India’s Islam

There are various images I could have chosen to represent Islam in India. One could use the Taj Mahal, the ruins of a temple, a mural of a bloody battlefield, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the beauty of Indo-Islamic art, and so many more images. Islam in India has had a long and complicated history. People have argued till tongues became swords over the impact of Islam on India and its relation to the people. Indeed, one could argue the most lasting impact of Islam on the subcontinent is its partitioning by Jinnah and his cohorts on that fateful day in 1947; when Mahatma Gandhi’s dream was ripped apart in a bloody separation of an ancient people.

But while this post will examine the past, I want to focus on the now and future of Islam in India. That is why I chose to have possibly the most beloved Indian in history, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, as the heading photo for this post. But we will talk more about him and what he encapsulates later; let’s take a look back at the sands of time.

(No) Remorse

Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi; Built From Ruins of a Hindu Temple (See Left Side)

I’ll be upfront and say I have an overall negative view on Islam’s past impact on India.

One of the most eminent historians ever, Will Durant, wrote this of the Islamic invasion of India:

“The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.” – The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage page 459.

History has witnessed monsters that have killed millions – Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the Spanish conquistadors of America, etc… – but Durant singles out the hundreds of years long siege of Islam on India as the bloodiest of them all. Millions dead, raped, or forcibly converted. Temples, universities, and entire cities lay in ruin. An indigenous culture repressed and humiliated all because they believed in a different god.

While this image is grave, it’s not what I want you to leave with in regards to India’s Islam. Amongst the carnage and deep darkness that swept the subcontinent, there was light.

Din-I-Ilahi

A fusion of Indian, Arabian, and Persian art styles would give birth to they beauty of Indo-Islamic architecture

Islamic rule in India produced great art, literature, opulence, but most beautiful of all – syncretism, the trademark of India. Akbar was one of the first rulers who recognized the underlying similarities between Islam and Hinduism; so much so, that he integrated both religions into his own system – Din-I-Ilahi – or the Religion of God (original…I know).

The Varanasi poet and weaver, Kabir, won the hearts of both Hindus and Muslims. His poetry would be recited till this day as an epitaph to his spirit of spiritual harmony. His musings would change how religion was practiced across North India, including influencing a newly born religion – Sikhism. Guru Nanak would continue Kabir’s compare and contrasting of Hinduism and Islam, while providing his own unique philosophy.

Kabir in Discussion with People of Various Faiths

The Mughal prince, Dara Shikoh, even wrote a treatise on the similarities of Vedanta and Sufism in a book – Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Confluence of Seas). Dara would translate the Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian as he was fascinated by the concepts found in this mystical and ancient book. Dara would become convinced that the Upanishads were the Kitab al-Maknun (The Hidden Book) mentioned in the Quran.

India had a habit of making foreigners and foreign ideas attain a saffron hue as time went on. The Dargahs, Qawwalis, saint veneration, and many cultural practices of Indian Islam would be completely alien to the rest of the Islamic world. Much of this was due to local spiritual influences that had been present for millennia. Religion turned grey as time went on with Hindus revering Sufi saints and Muslims seeking the blessings of Hindu sadhus.

Perhaps this was due to the old pluralism of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains had already lived peacefully with each other). Or maybe due to the emphasis of oneness and the mysticism of the ever popular Sufis of the subcontinent. Either way, one has to acknowledge that pluralism indeed did succeed as India saw Hindus and Muslims live side by side and intermingle.

Reopened Wounds

Unfortunately the scars of the past would overshadow much of the syncretism that bloomed in India. During the fledgeling Indian independence movement, an intellectual named Syed Ahmed Khan (1817 – 1898) would propose the two nation theory – an idea that Hindus and Muslims were fundamentally different peoples who could not live side by side in a united India.

Years later, a pan-Indian nationalist would pen the beautiful poem “Sāre Jahān se Achchhā, Hindositān Hamārā” (Better than the entire world is our India) with lines such as “Religion does not teach us to bear animosity among ourselves; we are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan.” He would then go to school for Islamic studies and return an avowed proponent of the Two Nation Theory and Islamist. His name was Muhammed Iqbal, and he would become a renowned poet, revolutionary, and ideological father of Pakistan.

Muslim nationalists such as Muhammed Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) would seize Khan and Iqbal’s philosophy and go on to campaign for and eventually succeed in creating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Jinnah would call for “Direct Action Day” on August 16, 1946, agitating Indian Muslims to force partition. Thousands of people would die in Calcutta as a result, and the demand for partition would be solidified. India was ripped apart a year later.

A large amount of Indian Muslims would end up staying in India. Their population would grow as the population of Hindus in Pakistan was decimated. Muslims would form a significant electoral block in India as the INC would slowly dole out appeasement to capture a loyal vote bank on one side while dividing Hindus by caste on the other side. It was a stunningly effective method leading to political dominance for 60 years.

Indian Muslims didn’t benefit greatly though, as much of their political voices and interests were captured by narrow minded and fanatical leaders who encouraged these rabid identity politics while enjoying power and wealth from their sponsors from the INC. Rajiv Gandhi’s minister famously exhorted that the Congress Party had no responsibility to reform Muslims, and “if they wanted to lie in the gutter, let them be.”

New Beginnings

For all of India’s faults, it is not Pakistan. Pakistan’s collapse into a bankrupt terror state that has annihilated and oppressed its minorities has contrasted with India. India’s minorities have grown in the percentage of population while also rising to the upper echelons of the highest political, intellectual, artistic, scientific, and indeed almost every single aspect of Indian society. That is not to say they do not face discrimination in India, but there should be no comparison anymore between which minorities have faired better in the subcontinent.

With Modi’s rise and the mainstreaming of Hindutva, eyes now rest on the fate and future of India’s Muslims.

Muslim Women Celebrating the Criminalization of Triple Talaq (Instant Divorce Applicable to Only Muslim Women) and Thanking Modi 

India will never rise unless its 200+ million Muslim population rises with it. I have praised many of Modi’s welfare programs as I believe they will reap compound interest on human capital. Much of that interest will accrue on the lower economic rungs of society; rungs which a large amount of Muslims populate. Economic empowerment is integral for India’s Muslims to prosper.

