Not all societies are identical

There is some discussion on “Hindu Twitter” and elsewhere about the French response to the murder of Samuel Paty. In short, France is going “medieval” on the asses of a lot of Muslims, even nonviolent but very conservative organizations. To use a German phrase, the French state is entering into a Kulturkampf against militant Islam. Or at least it is signaling that it is.

To all this, some on the Hindu Right are asking why some liberal or Left intellectuals are applauding or tolerating France’s reaction, which is hitting down hard on the Muslim community. Would they be so tolerant of India clamping down on Muslims? My own answer is simple: different nations have different histories, and abstract universal values and standards are often not useful.

Let me illustrate the nature of France, and how it differs from India. When the French emancipation of Jews occurred in the late 18th century, they were quite clear they were liberating Jews as individuals, not as a community. That is, Jews would not have corporate rights as a community. To the Jew as an individual, everything. To the Jews as a community, nothing.

When the modern French nation arose during the Revolution, only a minority of the people of France could speak French as their mother tongue. The creation of the French nation anew, as a bottom-up identity that superseded the monarchy, occurred through the crushing of regional dialects and their absorption into the national language.  The same occurred in the 19th century, as waves of migrants from Poland arrived, assimilating into French identity. In the early 20th century, it was the turn of Italians and Spaniards.

The ideal, which is more a goal than a reality, is that various nationalities, religions, and peoples, could fuse together around a common language, and a common history anchored around the Revolution and the emergence of republican France. This is one reason the French have been cooler to Black Lives Matter than other nations. The idea of racial identity and separatism is offensive to the French self-conception, even if the segregated suburbs of Paris witness to the reality of lack of integration.

There could be much more I say about France, and why there is an arms-length relationship to religion and Catholicism in particular. There’s a history there.

But compare France to India. Whereas France rejects violently the idea of subnational communities, India is organized all around the idea of subnational communities. This is a totally different equation than a society like France, where a hegemonic identity absorbs secondary identities in totality. France and to be French is a unitary ideal.  There’s not unity in diversity.

The situation in India is quite different. Myself, personally, I have long thought something like a “uniform civil code” was necessary and just, and that there was a degree of toleration of illiberalism of Muslims by various political social factions in India that needed to stop. But, as an empirical matter, India is not an individualist WEIRD society, it is a communal society where communities achieve consensus through negotiation.

What does this have to do with France, Islam, and India? The French would have Islam be the religion of some individuals in the French state. Only that. Religion as a political social force in France is consciously marginalized. As such, Islam needs to be modified, or not exist, in the French way of looking at the world. This is obviously not the case in India, where Islam is another community, and communities have rights and integrity that has to be respected from what I can tell.

As an American conservative, I am skeptical of affirmative action and take a dim view of reservations. What does it matter if 90% of doctors are {{{Brahmins}}}?  Do they do their job well? But I am not Indian, and not conscious of the Indian social and political landscape. Even many conservative Indians favor reservations because they are a way to maintain communal harmony, and in India, it’s communities that matter.

Occasionally some of my Indian correspondents message me to apologize for how Hindu Twitter treats me when I get on their bad side. Usually, they see my name and start hurting invective about my Islamic faith and such.

Since I have no Muslim identity I don’t take it very personally, and to be frank, I find it rather amusing.  Most of them, like some of you commenters, are stupid, ignorant, and a large fraction no doubt teenage incels. Though I have never encountered crass vulgarity in the United States, Indians of non-Muslim background have routinely coded me as Muslim even if they see me eating a bacon cheese-burger and drinking beer,  and have a difficult time understanding how I can have no communal affinity or identity.

I simply don’t care. I am WEIRD. My children have Germanic names and are assumed to be white. My lineage is destined to fade, it will diminish and pass to the west. I have had to correct Indian American friends who refer to me as an “atheist Muslim.” I don’t care if people call me a Muslim, or Hindu, or Asatru, but I do want people to be clear that I just identify as an atheist, though I’m not a particularly militant type.  As far as religion goes, my personal sympathy probably goes toward the sort of rationalist Confucianism of Xunzi.

In “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” Sidney Poitier’s character tells his father that he will always think of himself as a black man, while Poitier’s younger character will think of himself as a man. Indians think, on the whole, in communal terms. If Muslim fisherman in Tamil Nadu acceded to conversion to Hinduism on the condition that their sons and daughters could marry local Hindu communities, would there be enthusiasm for the conversion?

I believe that in India people should marry who they want to marry, irrespective of jati.  But over 90% of people marry within their jati. I believe people should be able to choose their religion, of their own free choice. But 99% of people remain in the religion of their birth. Communal birth should be no privilege or debility. But it is. There is the abstract of what I would prefer as “should be,” and then there is the reality.

Edith Piaf was one of France’s greatest singers. She had Moroccan ancestry on her mother’s side. No one cares. Similarly, the great 19th century French writer, Alexandre Dumas, was 1/4th African. Though of some interest, Dumas is thought of as a French writer, not a black French writer.

Americans in our current moment think our particular history is relevant for everyone. It’s not. Similarly, India is not France, and France is not India. France need not do caste-based reservations, because France has no castes now that the Cagots are gone. Similarly, Indians should probably be cautious about projecting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the sides of government buildings.

