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UMMAH, DEMOCRACY & CHOICE FOR MUSLIM MINORITIES

Paper No. 932                                                   23/02/2004

Guest Column-by Gaurang Bhatt 

Ummah is the supranational brotherhood of all Muslims that transcends boundaries of states, as propounded by their prophet. It is a grand ideology, but it failed within a century of his death when the Spanish kingdom of the Moors in the far west failed to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Umayyads and Abbasids of Damascus and Baghdad. 

Internecine warfare and assassinations were the norm for succession within Islam. The first schism occurred between the Sunnis and Shias and warfare and mass murder between the historical Islamic Empires of Afghanistan, Central Asian Khanates, Iran, India and Turkey was routine. After WW1 with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, the Indian Muslims proved the most naive of them all. They protested in the Khilafat movement, while their fellow Muslim Arabs rejoiced at their liberation from the Turkish Caliph. 

In modern times, let us first take the historical prejudices that led to the denial of the Prime Minister’s position of entire Pakistan to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman of East Pakistan  (now Bangladesh). He was elected and his party held a majority of seats in the joint parliament. This clearly proved that language based and ethnic prejudice prevailed over the Islamic Ummah. The internecine warfare and atrocities prevalent between the Sunnis and Shias, not to mention the persecution of Ahmedias and Bahais and the warfare between the Mohajirs and Sindhis, both Muslims, and the rebellion of Baluchis and Pashtuns, all in the now truncated Pakistan, puts the very concept of Pakistan and an Islamic Ummah to rest. 

The total stupidity and disunity of the Arabs even with their monopoly of oil, capable of strangulating and bringing the West to its knees, is the final death-knell of the unity of Islam and its much-touted Ummah. Further examples are the wars between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds and Kurds and Turks, who are all Sunnis.

As long as Muslims now residing in many western countries including America still think of themselves as Muslims first, they will widen the distrust and suspicion with which they are looked at, and harden and worsen the already present discrimination and prejudice that has been their unfair due. Once welcome Turkish Guestbeiters of Germany are now seen as unwanted aliens and potential terrorists. There is great resistance to allow Turkey to join the EU and its resultant free movement of Muslims into Europe. France is banning overt manifestations of Islam,likethe scarf. Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan Muslims are resented and unwanted in France. Similar attitudes are prevalent in Belgium, Netherlands and the more liberal Scandinavian countries. 

Overt discrimination against Indonesian Muslims is now the norm in formerly liberal Netherlands. There is a general tendency to minimize and stem Islamic immigration and America is fingerprinting visitors and residents from Islamic countries. A general distaste for Islam and Muslims prevails due to their suspect terrorist associations and fanatic proclivities. In all fairness not all of it is justified and the exploitation by Western powers of natural resources with the help of greedy conniving collaborators and oppression of Palestinians are significantly responsible for the terrorists, but equally significantly responsible are Islam’s persistent inabilities to reform, modernize or evolve and the nostalgia for its old glory by fanatic fools unable to think, learn or cope with reality or time.  

The Islamic World is unique in its total absence of democracy and the reasons are the very tenets of the religion. The faulty, rigid and un-evolving nature of Islam presents a tautological argument that the Koran is the word of God and if the majority of believers disagree and want something different, they are wrong and apostates deserving punishment. The failure of the Islamic theocracy in Iran with the Guardian Council decision to vet and ban candidates for election, confirms their constricted vision and the certainty of their arrogant and false infallibility. Many Muslim thinkers thus reject democracy and as long as they exert any influence on their uneducated, unthinking and unquestioning flocks, there can never be an Islamic democracy. Algeria, Pakistan and Turkey are military dictatorships with meaningless trappings of democracy. Iran is turning out to be a failure, as Iraq will. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States and Morocco are monarchies. Central Asia, Azerbaijan and other North African states are dictatorships. Indonesia and Malaysia are basically one party states. Their sorry history including the recent failures in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq leave no hope that democracy will ever take root in any nation with a Muslim majority.  

The differential history of Hindu and Muslim responses to subjugation and being marginalized in India during the Macaulay Era and subsequently, provide an interesting case study. The Hindus like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others chose education and reform of religion with institutions like Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj, while the Muslims reverted to even greater orthodoxy in the Deobandi School of Islam in the United Provinces. This is not an isolated pattern and similar retreat in Egypt led to the fanatic backwardness of the Muslim Brotherhood. This recurring anamnestic and limited repertoire continues with the Wahabism of Bin Laden leading to jihadic terrorism. 

