The last few weeks saw a major controversy erupt at Rutgers University that has made the reality of Hindutva fascism rapidly emerging as a major source of anti-Muslim bidotry in the West more apparent than ever. At issue is a campaign of vilification and intimidation launched against Dr. Audrey Truschke, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers. One of the few living historians who reads pre-modern Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi, Prof. Truschke is also a leading authority on South Asian cultural and intellectual history.
The campaign, ostensibly launched by a Hindu student body at Rutgers to complain about Truschke’s “Hinduphobia”, has the full backing of Hindu nationalist organizations who operate essentially as front organizations of Hindutva in the US. While the case against Truschke is sought to be made on the basis of this perceived “Hinduphobia,” the real reason for demonizing Dr. Truschke goes much deeper and has to do with her commitment to pursue scholarship without fear or favor.
The real reason for their ire?
While Dr. Truschke is clear that her ’s research has no political goals, it is widely perceived as remarkably effective in debunking the myths perpetuated by the grand revisionist project of India’s history, championed by votaries of Hindutva. This revisionism, parts of which were sought to be injected into the California school curriculum, perpetuates notions of Islam as a warmongering religion and India’s history as one of Hindu persecution and “genocide” under Muslim tyranny.
Particularly upsetting to the Hindu supremacist mindset is Dr. Truschke’s scholarship on Aurangzeb, that has authoritatively demonstrated the idea of the Mughal emperor as a mass murderer of Hindus is a fallacy. While Dr. Truschke’s book on Aurangzeb does not flinch from highlighting his failings, her refusal to straitjacket him as a religious tyrant has earned her the opprobrium of Hindutva fanatics, both in India and the US. As if this was not enough, Dr. Truschke stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest last year, when she publicly stated that Hindutva, the political ideology, has roots in Nazism and Fascism. There were complaints to Rutgers and an online petition urging the government of India to revoke her Indian visa.
This time however, the trolling and vilification has become more desperate, with threats made against Dr. Truschke and her family, and rapidly evolving into a vile campaign against Islam and Muslims that has alarmed Muslim students who are now concerned about their own safety on campus.
Many of the accounts tweeting hate against Rutgers and Dr. Truschke are actually fake accounts created solely for the purpose of perpetuating this bigotry. However, several Indian Americans and their fellow Islamophobes in the US have taken this as an opportunity to unload their vitriol against Islam and Muslims. Indeed, India’s Islamophobic Hindu supremacist movement has now managed to rope in American right-wing racists such as Mike Cernovich and Robert Spencer. This is not surprising given the goals of Hindutva in India are akin to those of white supremacists in the West. Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011, had hailed India’s Hindutva movement as a key ally in his manifesto.
To their credit, Rutgers has come out in full support of Dr. Truschke and her freedom to pursue scholarship, while and calling for an end to the vile messages and threats directed at her. Separately, a letter signed by Rutgers faculty as well as academics from across the US categorically stated, that “a critical examination of Hindutva, a political ideology, is not the same thing as Hinduphobia” and defended Prof. Truschke’s critique of the former in how it threatened the safety and security of minorities in India. In a remarkable build-up of further support for Dr. Truschke, over two dozen US and international civil rights organizations expressed solidarity with her, highlighting the fact that Dr. Truschke’s integrity scholarship and erudition was beyond any question and that the real reason for this vile campaign of harassment was her advocacy against Hindutva.
So far Rutgers has withstood pressure to curtail Dr. Truschke’s work in any way, based on the wild allegations of Hinduphobia made against her. While it is critical for students of all faith communities to be able to profess and practice their faith without any fear or intimidation, allegations that Dr. Truschke teaches discrimination against Hindus are baseless and an affront to all who know her both in her professional capacity and as a person. Moreover, such allegations fly in the face of Dr. Truschke’s very public advocacy for peace and pluralism.
There is global concern over the massive human rights abuses and violations of religious freedom in India. Hindutva, a supremacist ideology that is distinct from the religion of Hinduism, has been the driving force behind violent attacks on religious minorities particularly Muslims. In recent weeks Freedom House, an influential research institute, downgraded India’s status as a democracy from “Free” to “Partly Free.” Gregory Stanton, the President of Genocide Watch, stated at a Congressional briefing last year that Muslims in Kashmir and Assam were just one step away from extermination. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom have all issued multiple reports warning about the rapid escalation of human rights abuses and violations of religious freedom in India.