56 thoughts on “Not all societies are identical”

  1. ‘different nations have different histories, and abstract universal values and standards are often not useful’
    Skeptical about accepting this as a rule/maxim. In any case consistency is the least expectation. Can’t get to pick whatever is convenient.

    ‘The idea of racial identity and separatism is offensive to the French self-conception’
    We will find out in our lifetimes won’t we?

    ‘India is organized all around the idea of subnational communities.’
    Agreed. India is at best a compromise. Could have been a great but too many parts are missing.

    ‘I can have no communal affinity or identity.
    ‘I simply don’t care. I am WEIRD. My children have Germanic names and are assumed to be white. My lineage is destined to fade, it will diminish and pass to the west.’
    It is ok and nothing to be proud of or feel cool about. I don’t want to spar with you (and loose) but here you sound like every 20 something girl who claims ‘I am so different, I am not like her!’ There are tens of millions in India alone whose religious views mirror your own.

    ‘Indians think, on the whole, in communal terms.’
    Agree, example – Rapey castes (Jats and Thakurs) never admit the fault of their members.

    ‘There is the abstract of what I would prefer as “should be,” and then there is the reality.’
    Universally relevant but so derivative. I will again repeat what I say 5 times every week on BP: Intent matters. Are Indians ashamed of caste of their own volition? YES. Do Indians consider Pakistanis….fellow Indians? YES… and so on…

    ‘Americans in our current moment think our particular history is relevant for everyone.’
    You have been here for only 1.5 generations, ‘our history’ already?

    I was at my ABCD lady doctor’s office a few days ago and talked her into looking into an Indian NGO I am involved with. She literally said she wanted her kids to see poverty firsthand and remember how privileged they are, no mention of trying to help out, improving anything, nothing! Kept repeating American tropes about India(oh I was at Ud-hai-por! and there was the Delhi rape case…) and I realized that some people (maybe something to do with you descending from bhadralok) cool-ly pass off these statements because you are not invested in any of this, you don’t feel the pain, longing or dream of improving lives or uplifting YOUR people. Its just some empty talk Americans learn to do for socializing, appearing interesting and signaling. A gora guy might actually be genuinely concerned but most ABCDs are progeny of the real cut-throat no-nonsense people of India and it shows.

      1. yeah it’s also a lie by omission to mention those two. It’s an all India problem, just especially acute in honor culture land owning castes that aren’t subject to as much rule of law (it is badly enforced in general tho)

      2. 1. Hinduism is a highly individual stic religion.
        2. No two Hindus even in the same family will have similar religious philosophy or rituals.
        3. In Hinduism there is clear understanding of the distinction between the spiritual, the religious and the social.
        4. All hindu sects and even those wich are considered separate religion s agree on the ” spritual” , ie karma, reincarnation etc.
        5. The different is in the religious/ritual aspect and social organisation.
        6. It is because of it s spritual/philosophy being so …
        that Hinduism is extremely accepting of diversity in religious/rituals ,and so secularism in Indian society is because of that.
        While the religious diversity was and is always accept ed, problem arises when someone wants to impose there viewpoint on others and that is the major reason for rise of RW hindu.
        So what was done in France won’t happen in India, because as a community the Hindus one won’t want to infuriate the Ms.
        Secondly, it serves no purpose in advancing secularism in India
        The attitude of Ms, or Cs towards Hindus won’t change because of this.
        In France/ Europe the attitude towards Ms is also colored by race.
        It is we will show them there place.
        And while society may be less religious, it is not less organized.
        So instead of talking of rules of religion, they are accused of breaking the rules of republic.
        Hindu s understand this because 800 years of non Hindu rule, has pushed religion inwards to survive. So Hindus adapt and adjust there religious rituals, festival s pooja according to the place they live in. Or many just convert

        1. I am pretty sure the entire concept of Hinduism was invented by the British to refer to pagans of the subcontinent, hence being a Hindu is more defined by what one *is not* (not Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jew etc) than what one is.

          I think there is a surge in Hindu identity though and the days of submissiveness are gone (this predicted by Jinnah, so I guess he was pretty smart for backing the Pakistan Movement).

    1. It is very good that you help out in NGO; few Indians do. There is a reason the lady in your story wanted her children to visit India for poverty tourism; they will be then grateful for the comforts provided; and take care of her in her old age. She is Indian in her thinking at least.

    2. “You have been here for only 1.5 generations, ‘our history’ already?”

      No need to gatekeep identity. An American’s an American. As Thomas Paine wrote back in 1776, in response to the critique that the newly breaking away pro-independence Americans were still of English blood, “But, admitting that we were all of English descent, what does it amount to?”.

      1. Yeah it sounded rude. Maybe he didn’t even mean to say ‘our history’ as in American history but rather as ‘our particular history’. But even if he meant otherwise who am I to gatekeep? Everyone gets to decide who they are and Razib like my ABCD doctor is at the end of the day an American.

        I hyperventilate because I know where this Markov chain is converging, catastrophic loss of (already relatively low) talent to America and perpetual B-grade nation status. This game is so rigged, tail end of our distribution will leave for the US (as middling in the west >>> top tier in India) and their children will definitely disown us. Not that this comes even close to the other massive issues we have but it bothers me because I think these other people should also have shared some load.

          1. The subcontinent and India in particular is a catastrophe waiting to happen, I would be antsy as well to be honest. The fool Modi should be implementing a 2 child policy but he won’t for some reason, the crazy thing is it would probably be called out as Islamophobic or something and would likely be supported by lots of Indians for this precise reason, even though Muslim TFR is not that much higher than Hindu.