Perhaps the more controversial aspect of Muslim upliftment is cultural integration. Notions of “worship my god or you are condemned to eternal hell” are alien to the Indian ethos. Pluralism is the blood of India. Ideally, all Indians would celebrate each others festivals, holidays, commemorations together. Unfortunately, much of Muslim leadership still meanders in more conservative approaches towards Islam that don’t fit the millennia-old “Ekam Sat” principle discussed in a previous post. Essentially “Ekam Sat” should be a pan-Indian spiritual acceptance, as it forms the basis of Indian pluralism. Whether Muslims theologically justify this by claiming Indian gods/avatars were “prophets” of Allah or any other basis (Dara Shikoh had a number), this thought process is essential to the mainstreaming of Indian Islam.

Another aspect that must be confronted is a more realistic view of India’s Islamic rule. More and more today, that period of India’s history is being demonized (and in many cases rightly so), but too much vitriol is being directed towards today’s Muslims. On the other side, a section of elites (whether Muslim or not) seek to glorify Mughal/Islamic rule as an enlightened age that civilized native heathen Indians. The age’s positive contributions (art, literature, architecture, syncretism) should be celebrated, but the atrocities must be acknowledged and accepted. Exalted glorification of this era isn’t wise nor laudable these days. Just as the British Raj has been exposed, so should the brutal Islamic regimes prior to it be exposed.

A Familiar Echo

It’s at this point where Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), should be examined. Owaisi has always been a firebrand and extremely articulate politician and speaker. He has frequently engaged in Islamist rhetoric; though to give him credit, he doesn’t with baiters from across the border and proudly calls himself Indian. The recent problem with Owaisi though, is his disturbing calls for a pan-Islamic organizing in India.

Does this sound familiar?

But wait – what is wrong with calls for Muslim consolidation if people say it’s okay for Hindu consolidation (Hindutva)? The thing is, we’ve seen what Muslim consolidation has done in partition. The shadow of the subcontinental fissure still looms today. With the recent Ram Mandir verdict signaling a possible new era in India, Owaisi has become more and more outright in his mission to be a leader of India’s Muslims. Opening deposits in as many Muslim majority localities as he can, Owaisi seeks to dent a flailing Congress’s old and trusted vote bank, while the BJP watches with glee as Owaisi cannibalizes a rival.

Because of partition, most Indians will be allergic to Owaisi’s call. Whether one believes Muslim consolidation into a party is okay, necessary, egregious, or disgusting doesn’t matter electorally. What matters is that most Indians will have an overwhelmingly negative view of AIMIM and see this movement as Jinnah Part 2. If one believes Indian Muslims are already sidelined, wait till you see what happens if Owaisi gets his way.

India’s electoral future may mirror Israel’s current situation – A religious Hindu Party vs a secular Hindu Party with a number of smaller parties including a large, shunned Muslim Party just as the Arab parties are in Israel today. That is a death-knell for Indian Muslims as they will become pariahs electorally and their interests will be completely sidelined.

I don’t believe this will happen because of India’s pluralistic spirit, the current integration of Muslims, partition’s shadow, but also demographic pulls – Muslims are a large minority that have dividends in being catered to. But when discussing that spirit of India, we must also discuss Hindutva and Hindu consolidation. Isn’t it also a clear and present danger?

The answer lies in India’s past (Ekam Sat/pluralism) and how future Indians react to religion. For India to keep moving forward, I think it may have to reflect in its past, where religion becomes more composite and syncretic. The Dharmic religions have demonstrated this well enough; the gauntlet is now thrown to the other side and a fork in the road arrives. In a time of turbulence, will one choose the path of Aurangzeb or the path of Dara Shikoh?

Nūr-E-Dharma

When the Maratha King Shivaji rebelled against the Mughal Aurangzeb, Shivaji sent Aurangzeb a letter demanding him to stop his persecution of Hindus. Shivaji sought to reestablish Hindu rule in India but made it a point to be inclusive of Muslims; while Aurangzeb obsessed over a fanatical wish to convert the subcontinent to Islam by any means necessary.

Shivaji wrote:

“Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colors and filling in the outlines. If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of God. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for God alone.” –Shivaji’s Letter to Aurangzeb April 2nd, 1679

Again, here we see a triumph of India’s pluralism in the face of fanaticism. And it is this thought process that may be the path forward for both Hindus and Muslims in India.

India’s Muslims are just as Indian as a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, etc… India is an officially secular state (though it could do with less appeasement and more universal civil code) and will be so in the foreseeable future. Bigots and extremists line the coats of each Indian political party. BJP’s extremists frequently attack today’s Muslims for the crimes of the past and constantly question their patriotism. This alienation will never do India well.

I have always thought that there was a clear “civilizational interest” for India’s civilization. Whether it is called “Dharma” or by another word; throughout India’s history, there have been pivotal moments that either furthered or distressed India. And this “Dharma” has been blind to religion.

Take an example of this: Would you consider the self-proclaimed Janeudhari Brahmin Hindu Rahul Gandhi more Dharmic than Muslim Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam? Or how about the “master Sanskrit shloka” speaker and queen of appeasement, Mamata Banerjee, being more pro-Indic civilization than the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh? Would the anti-Ram Mandir (or anti any Hindu interest) lawyer, Kapil Sibal, be more of service to India than the Kashmiri Indian soldier, Aurangzeb, who was brutally murdered by terrorists for serving in the Indian Army?

India’s interests are beyond religious labels. Muslims have become integral parts of the Indian state, society, and now civilization. Muslims need to be integrated economically and culturally for India to thrive. And India’s Muslims need better models and leaders than communalists who stoke identity politics, regressive practices, and an us versus them mentality concerning Hindus.

Copies of Kalam’s Final Book – Transcendence Detailing the similarities between Hinduism, Islam, and his relationship with his Guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. 