The Hindu theodicy and its renunciation philosophy, though wishful thinking by modern scientific knowledge, allowed India to be a rare country that resisted almost total conversion after subjugation by Muslim conquerors. On the other hand when these conquerors were overthrown it spawned even more extremist embrace of even more orthodox religion for rationalization of defeat. Due to its admixture of monotheism, polytheism, trinity, animism and even more importantly due to the historic intellectual tolerance of its major scriptures, Hinduism is fertile soil for the flowering of democracy. Much as most educated Indians resent and regret the era of British colonial rule, it is this forcible hoeing of the soil of the Indian mindset, that has prepared India for this flourishing harvest. A cautious but adequate application of a dose of communal and linguistic harmony is necessary to prevent the sprouting weeds of religious fundamentalism and linguistic and provincial parties, to prevent destruction of the precious crop. 

India has 150 million Muslims who cannot be wished away or subjected to a holocaust by any decent people, including any rabid Hindus with even a remote adherence to justice. The survival and flourishing of Indian Muslims with the great heritage of architecture and poetry that Islam has bestowed on India, requires that the concept of Ummah be given a decent burial. The much-touted allegiance of Muslims to an Islamic Ummah, rather than to any nation state is what raises doubts about their loyalty, allegiance and patriotism amongst the Hindu majority, just like the suspicion of a Catholic President in the United States. I realize that it is no easy choice and requires a reformation in Islam, which fails to separate church from state. If they fail to do so, it will only lead to distrust, a second-class status and intermittent pogroms. There is a changing and militant mood of reasserting power in a long repressed Hindu majority of the country with loss of decency at times in a rabid minority. No thinking or decent Indian wishes that, for it is anathema to the basic tenets of Hinduism and humanity.  

On the other hand the very existence of a theocratic Pakistan is detrimental and harmful to the peaceful existence or assimilation of this substantial minority. A clear and unambiguous affirmation needs to be made by Indian Muslims, calling for the definitive destruction of Pakistan.  It is the blind stupidity of the Indian Muslim leaders that perpetuates this ignorance and harm to the community. It is therefore crucial for Indian Muslims to dissociate themselves totally from any affiliation or even cultural and social contact with Pakistan, and unequivocally announce their antipathy to its existence. If the Indian Muslims persist in their folly, the bulk of them will be confined to poverty, crime and a marginalized status. To their detriment they will not achieve their deserved and just place in society or contribute to the advancement of the nation. They will be betting on Pakistan, which is a destined for the dustbin of history. The contiguity, bellicosity and devious designs of Pakistan make their status in India even more dangerously precarious. Recent statements after the new peace process developments by Hamid Gul, the former head of ISI confirm that hatred for destruction of India is the goal and his covert appeals to Indian Muslims will only worsen their distrust and plight. Their assimilation and position can only improve, if Pakistan fails or becomes irrelevant and marginal. Paradoxical as this thesis may sound it is the best prescription as many smart and educated Indian Muslims have realized.  

The prevailing BJP electoral sweep and the coming elections most likely to lead to their victory because of a burgeoning economy, raises an unanswered and critical question of the place of Indian Muslims. The rabid Hindu right sees them as traitors and fifth columnists with some justification, in view of the Godhra atrocities and the Dawood gang’s bombing of the Mumbai Stock Exchange. The revengeful retribution against Muslims in Gujarat deserves equal condemnation and cannot be allowed. Any minority, as we Indians are in America and the West, know that it cannot survive or prosper by aggressive militancy and must come to terms by peaceful pursuit of equal rights and opportunities and by hard work to win the approval and acceptance of the majority community. On the other hand to be fair to the Indian Muslims, they face discrimination and unequal opportunity. Part of their miserable status is due to their nostalgic delusions of grandeur and the dream of establishing their former privileged status of the Mughal era, which is an unlikely pipe dream, even in the best of circumstances. The other reason is their rejection of education with marketable skills, partly out of poverty and the easy refuge provided by the Saudi financed Madressas, which provide free meals, no education and fanatic brainwashing. 

The demand by Pakistan for Kashmir on the basis of its Muslim majority, stigmatizes all Indian Muslims as potential fifth columnists, separatists and traitors. The South Indian Muslims of which our revered President Abdul Kalam, is a shining example have not generally fallen into this trap and retained their cultural background without being brainwashed by the Arabian disease.  

Some recent incidences bring worry, that they are lately falling prey to the worsening trend towards foolish extremism in Indonesia and Malaysia. Philippines, Burma and Thailand are being jolted by the militancy and unrest of Muslim minorities. A pervasive worry that Muslim minorities are a threat to the democratic nation state itself, is crystallizing in many world nations in the East and West. It is a serious concern and bears an ill portent for Muslims everywhere and particularly India. It is critical for Indian Muslims not to acquire the Irish curse for we are one people and should not be divided by religion, especially now that others want to discriminate against us by color and exploit our differences to maintain their hegemony for their benefit to our detriment and impoverishment.

(The author is a retired neurophysician and an occasional writer. The views expressed are his own. Email-  gpbhatt1@yahoo.com  .)

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