            But as I said, Modi won’t do anything about this disaster in the making. Sanjay Gandhi was right!

          2. India’s TFR is already down to near replacement level, and will likely go below once the next delayed census result is out by 2022. Many states in the south, east, and far north are having fewer children. Most of the increase is in a few states with UP and Bihar at the forefront. India’s working-age population will stabilize around 2036.

            This kind of commentary about 2 child rules doesn’t delve into the existing demographic structure, nor does it take state capacity into account, where a lot of resources would be spent just to find and deal with infarctions (which would run in the 100s of millions) and crowd out much of other public security and legal issues. Sadly, these views are also common among many at senior levels who apparently don’t like details and forecasting, like the politician Manish Tewari who penned such an article a few months back.

          3. Yeah, this is the second time you have complained about this, others have pointed out the irritable tone too. I do need to keep this in check to not look like a fool. Will fix it.

    3. “Agree, example – Rapey castes (Jats and Thakurs) never admit the fault of their members.”

      offensive of not, it is a fact that some of these NW agricultural castes, Jats especially, are very tribal people. they would go to extreme lengths to defend the boys of their community even when they are accused of heinous crimes like rape. their khap panchayats are always ready to offer helping hand.

      muzaffarnagar riots (2013) were triggered by some jat girl being harassed by muslim boys. jats took revenge by committing mass rapes of muslim women during riots often in the most sickening way – by organizing “rape parties”, complete with loud music and dance during the crime.

      during the jat agitation, some unrelated women traveling on highways were randomly kidnapped and dragged into fields to be raped.

      these are facts. google it.

  2. \Indians should probably be cautious about projecting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons \
    Actually Indian policy is super cautious in these matters – in any case legally and officially. But there is an uncontrolled fringe which can only be controlled by strong show of force .

  3. Actually Indian policy is super cautious in these matters – in any case legally and officially.

    yeah. i was joking. you guys are total wimps for “hurt feelings” re religion.

  4. 1) “????????? ??????? ???? ????????? ?????????, ??? ???????? ????????? ?????? ??? ????????? ??? ????? ??? ??????”

    completely wrong.
    there is nothing like east vs west.

    no matter what race, religion, caste, people everywhere just want freedom, wealth, equality and respect.

    ?) ??? ??? ???? ?? ????. “????”. ???

    it’s just that West is ahead of the curve, not just in democracy or wealth or equality. But also in terms of slavery, racism and voilence. and definitely far ahead in colonialism and looting of other country resources.

    West stands on grave of millions of people.
    West (which stands on colonialism and loot and plunder of whole world) has no moral right to talk of “western values”.

    we know their values.

    ?) ?????? ?? ?????

    “When the modern French nation arose during the Revolution, only a minority of the people of France could speak French as their mother tongue.
    The same occurred …… assimilating into French identity”.

    I don’t see any reason why this can’t be true for India. Indian/Hindu identity (of Hindutva) is the aim which is a mix of rational Atheism and Hindu spirituality/rituals.

    Indian nationalism/Hindutva can have a unitary ideal. India has always been a civilization state. (never mind these recent” family/dynast” based state federalism, that is temporary. it is also racist and bigoted).

    “?????? ??????? ????????? ??? ???? ?? ??????????? ???????????”.

    true. but India doesn’t need to. subnational communities can co-exist with unitary Indian ideals. or india can go France /west’s way.

    4) PERSONAL:

    a) “? ?????? ???’? ????”.
    No. factvis you actually care.
    otherwise you won’t be here. writing here. on these issues.

    b) “? ???? ?? ?????? ????????, ?? ???????? ???????? ?? ????????”

    Good for you. but here this belief/standpoint is wrong. human beings by nature are curious and rational. they also tend not to go beyond their comfort level. this means that your curiosity and rationality has lead you far from Islam…. and towards atheism. May be you still don’t understand Hinduism or for some reason you are suspicious of Hindutva and that is why it still is beyond your comfort level.

    c) “? ?? ?????”.

    every boys/girls since high school feels this way.

    d) ?? ???????? ???? ???????? ????? ??? ??? ??????? ?? ?? ?????. ?? ??????? ?? ???????? ?? ????, ?? ???? ???????? ??? ???? ?? ??? ????.
    i) sad. but may be at some level you choose that. willingly. no problem with that. no point in fighting against what’s certain. today or tomorrow it was destined to be this way. you choose to live as a minority in white ocean.

    ii) Identity (religion/race) is anyway a delusion. but I’m not against indentity per se. I’m just against politics of it.

    however, identity sometimes matters for obvious reason. one doesn’t need to leave it. they just need to make sure it is used in constructive, useful ways.

    5) ???????? ?? ????? :

    “????? ?? ??????? ?????????, ??? ??????????? ???? ?????? ??? ????????? ???? ??? ?? ?? ?????????”.

    there is a saying : respect has to be earned.
    muslims most certainly don’t deserve that.
    even though they (islam in India) are product of invasion, rape and conversion…and a sad, aweful memory of islamic imperialism. Hindus gave islam and muslims an equal status. regarded them as just another community with different god. gave them respect and freedom.

    but Hindu’s patience, forgiveness has been taken for a ride for 70 years. muslims have supra-national allegiance, are openly bigoted against Hindus & Hinduism.

    my own childhood experience :
    I have also learned that whether you do politics or not. other guy most certainly do. this I’ve learned the hard way. by being witness to continuous bigotry of my muslim friends. )

    • they not eating our prasad. but they offer Sawai
    • ask us to go to mosques and do namaz. which my hindu friends did. but muslim friends later rejected idea of entering temples. just 17 yr old guys.