Abdul Kalam perhaps represents this ideal Indian Muslim (and definitely an ideal Indian for all to emulate). One who devoutly worships Allah and practices his spirituality but also fully embraces the Indian values of Dharma, Ahimsa, and pluralism. Beyond his great service to the nation, Kalam’s fondness for Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita, Tamil poetry, playing the Veena, etc… endeared him to the entire Indian population. Kalam was a living breathing amalgamation of the Indian experiment, combining various spiritualities, cultures, and passions. Kalam continued Dara Shikoh’s view of Islam and Hinduism as two beautiful answers to the same question of life and spirituality. This is a mentality that both Hindus and Muslims should embrace. Easier said than done of course, but a worthy aim in the journey of India.

This is an updated post from The Emissary. Please visit our blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits for the repost!

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Post Modernism (d)

Five thousand years ago the greater Egyptian, Sumerian, Eastern (defined as pan Arya plus China) civilizations were very mathematically oriented.  Many caucasians appear to believe that these ancient civilizations were racist. Possibly because of this many caucasians believe that math is racist.

 

Another possible reason many caucasians appear to believe that math is racist is because they fear it might unfairly advantages “brown” people (Asians, Arabs, Latinos) and “brown” cultures (eastern philosophy including Toaism and Confucianism, native american religion) at the expense of caucasians in the new global artificial intelligence, neuroscience, genetics economy.

 

Could part of the anger against math come from fear that mathematics, science, technology, seeking the truth through thought, seeking the truth without thought might be haram or blasphemous? (Obviously most Abrahamics do not believe this and this is not a critique of Abrahamism.)

 

I believe that mathematics is part of art; and that it derives from beyond normal gross thought. From what in Sanskrit is called Buddhi, Vijnayamaya Kosha, Ananda Maya Kosha, Sukshma Sharira, Kaarana Sharira, the subtle heavens.

 

Perhaps the anger against mathematics is part of a deeper anger against the subtle heavens? If so, one possible way to look at this is that to transcend the subtle heavens (including mathematics) it might be helpful to love them and love our way through them. Or to love and respect the racist (subtle heavens–including mathematics) until we transcend the various subtleties of thought and feeling.

What are everyone’s thoughts?

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Post Modernism (c)

Post Modernism (b)

Post Modernism (a)

Intellectual Dark Web (a)

Intellectual Dark Web

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Why do nonmuslims treat muslims so badly (g)?

There are few examples of nonmuslim sectarian mistreatment of muslims more glaring than the way nonmuslims have abysmally betrayed LBGTQ muslims. Nonmuslim LBTGTQ are celebrated by Xi Jinping, Trump, Modi, Lebron James and many others. Any mistreatment of LBGTQ nonmuslims correctly dominates news coverage around the world and leads to massive global pressure. But when it comes to muslim LBGTQ, nonmuslims become suddenly silent.

 

The above video details the severe persecution of Palestinian LGBTQ. Palestinian LGBTQ have long been attacked by Palestinians, the muslim world and nonmuslim world.

 

Where are PM Modi, President Xi Jinping, President Trump, Lebron James, PM Bibi Netanyahu, PM designate Gantz? Do Englishman and Englishwoman feel guilt for the enormous suffering they have inflicted upon Palestinian LBGTQ during English empire and ever since the end of English empire? This blood debt could be repaid by giving English permanent residence status to every Palestinian LBGTQ who passes a background check to weed out violent criminals and members of organized crime.

 

Not that muslims are doing any better when it comes to Palestinian LBGTQ rights. Global muslim leaders Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have you no tears and compassion for Palestinian LBGTQ? How will you be able to look up upon Allah after having betrayed Palestinian LBGTQ?

Continue reading “Why do nonmuslims treat muslims so badly (g)?”

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Film Review: What Will People Say?

**Caution: Spoilers Ahead**

Image result for what will people say film

I was watching the film ‘What will people say’ (courtesy, Kanopy), an official selection at the Toronto film festival in 2018. It is a story familiar to anyone who grew up in Pakistan or in a desi family abroad. A young, second-generation Pakistani teenage girl (Nisha) in Norway wants to live her life like any other teenager in her peer group but is restricted by her parents. Like most rebellious teenagers anywhere in the world, she finds ways to do what she wants to do (go out partying with a friend in the middle of the night) but stops just shy of having physical relations with one of her guy friends. One such day, she gets caught by her father who finds one of her male Norwegian friends in her room and starts beating him and then turns his fury on her. A neighbor calls the police and Nisha is escorted to a safe place by Norway’s version of the CPS.

After spending a night at CPS, Nisha’s mother calls her to tell her that everything will be okay and that her father will pick her up from CPS in a few minutes. Nisha, being a teenager, falls for this trap. She ends up on a flight to Pakistan with her father. Her father leaves her at his sister’s house and returns to Norway the next day. Nisha tries to contact someone in Norway but she has no access to international calling or internet. Her first night, she tries to run away in the streets but comes back to find her aunt at the door telling her that the nearest airports in 350 Kilometers away. At another instance, she tries to send a message to one of her Norwegian friends via facebook through a net cafe but is caught and her Norwegian passport is burned. She spends eight months at that place. While she is there, she falls for one of her male cousins living in the same house.

One night, they are caught kissing at night by local police who beat him mercilessly and ask her to strip at gunpoint. The police then ask the guy to fondle her in front of them, all while taking photos of them. The couple is then dragged to their house and police demand money in exchange for deleting those photos. Nisha’s father is summoned from Norway by the Pakistani relatives and she is sent back. While Nisha’s father is in Pakistan, he spits at her face and then takes her in a taxi to the top of a mountain and orders her to jump from there. She tries to plead with him while he throttles her and tries to push her. He is unable to, and they end up back in Norway.

There is a family meal and her mother tells her that they are giving her a final chance. The prospect of her becoming a doctor is brought up and that it would be one way in which the honor of family can be redeemed. Some of the dialogues used by her mother upon her return are,

People don’t even invite is to weddings anymore.
I wish you were stillborn”.

