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Islamophobia in India: Will Modi Government Take A Lesson From Russia and the US

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI— December 2021 has witnessed two crucial developments about curbing the incidents of Islamophobia the world over. The United States and countries of the European Union have been the central hub of anti-Islam or hate against Islam activities for the last few decades, but more prominently in 2020 and 2021. 

Apart from the US and Europe, Islamophobic incidents also saw a sharp rise in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Australia, and Singapore. The manifestations of Islamophobia, according to Islamophobic Monitoring by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) prepared in February 2021, have been policy-related discrimination by governments, verbal and physical assault, hate speeches, spreading of online hate, anti-Hijab incidents, and attacks on mosque.

The two developments are pretty significant because of the attack on Islam and particularly Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whom the Muslims all over the globe hold as Messenger of God and consider him dearer than their own life. It has become a fashion, particularly in the West European countries, to insult the personality of the Prophet by drawing his caricatures and publishing literature insulting to the Prophet of Islam with the active connivance of the respective governments, particularly in France. Western Europe called everyone as terrorists who objected to Islamophobia.

The most essential of the two developments is the declaration by Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 24, a day before the Catholic and Protestant Christians celebrate Christmas, the birthday of Jesus Christ as per their belief. But the Orthodox Christians populated in Eastern European countries, and most of them concentrated in Russia, belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Church denomination, celebrate Christmas Day around January 7. The religious differences between the Catholic and Protestant Churches and Moscow’s Orthodox church are considered behind the political differences between Europe and Russia. And it is this ideological difference that is said to have brought Russia now closer to the political and military grouping that challenges the military, political and economic supremacy of the US and Western Europe, the followers of Catholic and Protestant Christian ideologies.

At a press conference, Putin said that insulting Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a “violation of religious freedom and the violation of the sacred feelings of people who profess Islam.”

He categorically pointed out that insulting Prophet Muhammad does not count as artistic freedom. Stating that artistic freedom had its own limits, the Russian President said we must respect each other’s traditions. What Putin said is a message that must be spread all over the non-Muslim world to counter Islamophobia.

Stating that such acts give rise to an extremist response from the groups whose feelings are hurt, the Russian President cited the example of the attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. The magazine had published highly offensive cartoons of the Prophet in 2015. 

Shockingly, French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack terrorism while vigorously defending offensive cartoons’ publication. Macron’s Islamophobic stand on the issue resulted in reactions in several countries, notably Turkey, Pakistan, and Malaysia. The voice against the rise in incidents of Islamophobia in the US and Europe was also raised by some of the heads of the Muslim countries in the United Nations. Turkish President Tayyib Recip Erdogan’s firm stand on the issue worsened its political and diplomatic relations with France. Islamophobia saw a steep rise in the wake of 9/11. A book titled “The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism” by renowned journalist Trevor Aaronson revealed that FBI agents, after the 9/11 attacks, were themselves involved in terror activities to defame Muslims and Islam that gave a boost to Islamophobia in the US and the Western world. This helped the FBI get massive funding for itself and made the Western world launch a “war on terror.”

American professors John L. Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, in their book “Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century” also say that the 9/11 attacks exacerbated the growth of Islamophobia. In an essay, Esposito says that “Islam’s portrayal as a triple threat (political, civilizational, and demographic) has been magnified by a number of journalists and scholars who trivialize the complexity of political, social, and religious dynamics in the Muslim world” and this has resulted in a tremendous rise in islamophobia across the globe.

Several Muslim leaders drew the attention of the UN Secretary-General towards it and suggested he take urgent and effective measures to end Islamophobia. Pakistani president Imran Khan asked the governments in Western Europe to treat people who insult the Prophet Muhammad the same as those who deny the Holocaust.

Several European countries, including France and Germany, treat denial of the holocaust as illegal, and offenders are jailed. Imran Khan demanded similar punishments to those who spread hate against Muslims by abusing and insulting the Prophet.

Sharp Rise in Islamophobia in India since 2014

India also witnessed a sharp rise in Islamophobia, parallel to that in the Christian world. However, it became more prominent with the change of government in May 2014. Several fringe elements from the Hindu community, some claiming themselves as religious leaders, openly used abusive words for the Prophet. Some of them insulted the Prophet in press conferences, with the government not effectively curbing it. The latest incident took place at the pilgrim town of Haridwar, where many religious leaders appealed to the Hindu community to acquire firearms for the mass massacre of Muslims to make India “Muslim-mukt”, or free of Muslims. Shockingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is wont to make comments and circulate tweets on minor issues, has maintained silence. His Home Minister Amit Shah, responsible for internal security, has also not spoken. But the good thing is that the Muslims have not reacted to it because what the extremists have said is an open and direct challenge to the state’s authority.

The US Passes Bill Against Islamophobia

The second vital development to counter Islamophobia is a Bill passed by the US House of Representatives or Congress (lower house like Lok Sabha in India) on December 14 to counter Islamophobia. This is a silver lining in a dark period when Islamophobia has become a global phenomenon.

The Bill was passed after a Republican Congresswoman-Lauren Boebert-passed an Islamophobic comment against her Democratic colleague Ilham Omar who is a Muslim. Boebert had called Omar a member of a “jihad squad.” The comments led to strong criticism of Boebert by Democrats and Republicans. A demand was also made to strip Boebert of all her assignments in the House of Representatives. 

Congress assigned the job of drafting the Bill to Omar herself. The Bill, according to reports, would allow the appointment of a special envoy to monitor and combat Islamophobia. The envoy’s report will include state-sponsored anti-Muslim incidents in the government’s annual human rights report. 

Will Indian Government take a lesson from the US?

Will the Government of India take a lesson from the US? Gujarat witnessed India’s worst anti-Muslim riots in February-March 2002 when PM Modi was chief minister. It is a coincidence that post-Independence, the national capital witnessed the worst anti-Muslim violence in February 2020 under Modi’s prime ministership. Can we qualify ourselves to become a “Vishwa Guru”(world leader) by choosing to remain silent when minorities in the country are under severe assault? 

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