    (however, they used to come with us to temples for “girls”. we used to laugh it off in our teenage years thinking this behaviour was typical of ‘lanth guys’ which happen to be our friends’).

    I also never cared of my identity as hindu or whatever caste I belong.

    but when muslims are not on same thought process.
    a) when I see religious muslims are far worse than religious hindus,
    b) when I see moderate and atheist muslims are not as neutral as me/other atheist Hindus,
    c) when we see signs that even so called atheist/communist muslims defend extreme and Islamist views openly… makes me question my stand as just “atheist”.

    it makes clear that we are ultimately in is a civilizational war.

  5. Having lived in both countries, I noticed substantial differences in how majority-minority relations play out in both France and India w.r.t. the Muslims.

    In France, the MENA Muslims commonly hold an inferiority complex* going back to the colonization of North Africa, this is largely true of the vast underclass that is stratified in the banlieues and segments of cities like Marseille. The Francophone elite of these nations would study in expensive French-language schools in Casablanca/ Tangiers/ Algiers/Tunis/ Damascus/ Beirut and be grateful for studying in French universities and eventually getting the vaunted EU passport.**

    Conversely in India, many in the urban and semi-urban Ashraf classes hold a superiority complex and subdued contempt for the majority, both in a religious and ethnic sense. Even if they are poorer overall, there is a communitarian understanding that they were past rulers, and this colours their behaviour in many of the historic mohallas of the later pre-British period cities (Lucknow, Aurangabad, Hyderabad etc.).

    A key aspect of this would happen via school, the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal period make up a significant portion of the history syllabus in the central Indian education boards. In French schools, it would be more about how they colonized large parts of the world (to the benefit of the natives, of course!) while in competition with the other European powers, primarily the British. The colonized peoples (including MENA Muslims) play a marginal role in this period up to post-WWII. Outside of the nuisance value of the Barbary slavers, Muslims never really threatened France in terms of capability since Martel laid the smackdown on the Umayyads at Tours, even if they did so in terms of intent. Since then they have been frenemies, on opposite sides during the crusades, and in alliance with the Ottomans against Austria. France’s major competitors were all European for the last many centuries.

    And then there is state capacity. With an underfunded and understaffed police force, sometimes it’s just easier for state governments to lay back on reforming backwardness since they wouldn’t have the numbers required to deter potential rioters, who will congregate in much greater numbers in India than in France with less to lose from destroying things.

    * A very significant exception to this are the Lebanese and elite Syrians who are massive Francophiles, especially the Christians of those parts.

    ** In a way the north African elite is not too different from the old pre-1991-liberalization Indian elite who kept their children in convent and international schools, brought them up with English nearly as a first language, and then packed them off to the UK or another Anglophone country. The confusion over personal cultural identity is also similar across both groups.

    1. \A key aspect of this would happen via school, the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal period make up a significant portion of the history syllabus in the central Indian education boards\
      Can we say , the way to levelling of superiority or inferiority of different communities is via teaching history- making it as bland as possible – away from bloodshed and wars and cruelties and noble sacrifices and heroic rebellions . make the whole past not a big deal

    2. At the end of Algerian war of independence , not only the French settlers and soldiers came back to France but also many Arabs , called by their compatriots as pied noir (black feet) for their siding and colloborating with France. In the 60s till recently there was lot of migration from MENA to France and French speaking areas. Brussels was mostly Flemisg speaking till 50 years back. It looks like French speaking socialist mayor of Brussels allowed thousands of immigrants to bolster his party . Many areas of Brussels are also arabiac speaking.

      On the whole French have done a better job of integrating immigrants from non European countries than the British. French have a higher proportion of Muslims than Britain

  6. In a world where human groups (states basically) were all having Religion it becomes normalized vector, part of the fabric so to speak.

    We will now in coming decades see what role Practically Religious/Superstitious dynamic has on a human group (and its progress/development) because that normalized vector now has a wider spectrum distribution, as in Society/State A is not necessarily similar on the Religiosity spectrum as some Society/State X. Some pattern will emerge because Religion is not Cosmic Math paradigm.

    We will see when there are dozens of countries which are very religious for a consistent run of time(multiple generations) and a dozen which aren’t. Comparative dynamic is the most powerful Atheistic driving force (children come upon this early when they ask, How can Every Dogma be true, someone is most definitely lying or wrong, everyone simply can not be Right).

  7. I do think that Macron has been taking inspiration from Hindutva and other indigenous Asian movements (Bhumiputra) that have risen in the past 50 years. It is not just Macron but also the previous heads starting from Mitterand and Chirac. If one follows Taleb’s dictum, societal outliers (from the trend) are always immanent from events 30 years ago.

    The American experience of a shared civic space and nation did not and does not have to bear the burden of multi-religious assimilation (less than 5% of Americans belong to faiths other than Christianity). I do think that the French and the Indian experience have far more depth, dilemmas and maturity with regards to this. They recognize that equivalence and perhaps are learning from each other.