Within a few days of her return, she comes back from school to find that there is a ‘match’ ready to happen. The boy (Adnan) is a doctor in Canada and from a Pakistani family. Adnan’s aunt is visiting Nisha’s house and he is present via Skype.

Her father muses out loud that she can study and later work once she is in Canada. The boy’s aunt says ‘No, there is no need for studies or work. Adnan earns plenty of money. She’ll later be busy enough with children and the house”.

Nisha’s mother agrees with this statement.

After a brief chat, the ‘match’ is finalized and they are officially “engaged”. Sweets are consumed by everybody present (they are Pakistani, after all). The boy’s aunt then says, “Nisha, we are doing it only for your wellbeing”. The following night, Nisha, who had been rooming with her younger sister, decides to run away from the house again. It is snowing outside and before she leaves, her younger sister (who is about 6-9 years old) wakes up and sees her leave but doesn’t say a word. Once she has climbed down from her third story apartment, she walks towards the street outside their apartment complex and looks back. Her father is standing in the window, looking at her. Their eyes meet for a few moments and then Nisha takes off in the snow, running far away from the house. The End.

I thought the movie was generally well-made. There is some exoticization of Pakistan, as one expects in most films for a primarily western audience. The narrow streets, old houses, mountains in the background and a dilapidated bus, with Khawaja-siras (transgender people) selling boiled eggs to passengers, the old school vegetable and fruit market, classrooms without whiteboards and households without domestic servants. I read later that the story is loosely based on the life of its director, Iram Haq.

The premise, as I said earlier, is familiar to a Pakistani or a Pakistani-origin person. The rank hypocrisy of Pakistani society, the guilt-trapping (Pakistani parents’ favorite sport), violence in the name of honor and efforts to ‘save face’ in the community are daily realities of a desi household. While honor killings get splashed as headlines (deservedly), there is a lot of ‘micro-violence’ that happens every day in a middle-class Pakistani household with young girls (I’m talking about a representative sample). Some of the statements that I have bolded and put in quotation marks in the synopsis are familiar tropes of Pakistani parents, once they find out that the human being they created is not a robot that they can program. The situation, however, is much more dire for girls than it is for boys. Particularly when it happens abroad. One of my mentors used to say that Pakistanis in the diaspora tend to be normal people until their daughters start growing up. If it were up to Pakistani parents, they would bottle up puberty of their children and throw it away in the trash, instead of dealing with it like people everywhere else.

I write this not just as a commentator but as a witness. Both of my sisters, at different times in their lives, were ‘disciplined’ when they developed an interest in men that my parents had not chosen for them to marry. Sister number one was a teenager and had a crush on one of her teachers (which is the most teenager thing that I can think of). The guy in question used to visit our house for coaching (a normal occurrence for our household, to be clear) and he belonged to a lower-middle-class background. Once the ‘crush’ was discovered, he was banished from our house and my sister was warned never to mention his name again, or there would be dire consequences. She was 16 at the time. Around the time that she turned 17, she was engaged to a cousin who was studying abroad at the time. She got married at 18 and has lived abroad ever since. She has always been an obedient and slightly-passive child and has done okay in life, despite the obvious disadvantage.

Sister number 2 has always been a more outwardly emotional and strong character. Her first ‘issue’ arose during teenage years when she was found talking too many times with one of the male cousins. She would also ‘dress up’ (as much as one could in a provincial Punjabi town) when she went to coaching centers in the city during her high school years. Later, when she was in college, she needed some help with coursework and an acquaintance who worked in that profession was asked to help. The acquaintance deputed one of his juniors to help my sister. Fast forwards a few years and they were romantically involved. My parents were having none of that. They tried to ‘arrange’ her marriage at different places but she would stage some sort of stunt (act cold/be sarcastic/or just being rude) to get out of it. She tried to kill herself at least twice during this period. She was probably physically beaten more than once as well (I was at boarding school between 2000-2006 and in med school for 5 years after that so I only heard these things second-hand). I had met the dude in question and found him to be okay, nothing too spectacular or bad. As the firstborn male, I held a certain role in the family so I first cajoled my mother (who hated the guy partially because he was 10-12 years older than my sister and partially because he came from a lower-middle-class family and my sister has always had ‘high’ ambitions) and later my father (who felt guilty for having introduced the couple in the first place) and sister number 2 finally got married to him.

Were my parents monsters or merely representing the middle class, small-town, religious morality that they themselves grew up in? I don’t know the answer to that question. They are otherwise very decent, educated, ‘honorable’, pious people and a neutral observer meeting them for the first time won’t be able to see anything wrong outwardly. The pathos inflicting my parents is not restricted to them, it is shared by everyone around them, most of the society is rotten. And it’s not getting any better with time.

P.S A book that deals with issues of ‘honor’ in the Pakistani diaspora, particularly in Britain, is ‘Maps for lost lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam. One can also glean some knowledge about this from certain portions of the movie ‘Blinded by the Light’.

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DoubleQuoting Myanmar and Assam..

It’s the first quote that carries the implication of genocide, but what of the rest?

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It’s not a joke, is it? Myanmar..

The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention warns of certain indicators that “provide an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes,” including “increased politicization of identity” and discriminatory “measures or legislation” targeting protected groups. In addition to certain prohibited acts, such as killing members of a group, genocidal States often use legal and administrative tools to facilitate the destruction of a targeted group “in whole or in part.”

In Myanmar, successive governments have implemented measures and legislation to erase Rohingya Muslims’ identity and rights, creating an enabling environment for genocide.

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It’s not a joke, is it? Assam..

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi today expressed his concern over the publication of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that may put large numbers of people in India’s north-eastern state of Assam at risk of becoming stateless.

It is too early to say what the nationality status of those left off the National Register, some 1.9 million according to the authorities, may ultimately be. UNHCR is concerned, however, that many are at risk of statelessness if they do not possess another nationality.

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That’s a DoubleQuote — but it’s also pattern recognition, and the start of a possible concatenation of such quotes — a mala of urgencies.