Hindutva seeks to subvert India’s polity from its secular democratic moorings, into a Hindu majoritarian state where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Dalits and other minorities are relegated to the status of second-class citizens. It is the same ideology that spurred the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Hindutva’s existential links to Nazism and Fascism are well-known, and openly acknowledged by its ideologues in their writings. Golwalkar, a founder of Hindutva’s paramilitary organization RSS, infamously expressed his admiration for Nazi Germany in the following words: “Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
It is clear that Dr. Truschke’s scholarship is a serious impediment to the Hindutva revisionist project, and casting aspersions on her intellectual integrity is critical to the larger Hindutva supremacist movement. Indeed, those campaigning against Dr. Truschke appear to have taken their cues from proponents of Hindutva in India where intellectuals and independent journalists are being silenced, in some cases through physical violence, including murder. Needless to say Islamophobia and Muslim baiting are an integral part of this violent campaign, both in India and the US. Prof. Truschke is in the company of other renowned historians of India such as Dr. Romila Thapar and Prof. Irfan Habib both based in India, as well as journalists, activists and whistleblowers, who are all bearing the brunt of the Hindutva ire against their truth-telling. Not surprisingly, India ranks 142nd on the global press freedom index.
The fact that Prof. Truschke’s rigorous research is inconvenient to the Hindu nationalist cause is precisely the reason why it is important for Rutgers and the academic community to defend her work and her right to take it to the masses in the US and beyond. The pernicious impact of Hindutva in the US goes beyond serving as apologists for persecution of minorities in India. Hindutva is an active player within the Islamophobia ecosystem in the US, and American Muslims can ignore this reality only at their own peril.
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You, dear brothers and sisters, who sponsor every episode of this podcast, are my special guests today. As we cross our 18,700th download since launch, may Allah grant you the blessings of ALL the good that comes from it, InshaAllah.
You, my friend, are located in the US, the UK, Canada, India, Pakistan, and Australia. You’re listening from Nigeria, the UAE, Germany and South Africa. Without your sadaqa jaariya, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do, learn what we learn, and share what we share in the name of Allah, so thank you. JazakAllahuKheiran.
So today, my special guest, we’d like you to kick back and enjoy some of the most interesting, possibly mind-blowing, and deep insights that our other guests have had from some of the downloaded episodes to date, as well as a few gems you might have missed.
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Even though spiritual purification is important seclusion and neglect of worldly responsibilities are not condoned by Islam.
Islam is a way of life that teaches Muslims to focus on bettering themselves by following the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, and the teachings of the final Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Prophet Muhammad once said, “Truly I was sent as a Prophet for the purpose of perfecting human character.” (Ahmad) This prophetic tradition defines a very important aspect of Islam: self-improvement through spiritual and physical purity.
An old Arab proverb aptly states: “The one who lacks something cannot give it to others.” This saying establishes the fact that in order for one to spread “good” in terms of his or her character, manners, words or actions, he or she must first strive to possess it. One should not neglect to improve one’s own faults even as they attempt to assist others.
Of course, this does not mean that one has to be perfect in order to be of benefit to others; for instance, some people think that they cannot spread knowledge because they are not scholars. Instead, this adage goes hand in hand with the English saying, “Practice before you preach.” As Prophet Muhammad said, “Who are the learned? Those who practice what they know.”
In Islam, it is of utmost importance for Muslims to seek self-improvement in regards to every aspect of their lives. As a result, one’s good character will impact others and therefore improve society as a whole. This dynamic change all begins at the individual level. In this regard, God says:
Truly God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. (Ar-Ra`d 13:11)
Before an individual consciously embarks on this journey, he or she must define and cleanse their intention. A pivotal teaching of Islam is derived from the prophetic statement, “All actions are judged by their intentions, and each person will be rewarded according to his or her intention.”
Hence, a desire to genuinely improve oneself, please God, and provide benefit is paramount. On the other hand, having impure intentions such as seeking the admiration of other people or showing off is counterproductive. For these reasons, purifying one’s intentions is critical to the success of one’s pursuit of self-development.