    The French have always based their sovereign/strategic relationships on shared civilizational motifs. They are completely unlike Americans, who only know transactions, transactions and transactions. Starting with Jacques Chirac who extended a civilizational hand to the newly crowned political philosophy of Hindutva in 1999 to Macron who made this speech in French to a French audience in 2019 –

    “…the India that is emerging, these new economies that are also becoming not just economic but political powers and which consider themselves, as some have noted, genuine civilization states and which have not just disrupted our international order, assumed a key role in the economic order, but have also very forcefully reshaped the political order and the political thinking that goes with it, with a great deal more inspiration than we have. Take India, Russia and China for example. They have a lot more political inspiration than Europeans today. They take a logical approach to the world, they have a genuine philosophy, a resourcefulness that we have to a certain extent lost.”

    The real question that has to be asked and discussed is whether Asian political ideas like Hindutva have started percolating into European circles. Today, France is indeed India, but from 1985. They are in a bind – between constitutional propriety and their historical values. What will break first? India has shown the way and France might follow.

      1. Definitely, Indians think that they “inspired” Macron. He just want to sell trains (Alstom) and fighter jets.

        Indians will cling on to any praise that they get from a white person. A Trump supporter recently died fasting for Trumps recovery from COVID.

      2. Wow…hold up with the big-brain analysis! The MMRCA selection was purely a technical one with IAF pumping for the Rafale based on its 124 point assessment procedure (engine hot section life, radar suppression modes, ICY standards etc). The American reaction to non-selection of the F-series planes was also clear – Indians settled for a plane, not a relationship.

        Perhaps not all Indians are as gullible as you. Most of them are adequately competent.

        1. “The MMRCA selection was purely a technical one”
          Precisely why the IAF should never have been allowed to take a call on which aircraft to buy. It would have been infinitely better to go for the latest F-16s. Lockheed would have shifted the assembly line to India and IAF could have got large numbers of them instead of just 36. The latest F-16s would probably be able to do 80% of what a Rafale can do. 2 F-16s could easily outgun a Rafale or anything the Chinese and the Pakistanis put up. War is very much a numbers game as much as its a quality game. Minuscule numbers of Rafale’s would be useless in anything beyond the shortest skirmishes.

          Having plugged the gap for the next 20-30 years with the F-16s, India could then have concentrated on the next generation of technologies, hopefully indigenously developed and produced in collaboration with American companies.

          This is the problem with Indian military procurement. The military just concentrates on the technical aspects without worrying about the price because its above their pay grade. Politicians and civil servants are so worried about being caught in scams (and also so clueless about military matters) that they just follow what the military’s technical analysis suggests rather than taking a holistic view of things and using their discretion in making judgements.

          Pakistan’s system of military procurements is miles better than India because their military is in control of the whole process.

          We are just stuck with sending our pilots on sorties in stone age fighter planes like Mig-21s!

          1. Well, the F16 was downselected on technical reasons – so no reason to think that the cost-benefit analysis might have favoured F16. Buying a 30 year old plane in 2010 has an even worse ring to it.

          2. TBF France does not have to humor us, for us to buy their Rafales. The Russians don’t, and we still buy much much more.

            As long as we have Babus producing weapons, we might as well buy some weapons from Maldives.

          3. What is going on in that regard, India purchased 36 Rafales but what will it purchase to make of for the shortfall of 100+ fighters? Is India seriously going for the LCA?

            I would agree, should have bought the F-16 (or “F-21” as Lockheed Martin rebranded it) as it would have come with a lot of tech transfer, although apparently Safran are willing to collaborate with DRDO on the stalled Kaveri engine.

        2. I for one hope India never buys US fighter jets — no matter what. Intrusive end user inspection and kill switch — even excluding price gouging — ensures the loss of country’s sovereignty that buys American weapons, especially fighter jets. India has intelligently avoided the situation by buying French, Israeli and Russian, etc. front-line armaments, and some American reconnaissance, transport, and surveillance related military hardware.

  8. Curious about your rejection of “atheist Muslim”. You don’t think that you family background conveys any useful information (to others) about you and your views?

    Atheism seems firmly established in my family — my sisters and I are 3rd generation atheists, and our (adult) children appear not to be backsliders, so make up the 4th generation. Nevertheless, my ancestors were Jews and that both conveys useful information about me and colors my atheism. Although I cannot pin it down, I suspect the nature of my atheism would differ had I come from a family with Christian roots (see for a brief description of different types of atheism). Further, being of Jewish rather than Christian roots colors other attitudes, for example the degree to which I see myself as somewhat of an outsider in the US. Consequently I characterize myself as an atheist Jew although neither I nor my parents have ever explicitly belonged to any Jewish community (and my grandparents only before adulthood).

      1. Razib,

        Though you weren’t raised around Muslims, you know a lot more intricacies of Islam than a non-Muslim. You were sent to madrassa and know what it looks like at least.

        You don’t have the same first hand knowledge of what Ayappa mala looks like. You are in no position to comment on a person’s choice to do that in anything but the most generic terms.

        So, when someone makes a dumb comment about an obscure Islam practice you come out blazing about their dumbness but forget that you have this knowledge because you are Muslim Atheist. This is particularly obvious when you give pass to same type of dumb comments on Hindu practices.