BTW, it’s more than possible, as Myanmar >> Bangladesh migration illustrates, that mass migration across national borders may be a pragmatic alternative to genocide — but that threatens national sovereignty, doesn’t it?

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Climate change: impact on the Hajj


The Hajj, Mecca

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Since I posted my poem Mourning the lost Kaaba in late November 2017 — though not, I imagine, because of my poem — a report on the likely impact of climate change on the annual Hajj pilgrimage has come out from scientists at MIT and Loyola Marymount:

Kang, Pal, & Eltahir, Future Heat Stress During Muslim Pilgrimage (Hajj) Projected to Exceed “Extreme Danger” Levels

Here’s the abstract:

The Muslim pilgrimage or Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Muslim faith, takes place outdoors in and surrounding Mecca in the Saudi Arabian desert. The U.S. National Weather Service defines an extreme danger heat stress threshold which is approximately equivalent to a wet?bulb temperature of about 29.1 °C—a combined measure of temperature and humidity. Here, based on results of simulations using an ensemble of coupled atmosphere/ocean global climate models, we project that future climate change with and without mitigation will elevate heat stress to levels that exceed this extreme danger threshold through 2020 and during the periods of 2047 to 2052 and 2079 to 2086, with increasing frequency and intensity as the century progresses. If climate change proceeds on the current trajectory or even on a trajectory with considerable mitigation, aggressive adaptation measures will be required during years of high heat stress risk.

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That’s the science — and while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the G20 in June that the Saudis are committed to “reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the negative effects of climate change,” beliefs concerning the Prophet’s institution of the Hajj in 632 CE following on earlier Abrahamic practice may well clash with scientific claims that the Hajj may become impossible for future devout Muslims to observe.

What happens, then, when this divine command intersects with increasing temperatures that eventually render Mecca uninhabitable? How do the climate change scientists fare when they sit across the table from the ulema, the scholar-clergy of Islam?

From a Muslim point of view, we’d better climate-correct, and do so fast:

Shahin Ashraf, We must stop climate change before it makes Hajj impossible

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The issue I’ve raised above is tightly focused on one sanctuary, one religion, one pilgrimage. Below are some other major pilgrimage sites to consider in light of climate change:

I would be interested in the cross-disciplinary exploration of the impact of climate change as understood by the scientific consensus, global migration patterns now and as expected in the coming years, and the devotional rituals and ceremonials of the various religions involved.

Large pilgrimages and religious ceremonials

This list draws text from Wikipedia and other online information sites.

Kumbh Mela:

Allahabad, India, 120 million devotees, every 12 years. The Prayag Kumbh Mela is a mela held every 12 years at Allahabad, India. The fair involves ritual bathing at Triveni Sangam, the meeting points of three rivers: the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Sarasvati. The Kumbh Mela in 2013 became the largest religious gathering in the world with almost 120 million visitors.

Arba’een:

Karbala, Iraq, 30 million pilgrims annually. The Arba’een Pilgrimage is the world’s largest annual public gathering, held every year in Karbala, Iraq at the end of the 40-day mourning period following Ashura, the religious ritual for the commemoration of martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Mohammad and the third Shia Imam, Husayn ibn Ali’s in 680. Anticipating Arba’een, or the fortieth day of the martyrdom, the pilgrims make their journey to Karbala on foot,where Husayn and his companions were martyred and beheaded by the army of Yazid I in the Battle of Karbala. The number of participants in the annual pilgrimage reached 30 million or more by 2016.

Papal Mass

Philippines, 7 million adherents, occasional. Pope Francis’ apostolic and state visit to the Philippines garnered a record breaking crowd of 7 million people. The mass conducted by the pope was the largest gathering in papal history.

Makara Jyothi

India, 5 million pilgrims annually. This pilgrim center and temple is located amidst a dense forest in the southern region of India. It was visited by over 5 million pilgrims in 2007 for a festival known as ‘Makara Jyothi,’ occurring annually on the 14 of January. Although the Sabarimala Temple, site of the Makara Jyothi celebration) draws a crowd of 50 million visitors annually, the specific day of the miraculous celestial lighting observation gathered 5 million pilgrims in 2007.

Bishwa Ijtema:

Near Dhaka, Bangladesh, 5 million pilgrims annually. The Bishwa Ijtema, meaning Global Congregation, is an annual gathering of Muslims in Tongi, by the banks of the River Turag, in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the world. The Ijtema is a prayer meeting spread over three days, during which attending devotees perform daily prayers while listening to scholars reciting and explaining verses from the Quran. It culminates in the Akheri Munajat, or the Final Prayer, in which millions of devotees raise their hands in front of Allah (God) and pray for world peace.The Ijtema is non-political and therefore it draws people of all persuasion. It is attended by devotees from 150 countries. Bishwa Ijtema is now the second largest Islamic gatherings with 5 million adherents

[ this is where the Hajj, with 2.3 million pilgrims annually, fits in ]

Umrah:

Mecca, size unknown, year round. The ?Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Hijaz, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the ?ajj which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar. It is sometimes called the ‘minor pilgrimage’ or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the Hajj being the ‘major’ pilgrimage which is compulsory for every Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.

Kalachakra,:

Various locations, 500,000 participants, variously. The Kalachakra is a term used in Vajrayana Buddhism that means “wheel(s) of time”. “K?lacakra” is one of many tantric teachings and esoteric practices in Tibetan Buddhism. It is an active Vajrayana tradition, and has been offered to large public audiences. The tradition combines myth and history, whereby actual historical events become an allegory for the spiritual drama within a person, drawing symbolic or allegorical lessons for inner transformation towards realizing buddha-nature. The Dalai Lama’s 33rd Kalachakra ceremony was held in Leh, Jammu and Kashmir, India from July 3 to July 12, 2014. About 150,000 devotees and 350,000 tourists were expected to participate in the festival. The Kalachakra has also been performed, eg, by Grand Master Lu Sheng-yen of the True Buddhs School, a Chinese Vajrayana group.

