Islamic Outrage Against India Won’t Protect Its Muslims

Yout’s not every day that the Taliban, Iran or Saudi Arabia get to lecture others on religious tolerance—but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has enabled the impossible and succeeded in uniting the entire Muslim world in condemnation of his country. The geopolitical enemies Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are now united in one cause.

Facing the chorus of condemnation from the Muslim world—of a kind not seen since the controversies over the Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad—the Indian government has been fighting a raging diplomatic fire this week. One of the main causes of outrage was a TV debate in November, where a BJP spokesperson spoke. Nupur SharmaAisha’s age was different from Prophet Muhammad’s. This led to him implying that Prophet Muhammad is a pedophile. In a deleted tweet, Naveen Jindal (another party spokesperson) stated the same thing a few days later.

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About a week later on June 5, Qatar, Iran, Kuwait and Oman summoned Indian ambassadors to file protests and demand an apology. This list now includes 15 other countries: Afghanistan, Indonesia Malaysian, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Oman as well as Pakistan, Bahrain. Libya, Turkey, Bahrain, Libya, Bahrain, Libya, Oman, Oman, Oman, Oman, Jordan, Maldives. In separate protests, the six West Asian blocs, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 members, and Gulf Cooperation Council have filed.

Embattled Indian embassies have responded—unconvincingly—that the comments “did not reflect the views of the government” and that the offensive remarks by spokespersons of the country’s governing party were in fact views of “fringe elements.” Both Sharma and Jindal have been removed from their official roles, with Sharma suspended and Jindal expelled from the party.

In a press statement, the party affirmed that it “respects all religions” and that the BJP is “strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion.”

It is impossible to be more truthful.

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The BJP is a party with open grievances against India’s inclusive democracy and has a stated goal of recasting the country as a Hindu state. Its rise has been powered by a strategy of mobilizing Hindu voters using the country’s minorities as the bogeyman. India’s 200 million Muslims are the main targets of its supremacist politics. The government uses socially sensitive issues to divide voters. Top leadership dehumanizes, demonizes, and deploys Islamophobic messaging. They also encourage mob violence against Muslims.

In an increasing number of cases, the state apparatus is geared towards tormenting or brutalizing Muslims. A government college expelled 24 Muslim students from class for wearing hijab. Five police officers were found guilty of torturing to death a Muslim 22-year old man the day before. “They shoved a stick inside my son’s rectum and gave him repeated electric shock,” alleged his mother.

“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year” in India, observes the U.S. State Department in its latest annual International Religious FreedomSend a report to Congress. Releasing the report last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised concerns about “rising attacks on people and places of worship.”

Modi’s government brazened out the foreign criticism, as it usually does. It said that Blinken’s comments were “ill-informed” and in turn pointed to “issues of concern” in the U.S., including “racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at his ceremonial reception in New Delhi on February 20, 2019.

Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Relationships between India and Muslim Countries

With Modi’s back-to-back election victories, the party has doubled down on its majoritarian project. Open calls for genocide, anti-Muslim Pop and dog-whistling from television anchors to BJP leaders and name-calling by BJP officials are all examples of hate speech. Sharma and Jindal rose to prominence in the party by incentivizing hate, and people who have the ability of spreading it. It takes considerable talent to be called “fanatics” by Afghanistan’s Taliban government.

High on propaganda about Modi’s supposed invincibility, and India’s rise to ever greater heights under his steely guidance, his supporters cannot fathom why the mighty Modi has to sacrifice his lieutenants to please a bunch of Muslim countries. Tweets demanding a war on QatarIts economic boycott has gone viral. Hashtags like #ShameOnBJP have been trending in recent days, with the party’s own supporters breathing fire at what they see as Modi’s cowardice.

The expectations of Modi’s admirers are divorced from India’s economic and strategic compulsions. The six Persian Gulf countries, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, alone account for 15% of India’s global trade, supply a third of its fuel needs, and employ 9 million Indians, whose wires home account for 65% of India’s annual remittances of more than $80 billion.

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But Muslim countries also value India for its growing economic might, and wouldn’t want to jeopardize relations. Modi’s increasing focus on Muslims in India over the past eight years hasn’t caused any concern among Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia and UAE, for example, actively court Modi. They also strengthen their ties to Delhi. This time around, however, it is possible that these countries were forced to do so to avoid trouble from religious conservatives back home.

Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque called the BJP spokesperson’s remarks “real terrorism” capable of plunging the whole world into “deadly wars.” The powerful Grand Mufti of Oman termed the BJP’s “obscene rudeness” toward Islam a form of “war” and launched a boycott of Indian goods. Indian products were removed from many Persian Gulf countries’ stores. In the Maldives, the controversy has revived an old political campaign against India, with protesters plastering public trash cans with Modi’s picture with boot stamps on them. Governments are anxious that such anger does not escalate into the kind of destabilizing unrest seen across the Muslim world a decade ago, when an Islamophobic film, “Innocence of Muslims”, made similarly vulgar claims about Muhammad.

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Indian Muslims hope that negative global opinion will finally provide some relief from Hindu extremist politics’ unending misery. Hounded by the ruling party and abandoned by the so-called secular parties—none of which reacted to the BJP spokespersons’ ugly remarks on Muhammad till Muslim nations raised the issue a week later—it’s reasonable for the beleaguered Muslim community to draw succor from the global outrage. It is, however, temporary.

Once the dust has settled, commerce with India will prevail over Indian Muslims’ dangers. Modi’s government is likely to go back to the old ways and throw a few Muslims behind bars to create an imagined conspiracy against India to make this tumultuous story worse. Muslims will once again be retaliated against by the state machinery and vigilantes that were held back. Modi will hug Muslim monarchs again on foreign trips.

It will continue to be as normal as before, as long as no one mentions the Prophet.

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