By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
29 April 2020
There seems to be a new wave of empathy amongst Arab Muslims towards Indian Muslims. Intellectuals, primarily in the various emirates have woken up to the acute discrimination faced by Indian Muslims. As if not to be left behind, some members of royal families have condemned the current wave of Muslim phobia orchestrated by the Hindu right wing. Some Arab lawyers have said that Muslim persecution in India is a fit case to be presented before the International Court of Justice and that they are collating evidence to do so. At least one Arab country, Kuwait, has already taken public position against India’s treatment of its Muslim minority. Earlier the OIC had passed a resolution to same effect. To be sure, most Arab countries have not taken any official position on the issue, neither have they lodged any displeasure with the various Indian consulates. However, the very fact that India had to publicly assure the world of its ‘hallowed’ secularism and ‘equal protection of all its citizens’, is sign enough that such sentiments amongst Arab Muslims have made the present government concerned.
After all, the government cannot be oblivious of the fact that tens of thousands of Indians, mostly Hindus work in the Gulf. It is also a fact that as compared to Muslims, Hindus in these countries occupy higher strata of occupational structure. If there is any negative feeling about Hindus, then their position will be become insecure and as a result the remittances to India will suffer a major blow. The Arabs have no love for democracy or freedom of speech. Citizens and especially non-citizens living in these parts know fully well the implications of angering their Arab masters. And yet, over the years, we have seen a certain section of right-wing Hindus getting emboldened and brazenly posting stuff on social media considered offensive and derogatory to Islam. In the last six years, this government has worked hard on fostering a strategic partnership between India and the gulf. It seems that for some supporters of this government, this has translated into a triumphalist war cry against an imagined enemy. In the process, they have frittered away years of hard work which Indians of all faiths have put together to earn goodwill amongst the Arabs.
It is too early to say what caused this sudden feeling of solidarity amongst the Arabs. After all, the Arabs have hardly bothered about Muslims in other parts of the world, including the Palestinians, Rohingyas and the Uighurs, who have been facing persecution since decades. Barring the ritual condemnation through OIC, respective Arab governments have largely treated such problems as internal to respective countries. The Arab racial superiority has been satisfied by giving alms rather than taking active position against Muslim persecution. Perhaps for the first time in the Arab world, a civic engagement has emerged regarding the treatment of Indian Muslims.
Prejudice against Muslims in India is not new. They have been routinely killed through organized violence and even by institutions of the state, notably the police. However, these pogroms were followed by periods of relative calm, wherein Muslims were ‘allowed’ to get back to their business of life. What Muslims are witnessing now is something entirely different. In the last five years, attacks on Muslims have become relentless. This attack is not just physical but also psychological with the express intention of making Muslims insecure in their own surroundings. Muslims have been lynched, they have been made insecure regarding their citizenship status, they have also been accused of spreading the pandemic, and their businesses closed or boycotted. When the whole world is concentrating their energies on fighting the ongoing pandemic, Indian police are busy arresting Muslim students on flimsy grounds. And all this has been happening without any respite. Earlier, the world took notice of Muslim killings but was also appreciative of India’s management of diversity during the relatively peaceful interlude. In the recent years, the world has kept seeing images of India’s Muslim persecution and has also noticed the silence and abetment of its government. Social media has flattened boundaries. Painful images of Indian Muslims have singed the world, the Arab world being no exception.
Social opinion and its public expression is largely controlled in the Arab world. That’s why the media is closely monitored. It is next to impossible to criticise the ruling establishment. It is difficult even to criticise friendly countries. Arab media watchers, however, have observed that over some years, there have been a flurry of negative reportage on India, especially with regard to its treatment of Muslims. The very fact that such reports were allowed to appear can only mean that there exists a torrent of adverse domestic opinion on the issue. Those who think monarchies do not care about public opinion are wrong. Precisely because they are not democracies, they are more sensitive towards public opinions. The very fact that such opinions were allowed to be published can only mean that the monarchies are aware of their subjects’ anger against India. They must also be realising that people’s anger against India is also simultaneously directed against their own monarchies for being too close to the Indian government.
The Arabs should not judge all Hindus through the actions of some bigoted ones. Therefore their criticism of right wingers should not extend to a general condemnation of all Hindus or of Hinduism as a faith system. This has been a worrying undertone as some Arabs have made veiled threats to expel Hindus from their countries. They must remember that most of these Hindus have been law abiding migrants and their hard work has contributed immensely in changing the fortunes of Arabs. To blame all Hindus for the fault of a few will be a travesty of justice.
It also needs to be underlined that not all criticism of Islamic practice should be treated as Islamophobia. The allegation against the noted singer, Sonu Nigam, is a case in point. An old tweet of his has resurfaced wherein he had expressed annoyance at being forced to get up early in the morning due to azan from a loudspeaker. His views on azan may not be palatable to many but certainly it cannot be equated with rabid Islamophobic opinions that are calling for the wholesale expulsion of Muslims from India. Indeed, there are many Muslims who have similarly called for ending loudspeaker azan due to various reasons. Muslims are in a precarious situation today and therefore it is all the more important that they pick their fights sagaciously.
Indian Muslims have charted out their own political course after independence. Despite the odds, they have always been faithful to the constitution and firm believers in India’s democracy. They have never looked for any kind of foreign help. Today, the situation has become so helpless that Muslims are both relived and jubilant at the support they are receiving from Arab Muslims. Within Muslims there is a section which now wants to relook at our earlier principle to remain autonomous from the larger Muslim world. They are calling this as a grand conspiracy against Indian Muslims to keep them away from the ummah. These Muslims must realise that while the support of Arab Muslims may be important at this juncture, ultimately this fight against bigotry has to be led by Indian Muslims themselves.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
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