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The impacts of climate change will need to be studied as they apply not only to these sites of pilgrimage, but also to holy sites in general, notably including Jerusalem, Rome, Varanasi, and Kyoto.

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The Ummah for we, but not for thee

How geopolitics enabled India’s gambit in Kashmir:

“Saudi Arabia has traditionally been close to Pakistan, but over the past several decades India and Pakistan have diverged economically to where India’s economy is now about eight times larger than Pakistan’s,” he says. “The Saudis can’t ignore that” for the sake of Kashmir.

The philosopher of science Rudolf Carnap once said that the distance from him to Karl Popper was small. But the distance from Popper to Carnap was large. What Carnap meant by this is that Popper perceived the distance to be much further between his position, and that of Carnap, than Carnap did.

I feel that the distance from Pakistanis to Iranians and Arabs, their “fellow Muslims”, is small. In fact, this may generalize to some extent to all South Asian Muslims (when I visited Bangladesh in 2004 random people would want to get into an argument about the Palestinians with me). But the distance and affinity from Arabs and Iranians to South Asians is large and minimal.

Here is what West Asians think of South Asians: Indian student went to join the Islamic State, but all he got was this lousy job cleaning toilets.

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Muslim-American personalities and political polarization – part 1

 

I was meaning to write this for some time now but somehow I kept postponing. Razib’s recent post about Mehdi Hasan inspired me to sit down and finish what I was thinking of writing down (https://www.brownpundits.com/2019/07/31/mehdi-hasans-hypocrisies/). This long post is not about Mehdi Hasan par se, or even Ilhan Omar (sheepishly admitting her clickbait value). This is mainly about prominent Muslims in American public life and public perception of Muslims. In the first part of this post I will discuss direct political aspects of Muslim public representation and in the second I will dive into some of the relevant socio-political and moral issues.

Barack Hossain Obama became the first African-American person to be elected President of United States in 2008. He was reelected in 2012. Now, there are lot of grounds for criticism of Obama’s presidency. His leadership in lot of important matters, particularly in foreign affairs , have come under lot of criticism since the end of his presidency. In domestic matters too, his leadership record has lost lot of luster even among his supporters. However, most Americans agree that Barack and Michelle Obama occupied the White House with exemplary dignity and fulfilled the inspirational role that Americans generally expect the presidential office to provide in this very republican (small R) of countries.

The Obamas were very acutely aware of the huge responsibility they had as the first African-American couple in the White House. They knew personal scandals, failure to control and command, would create huge barriers for the next ethnic minority aspiring to be president. That’s why they were dignified and moderate to a fault in their conduct. In that consideration, the Obama presidency was an unqualified success. Today Barack Obama is the most popular living President to Americans with 60% approval rating (https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/explore/public_figure/Barack_Obama) and Michelle Obama is frequently polled as the most admired woman in America. The next presidential candidate of African-American descent who will reach the final stages of election, will not face any questions because of his/her ethnic background except from the incorrigible bigots.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the first Catholic president in 1960. It’s hard to believe now but prejudice against Catholics was very widespread among mainstream Protestants of America, who were the overwhelming majority, until fifty years ago. When populist nativists of the early 20th century railed against domestic and foreign enemies of the people, ‘Jews, Papists and the N-word’ was the standard phrase used. Kennedy was aware of the great headwind facing him in seeking primary nomination and then eventual victory. He famously said before the election, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me,” (https://www.wbur.org/news/2017/05/25/kennedy-catholicism-presidential-campaign). He kept emphasizing this point before the election and was mindful of his role as the first Catholic president after getting elected. Suffice it to say anti-Catholicism ceased being significant in American political sphere after the Kennedy’s presidency.

Ilhan Omar became the first visibly-Muslim, hijab-clad elected representative at federal level in 2018. Understandably, her ascension to national stage created huge amount of interest, savory and unsavory, in all corners of the politically engaged section of the people. I am not going to mention the long list of accomplishments and  controversies Ilhan Omar has been registering in almost daily basis since her election. It will not be an exaggeration to say that she has become one of the most prominent banner issues that are feeding the frenzy of the two battling political armies in national arena. She is inflaming passion even more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who may be representing more the economic division than the cultural division represented by Omar.

I personally think that Ilhan Omar is not a very religious Muslim, the identity aspect of the religion is more important to her. Rather than cosmic theology, her religious identity offers her a worldview theology; providing explanation of power relations among communities, groups and institutions of today’s world. Socio-cultural beliefs define the modern political man and Ilhan Omar represents the current cleavages more starkly than almost any other public figures.

However, Ilhan Omar was not lucky enough to get the elite education and varied experience that both Obama and Kennedy had. Experiences greatly influence worldview. A liberal, integrative, long-term worldview that typify Obama, Kennedy, may be too much to ask from her. I personally think she is not very sophisticated but that is not germane to this discussion. However, among her most prominent public defenders there are many who have benefits of background and who are very articulate. That brings me to public personalities like Mehdi Hasan.

In the last couple of years, several Muslim media figures have been regularly invited into mainstream media like CNN, MSNBC, NYTimes, WaPost whenever some events related to Muslims became prominent in the fast churning stream of news and views. Mehdi Hasan, Wajahat Ali probably commanded bulk of those airing of Muslim perspectives. They are among the staunchest defenders of Ilhan Omar (also of other minority social justice public figures) in media. They are also among the most vehement critics and denouncers of Trump, Trump-supporters, the Republican Party and American foreign policy in general. They had been like this since Trump became the Republican nominee. I remember how I first saw Wajahat Ali in CNN before the 2016 election when he repeatedly and day after day described Trump as ‘impotent’. I cringed every time I heard that, but it could have been just me.

Now, people like Ilhan Omar, Mehdi Hasan and Wajahat Ali have lot of justification to go ballistic against Trump and his supporters. I think that Trump is significantly more racist than an average white American septuagenarian, his policies have targeted Muslims discriminatorily, his utterings have stoked outpourings of anti-Muslim hate, Muslims in America may become further victimized if Trump is reelected. However, opportunities of public criticism should not just opportunities for lashing out. We should evaluate effects of these criticisms, whether they are benefitting the country or even Muslims themselves. There is also an ethical aspect of this public criticism, which I will discuss in part II of this blogpost.

