Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fanatics Abound All Around!

When Salman Rushdie was knighted earlier in the year, I wrote a piece praising his work. I got a lot of hate mail for that: mostly from self-professed Islamists who threatened violence from behind walls of anonymity provided by the internet.

I have been writing about Mumbai now and again there is a spate of hate mail filling my inbox - this time from self-professed Hindu nationalists who threaten violence from the same walls of internet anonymity.

So once again - and this time for the "Hindu" nutjobs: I didn't back down on Rushdie and I won't back down now. Save yourselves the time you spend writing stupid threats and actually go do some reading and thinking about India, its history and its politics.

Meanwhile, one point to note: fanatics are not only to be found on all ends of the spectrum, but they also show the same lack of imagination when it comes to the depth of their arguments, and the rather banal ideas of violence they threaten. Good to know that there is a meeting point for fanatics of all ilk somewhere even though its marked by an acute absence of intelligence and imagination.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mumbai Aftermath: An Idea for Celebrating Eid

Since the terrorist began their rampage in Mumbai a week ago, I have grown sick of reading about how India stands at the verge of Hindu-Muslim "sectarian" or "religious" violence. Every British and American editorial attempts to explain why US and EU cannot act again Pakistan by linking the hypothetical ramifications of all action to a Hindu-Muslim war in India. It is time - I believe - to stop the hypocrisy and to really consider Indian in a fair, just and equitable fashion: and yes that means both Indian Hindus and Muslims. However, just this once, I would like to speak of Indian Muslims, partly because of circumstances but mostly because we are running up to Eid-ul-Azha or Bakrid next week.

For all of my life, I have watched politicians of all persuasions feed the victim discourse in the country. The secularlists will admit no fault on part of the Indian Muslims, even while there was ethnic cleansing in J&K and Mumbai became the earliest testing ground for jihadi violence. Meanwhile, the right wingers demand proof - again and again, and always insufficient - of loyalty to the nation from Indian Muslims. And over all of it looms the grim shadow of Partition, the one event that seems to be the monkey on our backs: Indian Muslims either live on apparently victimised minority margins or are viewed with suspicion for their apparently divided loyalty. Such has been the political discourse of my life time.

Yet in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, for the first time in my life, that discourse appears to be changing. The impetus comes not from the politicians but from the most conservative parts of the Indian Muslim community. There may be any number of motivations for it, but for the first time, I don't feel I am fighting alone - or for a lost cause - when I speak up against Islamophobia in Europe and USA, and on behalf of Muslim citizens of India.

A couple of days ago, the leaders of the Mumbai's Muslim community refused to bury the Mumbai killers on religious grounds. This - despite its PR value - is a significant theological shift as it puts into practice the oft repeated platitude of Islam being a religion of peace. The only reason for refusing the bodies has been the terrorist's violent and vile actions. Finally, the religious leaders of the Islamic community in India are walking the walk, as well as talking the talk.

And then the most stunning announcement that I can remember came today: The All India Organisations of Imams of Mosques (AIOIMs)has appealed that next week's Bakrid be celebrated in a sober way. That Muslims wear black ribbons and especially denounced the killing of Jews during the Mumbai attacks. The organisation has asked all muftis and imams to denounce the Mumbai killings - and especially the killing of the Jews at the Nariman house - during the Friday prayers.

It is supremely significant that both these steps come in the run-up to Bakrid. The festival marks the Biblical episode when God asked Abraham to sacrifice what he loved most. Abraham took his son, aiming to kill him as a sacrifice, but at the last moment a miracle saved Isaac and replaced him with a goat. Muslims celebrate that same miracle at Bakrid every year.

And this year - despite the sorrow and horror of Mumbai - marks a tremendous shift. The two decisions by Muslim religious bodies are unprecedented but welcome.

We in India have always cherished our Muslim heroes: Shahid Hameed, APJ Abdul Kalam, Mohammad Azharuddin, Shahrukh Khan. We have clung to these heroes when we run out of arguments for our secularist democracy. Yet there has always been a dark side: political leaders like Farukh Abdullah who presided over ethnic cleansing, and the obscurantists who took to streets at the time of the Shah Bano case, and the self-professed liberal secularists who have done as much damage to our social fabric as the Hindu fundamentalists. Through it all, the Muslim religious and political leadership has been lacking, and the community has been forced to turn to obscurantists, opportunists, ideologues and idiots for guidance.

This is why these two decisions by Islamic religious bodies are so important for us as a nation. For once, the religious, the most conservative parts of the Indian Muslim society have taken a clear stance: India over religion! India before Islam! India over history!

It is time to acknowledge, respect, appreciate that step. And to support it with all our strength.

Here is an idea: Bakrid commemorates a miracle based on sacrifice. In the Bible, God asks Abraham to sacrifice what is dearest to him. In response, Abraham takes up his son Isaac as sacrifice to the divinity. At the last moment, having tested Abraham's faith, God replaces Isaac with a lamb, acknowledging the spirit that drives Abraham's sacrifice.

Given AIOIM and the religious trusts stance on the Mumbai massacre, there has already been a sacrifice made by religious leaders of the Indian Muslim community. Theologically, they have chosen to challenge all the major contemporary orthodoxies by refusing burial to the terrorists. Make no mistake: this seemingly small decision pits Indian Muslims against all major theological schools of the Islamic world. How ironic that once again the Indian Muslims have been called to prove their devotion - this time to the nation-state rather to God - and once again the bulk of them are willing to repeat Abraham's sacrifice.

It is sentimental to talk of Abrahamic miracles in this day and age. But perhaps Mumbai has given us that opportunity and perhaps the need for such miracles. This year, let us honour that choice. How about if every Indian Muslim who celebrates Eid in a "sober way" puts a candle in their window on that day?

And what if the rest of India honours that choice of a "black" Eid, by lighting a similar candle in our windows, regardless of our religion.

After all, at the end of Abraham's sacrifice, there was unity and celebration. Perhaps this is the year, ALL Indians can commemorate the Abrahamic sacrifice, and be joined in the unity that results from such faith!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mumbai Aftermath: Rats Play Even Before the Pyres Finish Burning

There are days when even the most law-abiding citizen feels the need for vigilante action. There are days one wishes that we could react with bullets rather than ballots. Today is one of those days, when I fervently wish there would be mobs lynching some of the political rats that are prancing about on the embers of the funeral pyres of the soldiers and victimes of Mumbai.

The reason for my anger is the overt lack of concern that our politicians are displaying:

1. Deputy CM of Maharashtra started it by stating that "in a big city there are a few small incidents."

2. The Maharashtra CM Vilarsao Deshmukh compounded it by visiting a wrecked Taj in company of his film star son and a film producer/director. And then in a sickening act of effrontery, he proceeded to harangue the media for questioning his (lack of) judgement.

3. And as if that were not enough, Kerala CM Achutanandan insulted Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan's bereaved family. In fact I am so disgusted that I refuse to repeat his sickening remarks in this blog.

And of course the above list does not even include a sneering Muqhtar Abbas Naqvi, an opportunist Narendra Modi, a vile Amar Singh and of course the usual jerk Laloo Prasad Yadav.

In a just world, these politicians would be tried and punished for sedition. Yet in the world as it stands today, they not only go unpunished but in fact continue speaking with no sensitivity, concern or intelligence.

In a just world, these seditious rats would be hanged by citizens right at the Gateway of India as a lesson for all others.

In disgust: Satyamev Jayate.