Number Matters Against Terror
At the risk of annoying once again many of my genuine friends who complain why given my overall academic and professional background, I am writing stuffs like this, I see and justify a linkage between the gruesome attacks last week in Paris (first on the office of the Charlie Hebdo and then on a Jewish market, killing altogether 17 people, including two Policemen) and the advice of the BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj that every Hindu woman in India should be a mother of four children. Maharaj might have said many stupid things in the past, but on this occasion, he, to me, has a valid point. But let me first come to the Paris killings.
Those friends who do not approve of my writings these days, particularly on matters what they say “secular”, are undoubtedly in a school of global thought which is very much sympathetic (or should I say empathetic?) to the terrorists if they happen to be Muslims (and unfortunately most of the major incidents of terrorism all over the world have been triggered by the Muslims. In Paris, the masked gunmen who assaulted the Charlie Hebdo offices in a hail of automatic gunfire, leaving twelve people dead in their wake, were Muslims and heard proclaiming, “we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”). I do not know whether one could describe these “secularists” to be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” vis-à-vis the Islamic terrorists, but I can summarise that their sympathy or empathy is based mainly on three points:
One, there must be a distinction between the terrorists as individuals and their religion, Islam, which, all told, is a great religion of peace. Two, these terrorists are only reacting to the grave injustice to the Muslims perpetrated by the Western countries and their allies (and friends like India) in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Three, these terrorists also happen to be the “victims” of so-called democracy and capitalism in non-Muslim-majority countries in the sense that they are badly nurtured and remain deprived and depraved.
It is argued that the Kouachi brothers, who attacked the Charlie Hebdo office, were orphaned children of Algerian immigrants, raised in foster care, and certainly not as pious Muslims. Before joining the cause of Al Qaida, they led a decidedly nondevout and hedonistic lifestyle—smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, listening to gangster rap and having numerous girlfriends. They did not have a purpose or goal in the society; instead they had a grudge against this society for having “rejected them”. This, in turn, led them to the religion as depicted by the Islamic fundamentalists, which they thought provided an emphatic rejoinder to the identity offered by Western society. The fundamentalists allure the likes of them by employing starkly religious language and invoking religious texts that promise “other-worldly” rewards as compensation for “this-worldly” sacrifice, including “the guarantee of eternal Paradise, and most famously, the lascivious offering of seventy-two heavenly virgins.”
Well, these are the standard sympathetic and empathetic arguments that one comes across whenever any terrorist attack takes place in the West, particularly in Europe. The main point here is to make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion and “the Muslim attackers”, who are mostly immigrants from the former colonies (in fact, some of them are also new converts from other religions, Christianity in particular) leading a life that is ‘a heady mix of unemployment, crime, drugs, institutional racism and endemic cycles of poverty and disenfranchisement.” To buttress these arguments, it is also stressed that the attackers are in a minority and that the majority of the Muslims in Western cities is law-abiding. In fact, it is highlighted how the two victims of the Paris attacks were Muslims—one a journalist and another a policeman.
I have a problem with this school of thought. I am of the considered opinion that despite what they preach, each religion in the world has been associated with violence in some form or the other. Therefore, a religion committed to peace should be seen in terms of how it has handled violence and co-existed with others over the years. And here, the record of Islam is abysmal, indeed. Forget about the derelict Muslim youth; apostasy and blasphemy are the serious offences, leading eventually to death sentences in a brutal manner, are the official policies in countries in North Africa, West Asia and Pakistan. And all of them are “Islamic” countries. Therefore, to say that Islam does not have an issue with violent actions and that many of the fundamental tenets of Islamic faith do not authorise and even encourage violence is evading the truth. No religion, other than Islam in today’s world, uses the sword to kill and convert its enemies. Though it is true that not all Muslims share this zeal, the fact remains that Islam does have an issue with violence.
Any lingering doubt on this score can be further dispelled from the Muslims’ attitude towards secularism. Let it be admitted that secularism as an idea took birth in the Christian—West. It made a clear distinction between public and private life, in which religion was relegated to the private sphere with no hold over public life. In fact, it is the secular politics that explains why the immigrant communities, including Muslims, do receive in Western Europe (certainly in France) some of the most generous benefits such as free education, free health, subsidised housing, and multiple other handouts from the State. There are many charms in secularism, in particular the freedom to believe what you will do in private. But this is something many Muslims, including those even in India, will not agree with. For them, the very distinction between private and public is either meaningless or unacceptable. It is highly unlikely that the Islamic world will embrace secularism even if peace comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, Muslims occupy Kashmir or Israel is destroyed. As George Friedman, founder of the Stratfor says, “The Arab Spring was a Western fantasy that the collapse of communism in 1989 was repeating itself in the Islamic world with the same results. There are certainly Muslim liberals and secularists. However, they do not control events—no single group does—and it is the events, not the theory, that shape our lives.”
What then is the way out? I have not come across any strategic thinker of repute finding an answer to this question. Those empathetic or sympathetic to the cause of “Islamic terror” have opted for the easier course of what I think simply surrendering to the Islamists’ cause. The “Indian secularists” fall in this category, though strictly speaking, Indian secularism is different from Western secularism. In the absence of any official definition, Indian secularism, the way it has been practiced, does not even imply “equal treatments of all”, let alone making a distinction between public and private life. Indian secularism has one set of rules for majority Hindus and another set of rules for minorities—one can lambast Hindu beliefs, but he or she has to be very sensitive when matters pertain to minorities; the government can make and regulate laws for Hindus and their places of worship, but it cannot dare to touch the minorities, particularly the Muslims. Under Indian secularism, we do not have even uniform civil laws.
Ultimately, Islamic terrorism is an ideological war—a war between those who believe in peaceful co-existence and pluralities of beliefs and those who say that theirs is the only way that must prevail. And it is going to be a protracted war. This does not mean that we have to get rid of Islam, or treat Muslims with hostility, but it means that we can no longer indulge in the false equivalencies peddled by our coward “secularists”. We have to be proud of and preserve our principles of equality, justice, co-existence and peace by ensuring that the numbers are in our favour. India will remain secular as long as the Hindus constitute the overwhelming majority, because a true Hindu always respects differences.
And this brings me to Sakshi Maharaj’s prescription that a Hindu couple should have four kids. All told, India’s religious demographics do reveal a disturbing pattern of the decline of Hindu population in the country. The decline may be small, but it has long-term implications for the country’s secularism in true sense and pluralistic way of life. Going by Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Demographics_of_India), the number of Hindus is steadily declining. Before partition, Hindus accounted for 66.5 per cent of the population of the sub-continent and Muslims 23.7 per cent (census 1941). With partition, large number of Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan and Bangladesh and Hindus migrated to India from these countries. Consequently, the proportion of these two religious communities in the total population changed. The percentage of Hindus rose to 85 per cent and that of Muslims fell to 9.9 per cent (census 1951). Since then, the percentage of Hindu population has fallen while that of Muslims has increased considerably. As per 2011 census, the Hindu population has come down to 79.6 percent whereas that of the Muslims has gone up to 14.2 percent. I think Sakshi Maharaj has a valid point. Ridiculing him means ignoring danger signals.
By Prakash Nanda