Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Freedom Minorities

India: Communalism or Islamophobia?

Shaheen Kattiparambil 23 May 2019



In his attempts at explaining Islamophobia as a phenomenon unique to the west, Prof Guduvarthy(‘There is Communalism – Not Islamophobia in India, The Wire, 01/05/19) commits a number of erroneous assumptions; namely limiting anti-Muslim violence in India to the domain of the Hindutva forces thereby discounting the structural racism and exclusion of Indian Muslims as evident from the Sachar Committee report and the securitization of Muslims apparent in the various anti-terror legislations proposed and supported across the political spectrum.

Guduvarthy’s neglect of the scholarship on Islamophobia which has been established for over 20 years is evident in some rather elementary misconceptions that liter his article.  For example, his exposition of Islamophobia as a word rather than as a concept by hinging his argument on the literal meaning of the words Muslim and phobia. The meanings of terms cannot be pinned down to etymology, but sense is made from their usage. For example, in policy debates, terms like xenophobia and homophobia are commonly used without being considered to be descriptions of psychological conditions[1] nor do these terms account solely for individual prejudices and biases but are rather deployed in relation to structures and systems of governance to gain an analytical and critical understanding.

This obliviousness to all the definitions that have been made in understanding Islamophobia as a concept by Muslim thinkers, academics, community leaders and organisations in the west is quite unfortunate and the subsequent denial of its use in India is in fact a negation of Muslim civil rights. Islamophobia is global rather Western phenomenon: it can occur where Muslims are considered to be recent immigrants (Western Europe), where Muslims have been present long before countries were formed (India, China, Russia, Thailand), it can occur in societies where there are virtually no Muslims and it can also happen in countries where Muslims are majorities not despised minorities (Algeria). There is nothing about the history of India that precludes it from Islamophobia. Moreover, if concepts ranging from democracy and secularism to capitalism and fascism could be transferred across social/political/cultural boundaries, why the exceptionalism to Islamophobia emphasizing its alleged western origins.

By locating class as the raison d’etre for prejudice and bias against Muslims, Prof Guduvarthy’s analysis indicates the dismissal of racism as an analytical tool to understand Indian Muslims in the Indian social sciences. The common argument raised against defining Islamophobia as racism is that Islamophobia cannot be considered as racism as Muslims do not constitute a race. Without falling repeatedly into the pitfalls of an etymological understanding, races are not physiological nor is it scientific per se and Muslims are definitely not a race, but they are treated as if they are a race. Just as a Muslim name or appearance guarantees a random security search at a Western airport, similarly manifestations of Muslimness ensures scrutiny by the Indian security apparatus as well. This identification of Muslimness as a threat is not borne out of prejudice or hate in the psyche of security officials be it in the west or in India, but rather it is rendered normal through institutional and systemic currents.
The other argument that anti-Muslim violence in the west is sporadic and isolated unlike in India where it is organized and well planned suffers from a myopic view of situating violence in the act per se without factoring in the prevalent Islamophobia discourse which is quite organized and fanned by a network of politicians backed by mainstream media, which trade on many tropes of the global Islamophobia industry. It would be shortsighted to assume that tragedies ranging from the Bosnian genocide (1995) to the Christchurch mosque shootings were random acts totally divorced from historical narratives and the rise of right-wing political movements running on an anti-Muslim platform. In violence and discrimination against Jews and African-Americans, the articulation of agency has played a dominant role in their resistance of which defining anti-Semitism and racism on their own terms was an integral part of that resistance.

This failure to grant agency to Muslims for the same can be fathomed from Indira Jaising’s writ petition to the Supreme Court urging the Indian government to legislate anti-lynching laws. Jaisingargued her case by drawing parallels between the lynchings of African-Americans in the late 19th century during the advent of the Jim Crow laws, but despite the use of the history and plight of African-Americans as a marker to measure the situation for Indian Muslims, the analytical comparison halts at victimization figures and statistics. The trajectories of the African-American Civil Rights Movement or the Black Power Movement would never be applied as a paradigm for analyzing or proposing a way forward for the Indian Muslim community as it would deem to disrupt the secular common sense by focusing on ‘the Muslim’ as an identity and any such assertions would be deemed ‘communal’ and hence an Indian Muslim version of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. for that matter would simply not happen.

Islamophobia is a form of racialized governmentality[2]. It needs to be named and its continual circulation in public debate testifies to the ways in which it hints at something that needs to be addressed and this need of Muslims especially in India cannot be done away with.Islamophobia is in India, a refusal to accept this, or dismiss it as communalism is not only epistemologically wrong but ethnically perverse. Denying Islamophobia is a denial of justice for Muslims in India.

[1]https://www.criticalmuslimstudies.co.uk/defining-islamophobia/
[2] https://www.criticalmuslimstudies.co.uk/reports_of_islamophobia_1997_and_2017/

Shaheen Kattiparambil is a Phd researcher at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.

Courtesy: Counter Current

India: Communalism or Islamophobia?




In his attempts at explaining Islamophobia as a phenomenon unique to the west, Prof Guduvarthy(‘There is Communalism – Not Islamophobia in India, The Wire, 01/05/19) commits a number of erroneous assumptions; namely limiting anti-Muslim violence in India to the domain of the Hindutva forces thereby discounting the structural racism and exclusion of Indian Muslims as evident from the Sachar Committee report and the securitization of Muslims apparent in the various anti-terror legislations proposed and supported across the political spectrum.