        You aren’t just Atheist because you don’t have same knowledge or ignorance about all religion discourses. This is very clear with Dawkins too that he is a Christian Atheist.

        Sorry to comment on personal, but you can’t un-know what you know. Even if you are very knowledgeable about great many things and want to discard “lived experience”, you don’t know the effect of what you don’t know.
        Unless you are claiming to be not just a rationalist but somehow shed all irrationalities acquired in childhood, it is justified for global public to label you as a Muslim Atheist. Your biases show up in your public discourse whether you agree or not.

        1. you make some good points. and this point is always made especially by browns. the response is simple: i have more knowledge and experience with protestantism than islam. so if you want to be logical, i’m an atheist protestant (or whatever). dawkins btwn has evangelical (low church) anglicans in his extended family so that really colors his views a lot.

          (i actually have more experience with/of mormonism than islam!)

        2. There’s still something slippery and disingenuous I feel about that type of usage (“Muslim atheist”) — not saying all usages of it necessarily malicious or ill-intended but it comes off as off-putting to those growing up in individualistic societies where people are free to believe as they choose, no matter what community they grew up in, to automatically have someone assign belief-based identities to them they never claimed to have espoused just because they grew up around them.

          To make an analogy, imagine someone growing up with extreme political ideologue parents, e.g. socialists, but who is politically apathetic or perhaps later in life even goes against the teachings of one’s parents, and becomes say an ardent free-market libertarian. Would it make sense to call that person a socialist, just because they were a kid of socialist parents?

          That is actually an analogy I think Richard Dawkins made (?) when talking about people describing Muslim kids, Christian kids etc. who were kindergardeners just because they had Muslim/Christian parents. He felt it was as off-putting as calling 5-year olds Marxist kids or libertarian kids etc. just cause their parents were because at that age kids haven’t even fully had a chance to develop/form their views and it’s not clear what the kids’ own views are yet.

          For many people, say Americans, religion like politics (if not more so, in a personal way) is about individual convinction/belief/feeling in one’s heart.

          Again, it must be a cultural divide between communal vs. individualistic thinking (I’m thinking something I learned from maybe Razib about how some Christian missionaries had upon first contact a hard sell to east Asians (Japanese?) about individual salvation, who wanted reassurance that if they converted but their family refused they wouldn’t leave their loved ones behind after going to heaven). Religions like Christianity and Buddhism were radical for focusing on individualistic salvation/enlightment, and ideas like “leave your mother and father and follow me” were resisted by the status quo in communal societies.

          I can get using the term ex-Muslim or ex-Protestant atheist for an atheist that used to be a believing Muslim/Protestant Christian etc..but had a change of heart but to someone like Razib who has mentioned they didn’t ever really strongly believe at all even when surrounded by others who do, it’s a stretch to even say “ex-“. We who live stateside (and I presume other parts of the west) are surrounded with the message that faith is about individual conviction (e.g. the term “born again” Christian to emphasize that).

          Better yet than ex-(name of religion) if you don’t know if that person was ever a believer but know their family background, “atheist with Muslim/Christian parents or raised in a Muslim/Christian family/society/social setting” makes more sense in someone’s biography, but I too reject the unqualified “(name of religion) atheist” as Razib argues, for religions where personal intent/conviction is paramount by definition.

          And also, as some have pointed out, there’s a double standard as very few people will say “Christian atheist” for a white Brit/American who was an ex-Christian let alone always an atheist who doubted as a child but merely grew up around Christians. Whereas for some other groups “Muslim atheist” is used on them without even asking (like Razib said some people just look at surname and stereotype based on assumptions).

          Sometimes even very liberal people do this. Yeah, it reeks of “ha! I’ll judge you by your ancestors and stereotype you without even getting to know you or your own beliefs. I won’t treat you as an individual or ask you what you believe first”.

          “But me, oh, I’ll treat myself as an individual… free to believe or not believe what I want”.

          1. this just gets back at the unique aspects of america and self-creation and the weakness of ‘communities.’ america is very WEIRD. indians who never lived here don’t understand this at all, and even indians who arrive as adults have a difficult time with it. even indians born/raised here have blank spots in regards to religion. e.g., a {{{guju}}} friend of mine admitted he could never really understand why anyone would want to convert to another religion. he’s personally a very nominal liberal hindu who ended up marrying a very nominal liberal muslim guju. the kids are raised barely in both religions since they are not religious 🙂

            there are some atheists from muslim backgrounds who identify with causes in muslim countries, and participate in muslim social events because of their family, etc. they also give their kids muslim names for cultural reasons. none of that applies to me, and none of my siblings are even muslim anymore (the only religious one is buddhist). so the term ‘atheist muslim’ seems kind of misleading.

            but that’s irrelevant for a lot of indians. you are your lineage 😉

          2. Yep, for Indians (dare I say, “South Asians,”) it’s all about lineage and origin.

            I have a Muslim clinical instructor who is cold towards Whites, singles out Hindu residents for nastiness, and is very kind and friendly to Muslim residents…”Muslim” turns out to mean people who had Muslim parents, even if the residents are avowed agnostics/atheists (the majority of them here are).

            The resident she hates the most (which surprisingly isn’t me) is a Gujarati beef-eating atheist. I just giggle cause she assumes he is a hardcore BJP fanatic when he probably doesn’t know *what* the BJP is.

