A month back, M Farooq, a rationalist and activist with the Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, a Periyarist group, was hacked to death in Coimbatore by Muslim extremists for allegedly insulting Islam. The reaction to his death was muted; had Farooq rather been killed by the gaurakshak fanatics, he would have been an instant hero. Even the minimal criticisms by Periyarists were shouted down by Islamists and self-declared heroes of the oppressed in social media. The standard argument was that any criticism of Islam or of the flaws in the practices and politics of Muslims would aid Hindutva and/or the ‘War on Terror’ narrative.
Or in short, the Periyarists, who have a reputation of challenging Hindutva forces and standing for the rights of religious minorities, were accused of Islamophobia.
We have reached a point where Islamophobia is just a politics of blackmail used by Islamists and their supporters to shut down legitimate criticisms of Islam on the often bogus claim that it aids anti-Muslim bigots. Unlike anti-Semitism or anti-Black racism, Islamophobia has no deep historical or ideological basis in the West – let us not forget that the worst génocidaires of the previous century, Adolf Hitler, had much admiration for Islam. In fact, those countries, who now run the War on Terror, were the ones who supported the Taliban, created the al-Qaeda and are also backing Islamist groups against Syrian President Basshar al-Assad. The contemporary discourse of Islamophobia is a product from Western multicultural countries created by Muslim elites who use narratives of self-victimisation to capitalise on white guilt. Activists like Iranian communist Maryam Namazie and leftist philosophers like Slavoj Zizek have spoken out against this politics of blackmail.
But as a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), it was strange to hear from two JNU research scholars that Islamophobia was rampant among JNU leftists. In a recent article published in Firstpost, the conclusion of the authors, largely based on naming and shaming individual fellow students and JNU faculty (a classic right-wing strategy) for their social media posts, is that the JNU left "mocks and shames the Muslim youth for their Islamic faith, and wants to impose an ideal code of conduct and mode of thinking for the students."
For those who claim to be research scholars, there is little of theoretical substance in their arguments. Despite a token disclaimer that they don’t intend to target individuals, what the authors have cleverly used is a victim narrative, and created persecutors where there are none. It is indeed comforting to assume that one is fighting giants when one is only striking out at windmills.
In fact, quite some of the leftists, especially the upper-caste, ultra-radical ones, are more Islamophilic than Islamists themselves. When I was a student-activist at JNU, I witnessed the comic spectacle of loony left outfits, like the now mostly defunct Democratic Students Union (DSU), who swore by Marx and Lenin, defending explicitly anti-Communist Islamist outfits like the Taliban. Their poor reasoning was that they were obliged to support all anti-imperialist struggles. Poor Lenin himself had very strongly emphasised the need to combat pan-Islamism in the course of anti-imperialism.
The left in JNU indeed has lots of problems; their unwillingness to engage with the complexities of caste, being key among them. Those who sing praises for the Hamas and Hezbollah often do not have any room for constructive solidarity for Dalit and OBC politics. The campus left has been quite accommodative of Muslims, and in extreme cases, going as far as becoming defense lawyers for Islamists. Painting a picture of anti-Islamic bigotry among the JNU left is not only wrong, but is also done calculatedly to prevent any critical examination of Islam at a time when a perverted combination of different strands of Islamisms and imperialisms are making emancipatory politics increasingly difficult. Worse, it prevents working on political solidarities with progressive groups in the so-called ‘Muslim world’ like the Kurdish PKK and communists in Turkey and Iran who are fighting both external imperialism as well as the internal Islamist oppressors.
To come back to some of the religio-cultural grievances of the authors, they argue that “Muhammad is the primary human model in the Islamic faith” and that a criticism of Muhammad is a de facto criticism of all Muslims. This is the logic not of academics interested in critical dialogue, but of a brazen fascist cult that seeks to censor all contrarian opinions on their leadership. The murders of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh were inspired by the similar offended sentiments and delusions of persecution that these authors uphold.
And if Muslims are right to be offended at any criticism directed towards Muhammed, then the Hindu Right is also justified to shut down any criticisms of Ram, who in the mainstream Hindu discourse, is Maryada Purushottam, or the Hindu equivalent of the “primary human model”. So let us ban all works of Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar!
And it is frankly ingeniously silly to glorify “Islamic feminist” women who have supposedly contributed to “the radical abandonment of Victorian family model altogether”. The Sangh brigade can give you much better examples in Sadhvi Rithambara and the Durga Vahini.
Anti-Muslim sentiment is very live and very real and must be fought tooth and nail by all those who swear by emancipatory politics. However, one should not blind one’s eyes to the fact that the terrorism of Islamic State, the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the al-Qaeda is rooted in readings of Islam, just as the terrorism of the Bajrang Dal is rooted in readings of Hinduism. Despotic regimes like Turkey and Iran – they tick positive on a majority of the features of ur-fascism outlined by Umberto Eco – are informed by references to Islamic theology and history. To understand the nature of such movements and states in the middle-east, it is compulsory to have a critical approach towards political Islam, from the time of its founding till its various contemporary forms.
And leftists who want to critically interrogate Islam should cease being blackmailed by accusations of Islamophobia. A communist’s loyalties lie with the proletariat. Not with the prophet’s faithful.
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2017 13:28:00 IST