Thursday, December 03, 2015

Fwd: India’s Biased Debate on Intolerance

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India's Biased Debate on IntoleranceSADANAND DHUMEDec. 2, 2015 12:52 p.m. ET
India's Biased Debate on Intolerance
By ignoring Islamist extremism, Indian intellectuals do their country no favors, says Sadanand Dhume in The Wall Street Journal.
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By ignoring Islamist extremism, Indian intellectuals do their country no favors.

In most countries the idea that a cartoon piggy bank could incite a mob to violence would scarcely be plausible. Not so in India, where on Monday enraged Muslim protesters in the western state of Maharashtra attacked multiple offices of the prominent regional newspaper Lokmat.
The mobs were set off by a cartoon accompanying a story Sunday on Islamic State finances. It showed assorted currency symbols pouring into a piggy bank whose snout carried an image from the jihadist group's flag—a white seal with black Arabic lettering that reads "Muhammad is the messenger of God." These words are also part of the Muslim declaration of faith.
The attacks on Lokmat illustrate India's selective debate on intolerance. The country's journalists, writers and actors have been accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of diluting the country's traditions of pluralism and interfaith harmony by not standing up to his party's Hindu hotheads. Now, instead of standing up for freedom of expression, Lokmat is apologizing for the offense. Meanwhile, some of India's most vocal campaigners against intolerance appear to have suddenly lost their voices.
This double standard in India's public discourse has deep historical and cultural roots. But by clinging to habits of thought that no longer fit reality, the country's intelligentsia is doing India no favors. The current discourse encourages both Islamist bullying and anti-Muslim prejudice. It also leaves India woefully unprepared to face the ideological challenge of transnational radical Islam.
Why do Indian intellectuals tiptoe around Islam? For most of its 68 years as an independent nation, India has effectively been a one-party socialist state ruled by the left-of-center Congress Party. Over time, the party's view of interfaith matters became the de facto national view. For many Indians, it's virtually dogma to see "communalism," the term of choice for religious chauvinism, as a purely Hindu phenomenon. In this view, members of India's 150 million-strong Muslim community are always and only victims of violence, never its perpetrators.
Curbs on free speech, inherited from colonial rule but amplified by homegrown politicians, have also made it difficult for Indians to discuss religion plainly and meaningfully. This recent riff on terrorism by the Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who is widely feted for addressing serious national matters in a popular television talk show, is typical: "For me acts of terror are not connected to any religion. So whether it's a person who feels he's a Muslim and is doing an act of terror, I don't think he's following Islam."
There's also the question of taste. In India, averting your eyes from Islamist extremism suggests refinement. Acknowledging it is usually seen as boorish.
Over the years, this odd blend of dogma and propriety has been mixed with cold, hard electoral calculations. In Maharashtra, the attacks on Lokmat were spearheaded by a local Congress Party legislator. At the national level, leaders such as Sonia Gandhi and P. Chidambaram portray themselves as the urbane faces of Indian secularism. On the street, however, secularism is often just shorthand for whipping up Muslim resentments.
This blindness to Islamic extremism may have been defensible 50 years ago. Muslims were a smaller and less volatile minority then, and radical Islam was hardly worth taking seriously.
Today, this bias flies in the face of reality. Muslims are indeed sometimes victims of Hindu violence. The current debate about intolerance was spurred in part by the September lynching near Delhi of a Muslim man suspected of slaughtering a calf. But Muslims also sometimes initiate violence. Ignoring this, or playing down incidents that don't fit an inherited template, doesn't alter this fact.
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