    1. Obviously not speaking about Razib in particular, but I’ve met some South Asians Muslim diaspora people who say that they are atheist, but still have a strong loyalty to the Muslim community from the standpoint of identity, culture, politics. They are huge supporters of global Muslim causes (Palestine, Kashmir, terrorism apologism, etc.)

      1. That’s closer to someone who’d probably agree with “Muslim atheist” (perhaps cultural Muslim) as a self-styled term (closer to treating their identity as communal the way even Dawkins admits he identifies with Christian culture like Christmas trees/carols etc.). Though even so, I’d hesitate to use that wording (people can describe themselves however they want though)

        But that clearly doesn’t describe the situation Razib is talking about. That’s more like straight up stereotyping. “You have a Muslim name. Thus you must be Muslim, even if you’re atheist” being said to someone without even asking their own personal beliefs is something I’m not down with. Think about that for an Anglophone European-descent Christian with a biblical name — would the same be said “Hey you have a Christian name.. Therefore you’re not an atheist…”. Or perhaps “your surname is Iglesias, why don’t you go to church!”…lol

  9. I think the reason for the difference in reactions is simpler, it’s just a “Nixon goes to China” thing. Macron leads a centrist-neoliberal party and by disposition is a globalist through and through. Thus the media classes can’t bring themselves to criticize him. What would happen if Marine Le Pen was President?

  10. “Most of them, like some of you commenters, are stupid, ignorant, and a large fraction no doubt teenage incels.”


    Well said anyway.

    A couple of points that maybe deserves a bit more emphasis, about France. France very badly wants to identify as a multi-racial society even though this is in a mono-cultural melting pot. France is very proud that it has influential and famous French people who are black and North African, for example, and mono-racialism is not part of its ethos.

    Something that captures the French identity is its legendary foreign legion, a military unit where people who aren’t born French speak in French, and take on complete new French soldier identities with new names and forgotten pasts, with the idea that they will be assimilated Frenchmen who are assets to the nation when their soldiering days are over.

    Also, as you allude to slightly, the French attitude about religion isn’t specific to islam. The French Revolution was explicitly anti-Catholic and disestablishes the Roman Catholic Church which was the state religion in the eras when France was a monarchy. The church and the monarchy were seen as deeply intertwined. It changed the names of the months even for a while to remove the pagan religious associations with month names. France has been an expressly secular country in all of its five Republics (democratic regimes). Religious freedom in France is a compromise position from a previous expressly anti-religion stance.

    This is in contrast, for example, to the U.S. idea of there not being an established state religion because myriad religious refugees come to it to freely practice the religion of their choice for which they were often persecuted at home – U.S. freedom of religion is pro-religion but anti-dominance of any one of those faiths over the state. Not so in France, where religion is tolerated but not at the state level, encouraged or embraced.

    It also bears mentioning that France has one of the oldest Muslim communities in Europe. It has a Muslim community that was substantial and vital, for example, during World War II, where French Muslims often (successfully) pretended that French Jews they were sheltering were Muslims to protect them from the Nazis in Vichy France. Due to the happenstance of French colonial holdings, there were significant numbers of Muslims in France long before there were significant number of Muslim Turks in Germany and long before the recent waves of Muslim immigration to places like Scandinavia and Greece some in response to Afghanistan and Syria sourced refugee situations. (The U.K. has some Muslims due to its colonial links, but mostly South Asian Muslims.) Many European countries are just now considering for the first time how to integrate Muslims into their society, while France comes to the issue with lots of historical precedent.

    The murder of Samuel Paty presents in France as an attack on its national character as a secular country that has religious people in it, and the broader reaction reflects a sense that it has let itself stray from that too far and must actively confront forces that are undermining that character.

    1. “Most of them, like some of you commenters, are stupid, ignorant, and a large fraction no doubt teenage incels.”

      you don’t see some of the stupidest comments. deleted or banned. some readers of this weblog are awesome in their stupidity. generally i tolerate the midwits. but the dimwits? no!

  11. If people are more interested in post-Revolution pre-WW1 France, The Discovery of France by Graham Robb is a great read.

  12. One thing, which I mentioned before, is obvious and very typical here. Despite such barbaric act there is not ANY protest or condemnation in the WORLD by organisations, individuals or so-called ‘liberals’ which belong or affiliate with this believing stream. There is a wall of silence and hidden solidarity with a killer. Some state that it is impossible to integrate such stream into civilisational mainstream if there are more of 5% of them. IN Bosnia, for e.g. the enormous amount of money was invested to civilise such stream – general education, founded new University, emancipation of girls and women, Academy of Science and Arts, Philharmony, Opera, positive discrimination, muslims recognised as nationality not only as a religion, positions in federal government including PM, diplomacy, police, army generals, directors of large public enterprises, film directors, winter Olympic games, etc, etc.

    In a word, they became as any other European nation with huge majority considered themselves ‘atheist muslims’ and the main proponents of ‘Yugoslavian’ as a super-nationality (like Americans, Frenches or Soviets). It was needed only several years for them to radicalise, they started a jihad war to expel Christians (from whom they converted and who paid all previous) to create their Islamic state and went 150 years back in civilisational terms. Similar situation was with Albanians, which are different language and genetics, only they never reached the lowest civilisational threshold. For me, watching with my eyes, it is still incomprehensible what is this driving force to push the whole population without any exemption to the precivilisation.