Guduvarthy’s neglect of the scholarship on Islamophobia which has been established for over 20 years is evident in some rather elementary misconceptions that liter his article.  For example, his exposition of Islamophobia as a word rather than as a concept by hinging his argument on the literal meaning of the words Muslim and phobia. The meanings of terms cannot be pinned down to etymology, but sense is made from their usage. For example, in policy debates, terms like xenophobia and homophobia are commonly used without being considered to be descriptions of psychological conditions[1] nor do these terms account solely for individual prejudices and biases but are rather deployed in relation to structures and systems of governance to gain an analytical and critical understanding.

This obliviousness to all the definitions that have been made in understanding Islamophobia as a concept by Muslim thinkers, academics, community leaders and organisations in the west is quite unfortunate and the subsequent denial of its use in India is in fact a negation of Muslim civil rights. Islamophobia is global rather Western phenomenon: it can occur where Muslims are considered to be recent immigrants (Western Europe), where Muslims have been present long before countries were formed (India, China, Russia, Thailand), it can occur in societies where there are virtually no Muslims and it can also happen in countries where Muslims are majorities not despised minorities (Algeria). There is nothing about the history of India that precludes it from Islamophobia. Moreover, if concepts ranging from democracy and secularism to capitalism and fascism could be transferred across social/political/cultural boundaries, why the exceptionalism to Islamophobia emphasizing its alleged western origins.

By locating class as the raison d’etre for prejudice and bias against Muslims, Prof Guduvarthy’s analysis indicates the dismissal of racism as an analytical tool to understand Indian Muslims in the Indian social sciences. The common argument raised against defining Islamophobia as racism is that Islamophobia cannot be considered as racism as Muslims do not constitute a race. Without falling repeatedly into the pitfalls of an etymological understanding, races are not physiological nor is it scientific per se and Muslims are definitely not a race, but they are treated as if they are a race. Just as a Muslim name or appearance guarantees a random security search at a Western airport, similarly manifestations of Muslimness ensures scrutiny by the Indian security apparatus as well. This identification of Muslimness as a threat is not borne out of prejudice or hate in the psyche of security officials be it in the west or in India, but rather it is rendered normal through institutional and systemic currents.
The other argument that anti-Muslim violence in the west is sporadic and isolated unlike in India where it is organized and well planned suffers from a myopic view of situating violence in the act per se without factoring in the prevalent Islamophobia discourse which is quite organized and fanned by a network of politicians backed by mainstream media, which trade on many tropes of the global Islamophobia industry. It would be shortsighted to assume that tragedies ranging from the Bosnian genocide (1995) to the Christchurch mosque shootings were random acts totally divorced from historical narratives and the rise of right-wing political movements running on an anti-Muslim platform. In violence and discrimination against Jews and African-Americans, the articulation of agency has played a dominant role in their resistance of which defining anti-Semitism and racism on their own terms was an integral part of that resistance.

This failure to grant agency to Muslims for the same can be fathomed from Indira Jaising’s writ petition to the Supreme Court urging the Indian government to legislate anti-lynching laws. Jaisingargued her case by drawing parallels between the lynchings of African-Americans in the late 19th century during the advent of the Jim Crow laws, but despite the use of the history and plight of African-Americans as a marker to measure the situation for Indian Muslims, the analytical comparison halts at victimization figures and statistics. The trajectories of the African-American Civil Rights Movement or the Black Power Movement would never be applied as a paradigm for analyzing or proposing a way forward for the Indian Muslim community as it would deem to disrupt the secular common sense by focusing on ‘the Muslim’ as an identity and any such assertions would be deemed ‘communal’ and hence an Indian Muslim version of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. for that matter would simply not happen.

Islamophobia is a form of racialized governmentality[2]. It needs to be named and its continual circulation in public debate testifies to the ways in which it hints at something that needs to be addressed and this need of Muslims especially in India cannot be done away with.Islamophobia is in India, a refusal to accept this, or dismiss it as communalism is not only epistemologically wrong but ethnically perverse. Denying Islamophobia is a denial of justice for Muslims in India.

[1]https://www.criticalmuslimstudies.co.uk/defining-islamophobia/
[2] https://www.criticalmuslimstudies.co.uk/reports_of_islamophobia_1997_and_2017/

Shaheen Kattiparambil is a Phd researcher at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.

Courtesy: Counter Current

Related Articles

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Videos

Communalism

Bastar violence: Anti-Christian Campaign causes breach in Adivasi unity

Hundreds of Adivasi church-goers across villages in Narayanpur and Bastar, Chhattisgarh have been experiencing boycott, intimidation and violence since December last year, forcing them to leave their homes and live in refugee camps. Reportedly, Adivasi districts across Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh is seeing a rise Hindutva mobilisation against Christians .

Communalism

Bastar violence: Anti-Christian Campaign causes breach in Adivasi unity

Hundreds of Adivasi church-goers across villages in Narayanpur and Bastar, Chhattisgarh have been experiencing boycott, intimidation and violence since December last year, forcing them to leave their homes and live in refugee camps. Reportedly, Adivasi districts across Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh is seeing a rise Hindutva mobilisation against Christians .

IN FACT

Analysis

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Archives