Ever since the 9-11 attacks the partisan divide in attitudes towards Muslims and Islam has gradually diverged in America. There are reasons to believe that the divide has become starker in recent years. A recent survey conducted before the 2018 elections show that 71% percent of self-described Republicans agreed they don’t believe Islam is compatible with American values, compared to an overall 42%. 60% of Republicans agreed with the idea that Muslim Americans weren’t as patriotic as non-Muslim Americans, compared to 38% generally (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/01/new-america-study-report-republicans-muslims-trump-midterms). The wide difference between the Republican numbers and the average for the population means the difference in attitude between the two parties is very wide. Few wedge issues signal the difference between the two parties more clearly now than their respective attitude towards Muslims in America.

Shadi Hamid has said that he is comforted that at least one of the two political tribes of America is acting as a shelter for American Muslims in these troubled times (https://gen.medium.com/how-donald-trump-made-me-a-muslim-7f28abcfd33a).  Muslim Americans reciprocate the Democratic support faithfully. It is estimated that about 90% of them vote for the Democratic party in national elections now, before 9-11 the figure was more even. As much as 30-40 Muslims voted Republican in the 1990s. Other analysts OTOH have expressed reservation about the state of Muslims in the political polarization. Republican disdain for the Democratic Party and suspicion about Muslims in America may be reinforcing each other, worsening the political divide. Moreover, it’s not that Muslims find a very natural place in Democratic Party that is mainly characterized by secularism and progressivism. Shadi Hamid recounts that a religious Muslim told him, “I can sense the disdain from the Democratic Party towards my faith, even as they don a cape against Islamophobia. The underlying view Democrats have [about] anyone seriously religious is that they’re, at best, silly and gullible, and at worst, dangerous.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/for-religious-american-muslims-hostility-from-the-right-and-disdain-from-the-left/2019/07/25/7121e4ce-99e4-11e9-830a-21b9b36b64ad_story.html?utm_term=.f693a53b2fd8 )

For a minority that comprises only 1% of the voters, this kind of polarization should be very alarming. Its true that there are other minorities who also are reliable member of the Democratic clan. Black-Americans generally vote for the Democrats in the 90s while Jewish voters vote in the 70-80% range. However, the socio-political positions of Muslims are not same as Blacks or Jews. Black American voters comprise about 12% of the total voters; they are indispensable core of the Democratic coalition and a un-ignorable part of America for Republics. Moreover, sufficient number of Black Americans take part in Republican politics and intellectual development , making them always cultivable for Republican political leadership.  While Jewish voting population is close to 2% of total, they have very powerful representation within the Republican establishment.

We must consider this context when examining the role of Muslim political and media personalities in the political sphere. It seems to me the most visible Muslim personalities in politics and media, determinedly and gleefully want to exacerbate the partisan divide. Few rational observers would disagree that Donald Trump has been most un-presidential in his public sayings during this political phase of his life. Even labelling those words as juvenile would probably be unjust towards the youth. However, these Muslim public personalities seem to think that going toe to toe and tit for tat with Trump and the Republicans, are the best tactics for Democrats and Muslims. I think, apart for impact on partisanship, there are important ethical aspects in these public exchanges that also have deep and wide consequences, which I intend to discuss in the second part.

These Muslim public personalities want total war against Trump and Republicans where crossing the line or fraternization with the enemy will be unthinkable. A few days ago, a very prominent Muslim religious leader, Hamza Yusuf, got widespread notice among Muslim Americans for joining a multi-religious state department commission on Human Rights (https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/time-muslim-americans-condemn-hamza-yusuf-190715130254222.html). Many people would argue this as a very sensible move considering the plight of Muslims in many countries of the world and the very important role that America has in global concerns about those hapless Muslims. However, for political activist Muslim-Americans, Hamza Yusuf joining a Trump presidency commission was an ultimate betrayal, an act of Vichy French ignobility.

A Blitzkrieg style total war wouldn’t be so reckless if the chances of victory were good. However, chances don’t look good at least in the short term. When Trump became presidents, Democrats and liberals were openly speculating how he would be removed from power within one or two years because of all the scandals and malfeasance in the past and before the election. With low presidential approval ratings acting as comfort blanket, few Democrats were thinking Trump would last the full first-term, let alone getting reelected. Now desperation is in the air. Democrats openly speculate that Trump is heading for a second-term and Democrat’s chances are not so good. Betting markets reflect that increasing despair also. This political atmosphere again demand that Muslim Americans take long hard look how their political and media personalities are representing them in the public sphere. I have not read any reports of how Muslim Americans view role of their representatives in the public arena but from my personal interactions I gather that most of them are very uncomfortable being the spearhead of the resistance. Lot of them say that they physically wince whenever Ilhan Omar is in the news and they wish she would be far less prominent.

However, coalition-building, gradual advances may be things of the past and the spirit of the times may demand reckless combativeness. Just as revolutions in military affairs made Blitzkrieg possible, revolutions in socio-political affairs of current era may be favoring bold tactics. After all, Republicans had their May 1940 moment in November, 2016 in a most improbable victory with a most improbable candidate who refused to occupy the center ground. In these kind of historical victories, being the armored spearhead of deep battles brings everlasting glory. Nevertheless, people should also remember that Blitzkrieg grinded to a halt in 1941 in face of obdurate structural conditions and determined resistance. The spearheads were obliterated.

 

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An apology to Brown Pundits

My quick Election 2019 reaction article “The rock that broke liberalism” in the local English daily Dhaka Tribune seemed to have blown up in social media. As I woke up this morning, the article has nearly 9000 shares and still growing by the hour. Most probably the blow-up happened because some prominent Indian media personality with lot of followers shared the article.