  13. Comparison with individual European countries is a little unfair on India, as it should be compared with the whole of the EU. And at the EU level that communal give and take exists in similar ways – which is why the European Council and Commission are essentially tribal jirgas of benign overlords (a bit like Asimov’s Second Foundation) and the European Parliament is an emasculated legislative body.

    That said the recent history of genocide (European Jews and gypsies were/are the closest in traditional sociological terms to Indian Muslims / lower castes) gives the Europeans a unique perspective that Indians just do not have. And I don’t encourage Indians to follow the European pathway to that perspective. So Indians will have to be mediocre and muddle along with incremental tinkering. Their timidity has its uses – but then who am I to judge.

  14. The best Atheists are Jains. Atheist Jain is a redundancy 😉

    I half kid. Jainism still has its share of superstition. But it’s rejection of the existence of a Creator makes it kind of unique. And Buddhism is different. It is non theistic. Slight diff. More of an “I don’t matta bruh. Dat middle path ain’t change”

  15. Yep, for Indians (dare I say, “South Asians,”) it’s all about lineage and origin.

    when i lived in davis, the patels who owned the minimart nearest to me, were surprised i was buying alcohol during ramadan. the kicker: i hadn’t known it was ramadan.

  16. “Yep, for Indians (dare I say, “South Asians,”) it’s all about lineage and origin.”

    One problem with this approach for religion, even taking your logic for it, specifically is “how far do you go” in terms of when your ancestors converted? At some point, if a Buddhist ancestor became a Muslim one or a Hindu one became a Christian one, when does that become a part of your “lineage”? Is 100 years long enough to be legit or does it take 1000 (seeing how many Asians or maybe Africans who converted to Christianity in colonial times get labeled “rice Christians”, some seem to think that pre-European colonial Christianity is somehow more “rooted” like Malabar Nasrani, or Ethiopian Christians). Either way, if you’re talking lineage (and not personal conviction where it’s literally the one person’s own choice in the here and now), you’re gonna make an arbitrary cut-off about gatekeeping lineage.

    From an American point of view, I can only imagine something like stereotypes based on appearance (and thus presumed ancestry of people who “look” like members of an ethnic group traditionally practicing a religion) such as a bearded man taken for a Muslim (assuming the non-religious person wouldn’t wear anything different), plus surname but maybe old worlders got something more nuanced.

  17. Thinking a little about history, judging someone’s religion (even as strongly confessional as Christian or Muslim) as legit or not based on religious heritage of one’s ancestors or perhaps how recently one converted reminds me of the formerly Jewish conversos and Muslim moriscos in Spain and Portugal after the Inquisition.

    Which isn’t exactly a flattering comparison with how history goes in terms of when society assigns religious identity based on “lineage”. Maybe Razib would be knowledgeable about this, but aside from the Spanish case with Jews and Moors whose recency of conversion under duress often didn’t protect them, did any other major western (or let’s say European-derived) society ever judge one’s religious legitimacy as strongly based on the “religion of one’s ancestors” in a south-Asian communal-like way, in comparatively recent history?

    Since this blog post mentions France, was western society in general more confessional and less communal than many others through a large swath of its history (though up to colonial times and even now I guess many east Asians and sub-Saharan Africans seem pretty chill with families of mixed religious background and some practicing folk religion alongside new Christian converts)? Though there are things like the Troubles in Ireland with the old joke “you’re an atheist? Oh, well a Protestant atheist or Catholic atheist?” And that only ended late 20th century.

    I’m guessing even though WEIRD (the acronym) has roots back in the middle ages, medieval Christian Europe and early modern Europe (wars of religion) would have seemed more communal and South-Asian-like whereas something like the US religious revivals (the great awakenings and the hyper-focus even more on the WEIRD side on individual belief and personal revelation, reading scripture for yourself etc.) in the last few centuries are more exceptional?

    1. I guess many east Asians and sub-Saharan Africans seem pretty chill with families of mixed religious background and some practicing folk religion alongside new Christian converts)?

      You can add Sri Lanka to the chill list. Catholics (9%), almost all from Portuguese times*, Muslims (9%) Budhists (65%) and Hindu (15%) all some overlap.

      I live in a mixed very rural (was during war) village. 40% Muslim, 40% Catholics, 20% Hindu and few Buddhists and evangelicals.

      Plenty of folk religion, it gets lumped into Hindu.

      *Catholics, most whose ancestors converted under the sword 400 years ago are most unlikely to convert or become atheist.

    1. For sure he did not look European, with the big Afro.

      Alexandre Dumas was one of the many personalities of fame whom many were unaware of their Black/African heritage. Alexandre Dumas’s grand mother was a slave in Haiti.

      Pretty much read and owned* all his novels as a teenager. The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Man in the Iron Mask, Black tulip.

      *Most second hand, my father would pick up from second hand store. Black Tulip was brand new, birthday gift.

  18. Despite Bhimrao’s disclaimer, in a later post, Scorpion Eater reverted to type with the Rapey Caste view. Is there some statistical evidence of rapey castes, or was it just prejudice.
    There is a column for ‘rape rate’ in the analysis in the Wiki article . Should one conclude that Hindi speakers are rapey people?Or that Malayalis and Assamese are rapey? Delhi and Chandigarh stand out. Neither of the two cities has a high proportion of Jats and Thakurs. Himachal and Uttarkhand stand out particularly.

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