OPINION | Reaction to France’s Actions on Islamic Fundamentalism
Protesters demonstrate against French President Emmanuel Macron over his remarks on Islam at Iqbal Maidan in Bhopal, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (PTI Photo)
“Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world”, the words of the French President Emmanuel Macron have sparked a wave of opinions even in the smallest of countries. India is still one of the largest democratic and secular states inviting the largest dialogue in them all. Indeed the expressions were expected but the magnitude was unimaginable and opinions were often venomous and deviated from the issues.
There are always two ways of looking at a political or social issue, not only in the contemporary world but from time immemorial, either you look at it from the eyes of religion, sect or you look at it from the eyes of a citizen. In the case of France where 40 per cent of the population is of skeptics (European Commission, September 2019, pages 229-230), the perspective which appears to be the most used is evidently the latter. That is the democracy and secularism of France and what it is hoping to carry as a legacy, “Constitution above religion”.
India’s democracy and secularism, on the other hand, is an absolutely different version. Demographics and history have a lot to contribute towards how the state functions and sees the future. Western notions of secularism cannot resolve the challenges Indian civil society faces, nor can the western countries follow Indian secularism. Each country has the right to weave its own model matching its circumstances. Western countries define multiculturalism as the co-existence of different religions, but In India, multiculturalism is the co-existence of various ways of life.
Hence, opinions of Indian Muslims need a greater depth in understanding the circumstances rather than some self-proclaimed responsible citizens finding respectable spaces to spread their venom of “radicalism” which in itself should be the discourse after the incidents in France. India should, and it does stand with France in its fight to end terrorism and fundamentalism, but the irony here is that as much as we expect a democratic nation like India to understand the challenges of another secular state, Indian Muslims are making the discourse fall into the narrow bitter binaries of majority-minority debates and playing the victim card.
Pasting of Emmanuel Macron’s posters on Muhammad Ali Road in Mumbai, inviting even the unaware to walk over the protest out of woven propaganda, calling out slogans of the death penalty for the French president in Aligarh, and a call by AIMPB to boycott French products are some examples of the outrageous protests happening all over India.
The frenzy of the Indian Muslim community has been groomed to look at the issues with the filter of religion in every case, hence the humanitarian aspect is always left unattended. Muslim intelligentsia itself is deviated or rather is ignoring the facts that fundamentalism has a face, which was showcased in Nice beheading in France, let alone the mob. The issue of the killings has either been ignored or have been accepted as the fate of those who spoke against because not a single statement by the Indian Muslim community properly condemning such brute acts of violence is present in the public domain.
Similar were the situations when none from this frenzy protested against Pulwama in 2019, Uighurs in 2020, and hence none, now. But, what is surprising and disturbing is that instead of protesting against the French president, Indian Muslims have shown a silent acceptance of the terror attacks and have a gone a step further to warn France to not take any step against Islamic radicalism, as it could invite reactions which may not be liked.
A stark example of such a warning is the Bhopal protest when on the call of Congress MLA Arif Masood thousands came out to protest and raise violent slogans against the French President asking the Indian government to take a stance against the victim state.
While looking at this whole issue, one surely wonders about the cost of “freedom of expression” and what is the definition of boundaries to that freedom. This is when blasphemy is a sin, not in Quran but a hadith, which are thousands in number. Hence how many boundaries are we looking at?
Many beliefs, for example, the old cultural practice under Hinduism like Sati, widow remarriage, the class system was questioned by many great scholars, and attempts were made to reform them and they were accepted by the community after a system of checks and balances. Many other beliefs also saw many reforms with time like Martin Luther’s famous revolution in 1517 and Mu ‘tazalia rejecting wrong traditions in the 9th and 11th centuries. Protestant Christians also don't allow using Christ’s deity or image in the church, but the other group uses it. Devotion towards the almighty comes with the benevolence of which one trait is acceptance.
A community violently demanding blasphemy laws in a country where Constitution lies above religion is being supported in a country where blasphemy is practiced openly, deities image being portrayed in the most disrespectful ways on toilet seats and footwear, naked in paintings by MF Hussain and many other forms. These only make to the headlines and some silent protests here because Indian secularism understands the weight of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. There are dissents but not beheadings, there are discourses but no warnings.
Liberal states are right to take action against the perpetrators of terrorism and worry about the environment that nourishes such fears. They have the right to form new asymmetries that match the uniformity of the state’s civil code and that is how it should be perceived as. The paradoxical nature of the protestors in India about letting Muslims in France carry Islam the way they want, which appears fundamentalist, is not only against the constitution and rights of others but also against their own actions in India.
This is the time when all kinds of the ideological intelligentsia in India will try to muddy the waters and will act as the protectors of their beliefs and God all over the world when God was the one who built and protected them once. There are two hypocrisies, first, the protection does not apply to Uighurs and other sects. Second, can the beliefs be so naive which needs laws to uphold its real value? AMU, Ludhiana, Muzaffarnagar protests showcase nothing more than the answer to this question.
David Runciman aptly mentions in How Democracy Ends: “Democracy is civil war without fighting. Failures come when proxy battles come into real ones.” That is the story of protest in India. It is time to cut through, it is the chance for India to depict its respect for the freedom of citizens, its respect for the state more than personal lenses of sects and religion, and promote the same in their opinions going abroad. Proxy battles are not helping but deviating as usual.
The prerequisite of a healthy secular democracy is embracing the asymmetries of communities but not forgetting the cardinality of “nation first”. India must support France’s right to defend its simple principle of liberty, against all challenges not by forming another challenge of totally different demographics.
The author is a member of an Indo-Pacific research group. Views expressed are personal.