I want to apologize here to BP and also to Omar Ali bhai for not mentioning Brown Pundits or his his name directly. Althought by mentioning the key words in the BP 2016 article and also the thesis question, I made it very easy to find the article with minimum enterprise through Google search (Links at the end). I wrote the article with Bangladeshi audience in mind, I did not expect it to go ‘international’. Thus I unintentionally deprived Brown Pundits from some desereved publicity and Omar Ali bhai from due direct recognition.

The reason why I was shy about mentioning Brown Pundits is that I wanted to keep my column writing profile in Bangladesh and occasional Brown Pundits contributor and commenter seperate. Firstly, I regard BP as a forum where one can freely speak their minds about sensitive issues (very unwise I know. In internet nothing is safely hidden and everything is permanent). Secondly, as a Bangladeshi who wishes to travel to home country regularly, speaking freely about sensitive issue is a very ill-advised for me. Thus my reluctance to let my contributions/ comments in BP be known among home-circles.

This is the dilemmna of the era for us. We want to talk, yes just talk, debate, analyze, about issues that interest us but there are great number of people from all sides for whom talking freely is the biggest existential threat in the world. Of course Razib is a prime example of the reality of the threat. Awarded NYTimes op-ed contributor just for a day because the internet outrage mob mobilized in milliseconds.

https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2019/05/25/the-rock-that-broke-liberalism

Is Islam the rock on which the liberal order broke?

 

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A quick reaction to Indian Election

I wrote the following article for one of the English daily newspapers in Bangladesh. The main idea is directly borrowed from a very good post in Brown Pundits (2016) by always superb contributor Omar Ali bhai.  “Is Islam the rock on which the liberal order broke?”  https://www.brownpundits.com/2016/12/05/islam-is-rock-on-which-liberal-order/

Link to my article here.  Text follows. Just as a reminder, newspapers op-eds are not suitable place for good elaboration and defense of ideas. This is not an analysis or theorizing, just a reaction.

The rock that broke liberalism

https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2019/05/25/the-rock-that-broke-liberalism?fbclid=IwAR3cQVWjO1PYe6muE33Dijy44kR90fJRH1Iv6UBqS9KYqHr9e7AlTHKjvdo

I was watching live streaming of the India Election 2019 results on the NDTV website. Panelist after panelist was commenting on how significant were Balakot strikes in boosting BJP’s re-election prospects, and how ignorant are the liberal elites of India about the appeal of national identity among the masses.

This was NDTV, as a reminder, one of the citadels of India’s liberal elites. BJP’s triumphant re-election under Narandra Modi underscores the wave of right-wing populist nationalism sweeping across democracies of the world — Europe, Australia, Latin America, the US, Asia, maybe soon in Canada also.

With every election, every referendum taking place in established democracies, it is becoming apparent that this wave may not be just yet another right turn in the cycle of politics soon to be corrected by pivot to the left, but a fundamental shift in the people themselves.

A couple of years ago, in a South Asia focused blog I frequent, a much-admired Pakistani-American writer wrote a post posing a great question: “If and when modern humanism and liberalism crashes and burns, will future historians look back and say that Islam was the rock on which it first and decisively broke?”

His point was not that Islam single-handedly threw a powerful challenge to the liberal order, or “end of history” would have been achieved if Islam didn’t throw a wrench into the gears of civilization.

He argued that by obdurate refusal to accept the fundamental assumptions of post-enlightenment worldview, by obstinate resistance to assimilate with the mainstream when in the minority and by dogged persistence in recreating antediluvian theocracies when in majority, Muslims not only undermined the universal validity of the whole liberal project, but also sowed deep doubts about the liberal project among its previously most faithful adherents.

Muslim recalcitrance has hastened delivery of the contradictions that the liberal project was pregnant with from the beginning.

And the contradictions are huge indeed. The liberal order is prone to breakdown because it doesn’t sufficiently account for the fact that human nature itself is broken. People are not just utility or satisfaction maximizing beings. Enjoyment and suffering are intimately co-mingled.

People do not just want to reach heaven together; they want some, preferably who are somewhat different, to be confined to hell as well. Apart from the contradictions, surely undercurrents of technological and economic change, the shift in global power balance, the inevitable decay of political order, played a far more important role in undermining the liberal dominance than obstinate resistance of the followers of Islam?

However, it’s hard to deny any causative role of Islam. The emergence of right-wing, national identity politics was perhaps inevitable in India, but BJP’s astonishing dominance must be partially attributable to Pakistan’s persistent spoiling and nightmare-neighbour role? Right-wing majoritarians everywhere are scapegoating Muslims as the principal other; morality of their methods can be questioned, but the success cannot.

Moreover, I would argue that Islam has not undermined the liberal order by sowing doubts within liberal ranks or exposing its contradiction, it has weakened liberalism by emboldening and consolidating the enemies of liberalism in established democracies which were scattered and disheartened after the bloodbath of WWII and subsequent emergence of liberal world order.

Stubborn defense of group identity by Muslims of the world has made upholding group identity respectable for all groups, majority or minority, powerful or weak. In the age of mass politics, group identities like religion or nation have more elements in common than in difference. If Muslims can be unabashedly assertive about the sanctity of their religious identity and traditions, other groups can be unapologetic about their respective identities too.

Muslims may be a small minority in most of established democracies, but they comprise nearly one-fourth of humanity, and they have a very emphatic presence in Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe. To people of different faiths, Muslims, regardless of their actual numbers as minority, represent the much talked-about demographic threat from the south.

Muslims, whether in majority or minority, are on the other hand deathly afraid of the political, cultural, and economic threats emanating from the leading political and ethnic groups of the world. It’s a mutual cycle of fear spiraling downwards. Muslims cheering the probable demise of a liberal world order is the height of folly.

As the world’s most powerless and disunited major group, they will continue to pay the major price of breakdown in blood and misery. Uighurs of China portend that bleak future.

In established democracies, Muslims are generally politically allied with liberal progressives, and this alliance has opened liberals up to accusation of double standards in protecting a very illiberal minority identity. Abandoning universalism and embracing identitarianism is hollowing out liberalism from within. Either the principles of liberalism apply for all groups or none at all.

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