority. Moreover, I subscribed to the notion that ‘Islam is the religion of peace’; ‘Terrorism has no nationality or religion’ and that it is the responsibility of the majority religion to accommodate the eccentricity of the minorities, despite how much anachronistic they seem.

I was also the most vocal critic of the phenomenon called ‘love jihad’ and believed that it is a hoax created by the right wing extreme elements. But in 2015 something happened.

In 2015, two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Armed with rifles and other weapons, they killed 12 people and injured 11 others. Several such other attacks followed killing scores of innocent people.

Now see how the ‘liberal me’ tried defending the above act

Friend: What made the Muslims so angry in a country that is the birthplace of all the modern political concepts that we cherish dearly: Liberty, equality, fraternity, republic?

Liberal me:  The newspaper Charlie Hebdo published a series of cartoons of the ‘Prophet Muhammad’.

Friend: So what? That does not justify violence against innocent people.

Liberal me: Charlie Hebdo should not have hurt the religious sentiments of the minority community.

Friend: Charlie Hebdo is a publication that has always courted controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders. But other communities did not recourse to violence.

Liberal me: Do not paint the whole community with the same brush. Majority of Muslims are peace loving and abide by the rule of law.

Friend: But why there are violent protests in other countries to an extent that France had to shut down its embassies in 20 other countries. If the community is so civic then it should have followed the rule of law and filed petition in the court.

Liberal me: silence………….

The above silence was a mark of crises of conscience for me. The dilemma led me to explore into deeper intriguing questions:

  • Is Islam really a religion of peace?
  • Why majority of terrorist activities worldwide are associated with Islamic fundamentalism?
  • Why majority of Muslims in general refuse to assimilate with the mainstream society?
  • Why the tolerance level of majority of Muslims is so law when it comes to religion?

You will get the answers in my later posts. But before dwelling into deeper intriguing questions, let us explore the world around us and see for ourselves how Islam has created fault-lines in various nation states across the world where Muslims are in a minority.

Islamic fault lines in Nation states

Philippines

Majority of the people are not aware of growing fundamentalism in this part of the world. Christianity is the dominant religion in Philippines, with more than 80% people following various sects of Christianity. The second major religion in Philippines is Islam, with more than 5% adherents and is mostly concentrated in Mindanao.

Mindanao encompasses the large island of Mindanao plus smaller islands in the southern Philippines. Several groups remain at the forefront of Islamic terrorism in the southern Philippines, including JI, MILF, ASG, MSB-MNLF, and RSRM. These organizations are a part of separatist movement demanding creation of a new country.

The over-arching common aim is to create pure Islamic communities across Southeast Asia as precursors to the eventual formation of a pan-regional Caliphate—to be known as Darulah Islamiah Raya/ Nusantara and embracing Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand, and the southern Philippines.

(For details refer: chapter 3- Mindanao: A Mecca for Transnational Terrorism in Southeast Asia: Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth Kim Cragin, Peter Chalk, Sara A. Daly and Brian A. Jackson)

Thailand

Thailand has experienced its own share of blood bath. Thailand is Buddhist majority country with more than 90% adherents. Muslims with~5% of the population constitute second largest religious group residing in the Patani region bordering Malaysia in south Thailand.

Since 2000 the violence in this area has increased with the demand of separation. Thousands have perished before the government realized that their policy to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ has failed drastically.

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi (BRN-C), the group currently spearheading the insurgency sees no reason for negotiations and is against talks with other insurgent groups. The BRN-C has as its immediate aim to make southern Thailand ungovernable and it has largely been successful.

Myanmar

Myanmar is a Buddhist country with more than 85 % adherents. Islam is followed by ~4.5% of the population. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an Islamic insurgent group, is spearheading the insurgency in Rakhine province that share border with Bangladesh. The Muslims constitute more than 90% of the population in the border districts of Rakhine.

India

Within India there are many fault lines that are accentuated by the Islamist. The exodus of Kashmiri pundits is one of the many cases. Even in areas where of other states, where they tend to become majority the non-Muslims have been forced to leave or the area has been in news for all wrong reasons. It is exemplified by the Kairana and Kandhla migration controversy in UP, atrocities against Hindus in Mewat area of Haryana or ‘lone wolves’ from the Mallapuram district of Kerala.

Russia

Chechnya in south-west part of Russia is Muslim majority province with ~65% population practicing Islam in as per 1926 census that rose to ~98% as per latest 2020 census. Violent separatist movement has been breeding in this part of since decades.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

It is a country in South and Southeast Europe, located within the Balkans. As per the census, Islam is the predominant religion with ~51% of total population. The figure was ~45% in 2008. There have been reports of self radicalization and Bosnian Muslims joining ISIS in large numbers.

Europe

Multiculturalism as a policy has failed in Europe. European countries favored respect for diversity over social cohesion. However, European countries have failed to assimilate their Muslim population. As per the Pew research centre, Muslims constitute ~6% of the population of Europe. Following are some examples that manifest the failure of the assimilation policies:

  • ISIS has attracted Young Muslims from Europe in dis-proportionate number relative to the population.
  • The increase in the ‘lone wolf attacks’ across Western Europe reflect the increasing jihadist tendencies among the youth Muslim population of Europe. The most prominent being the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France that killed 86 people, the ‘white widow’ terror in UK etc.
  • Islamic scarf controversy, Charlie Hebdo shooting etc. show that the Muslim population has failed to imbibe the mainstream European values of individual liberty, secularism, religious tolerance etc.
  • Mass migration in UK, particular the London area, has changed the social fabric of the city. London is becoming major hub of Islamic banking. There are ghettos in London where Sharia law is being forcefully enforced. In the tower hamlet area of east London, Islamic preachers have regularly given death threats to women who refuse to wear the Islamic veil. Moreover, there is increasing incidence of ‘Love Jihad’. Many commentators in Europe have labeled the growing Islamisation of London as ‘Londonistan’.

Within these countries, the fault lines in the name of religion are further accentuated by the support they get from the Muslim majority countries, particularly the Arab world and Pakistan.

Islamic fault lines- International propagation of Salafism and Wahhabism

Salafism and Wahabism are ultraconservative-fundamentalist Islamic doctrines that have been propagated by Saudi Arabia since 1970s funded by petroleum exports (petrodollars). As per the Wikipedia:

‘The impetus for the spread of the interpretations through the Muslim world was ‘the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted’ (according to political scientist Alex Alexiev), “dwarfing the Soviets’ propaganda efforts at the height of the Cold War” (according to journalist David A. Kaplan), funded by petroleum exports which ballooned following the October 1973 War. One estimate is that during the reign of King Fahd (1982 to 2005), over $75 billion was spent in efforts to spread Wahhabi Islam……..’

Even the infamous tele-islamist Zakir Naik received some of the petrodollars!!

Conclusion

I have stated just a few examples above where Muslims are in minority. The common thread that runs across these countries are:

  • Wherever Muslims are in minority, within a democratic country, they will demand fundamental rights. (India, Europe)
  • If Muslims are close to majority, even in a particular area within the country, there will be growing demand for Sharia compliant laws and the non-Muslims will be gradually outnumbered, either by forced displacement (Kashmir, Mewat) or by increase in the Muslim population as the total fertility rate of Muslims is in general higher than the other communities’ (Kerala.)
  • If they are in majority, the fissiparous tendencies increase with demand for separation from the country. The use of terror in the name of religion is justified.

And as far as the liberal me is concerned, the question that still lingers in my mind and heart is as to why Muslims act/ react/ overreact in such a manner. Is it the nature (genetics)? But they had the same forefathers as the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist and the other religious communities that do not act in the same manner. So definitely it is not nature.

The answer then definitely lies in nurture, that is, socialization. Maybe, the answer lies in the Quran and hadiths. The quest is still on ……….

The essay was first published in Hindupost on 17 August, 2020.

About the author:

Hemant Bhatt is an educator by profession. He did his B.Tech from College of Technology, Pantnagar. He worked in Singapore for 4 years. He also studied studied social sciences from Sciences Po, Paris. He has keen interest in international affairs, orientalism, economics and Indian society.

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