Cleansing of the heart is also a large component of self-improvement because it directly impacts one’s actions. God says in the Qur’an:
God did confer a great favor on the believers when He sent among them an apostle from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the signs of God, sanctifying them, and instructing them in scripture and wisdom, while, before that, they had been in manifest error. (Aal `Imran 3:164)
This verse demonstrates the role of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the importance of self-improvement in Islam. Prophet Muhammad taught the pagan Arabs of Makkah to believe in the One God and to live righteously; he implored them to renounce idolatry and their impulsive lifestyles. Over the course of 23 years, his message uplifted the status of women, brought God-consciousness among people, and safeguarded the poor and needy.
In doing so, not only did he help individuals to attain self-improvement, he rehabilitated an entire society: racial discrimination was practically eliminated, tribal warfare was replaced with united ties of brotherhood, usury and alcohol were completely forbidden.
Self-development begins at the individual level and requires a vast amount of discipline. Along with striving to become more physically pure by maintaining a healthy and clean body, it is equally important for an individual to maintain his or her spiritual health through righteous actions. Purification of the soul allow an individual to become closer to God and exhibit more positive behavior which will translate into his or her deeds.
In order to purify and enhance oneself, Islam outlines several pragmatic steps:
Core worship, such as prayer, fasting, supplication, etc. Performing these allows Muslims to draw closer to God by increasing the individual’s awareness of God throughout the day.
This will, in turn, decrease his or her likelihood to commit acts that would displease God, enabling people to raise their moral and ethical standards.
Smiling, being kind, and staying positive when interacting with others. This leads to mercifulness and forgiveness, which are attributes which God loves in human beings.
Prophetic traditions mention that smiling is an act of charity and removing obstacles from the road is a sign of faith; others encourage people to spread good news and exchange gifts as a way of increasing love between people.
Having self-discipline and managing one’s time so that the person is more productive throughout the day:
By (the token of) time (through the ages), verily man is in loss, except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy. (Al-`Asr 103:1-3)
Lending a helping hand to those in need. Once Prophet Muhammad was asked: “What actions are most excellent?” He answered: “To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured.”
Striving to increase one’s knowledge whether it be religious or academic. Working towards becoming an informed and proactive citizen.
According to Prophet Muhammad, “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah)
Maintaining good company and friends that will influence the individual in a positive manner.
Prophet Muhammad has stated, “It is better to sit alone than in company with the bad; and it is better still to sit with the good than alone. It is better to speak to a seeker of knowledge than to remain silent; but silence is better than idle words.”
Performing sincere repentance for one’s sins and seeking the mercy and forgiveness of God. Feeling guilty for transgressions that one has made, and then making an active effort to learn from one’s mistakes and never repeat them again:
Your Lord has inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily, if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (Al-An`am 6:54)
As you may have noticed, many of these steps involve interacting with others. Even though spiritual purification is important, it is critical to note that seclusion and neglect of worldly responsibilities are not condoned by Islam.
Prolonged seclusion for the purpose of spiritual purification is in fact inconsistent with Islamic teachings. A large component of self enhancement involves treating others with compassion and respect, and helping the less fortunate. This is not possible if one leads the life of a recluse.
One of the prophetic traditions encourages people to look at those less privileged when making worldly comparisons with others: “When you see a person who has been given more than you in money and beauty, look to those who have been given less.”
This advice is very important because it enables us to be grateful for the blessings we have and be less greedy or miserly. Such an attitude allows one to remain focused on the quest of attaining self-improvement and eternal success in the hereafter rather than the transient materials of this temporary life.
The Virtues of Selfishness!
Self-improvement plays a significant role in the lives of Muslims also due to another key Islamic concept: that every individual will be held accountable for only him/her self in the hereafter. On the Day of Judgment, God will question each soul on its actions, and how it spent time on earth. On that day, each person will solely be concerned about the magnitude of his or her deeds.
The importance of self-development cannot be overemphasized in Islam although it may seem like a selfish endeavor on the surface. However, such “selfishness” may actually be considered a virtue rather than a vice. When one is constantly struggling for self-improvement, he or she becomes more willing to help others and disperse the good that he or she has gained to society at large.
As a result, one person’s efforts contribute towards collective development. Such commitment is not possible in the individual who is self-absorbed for the sake of self-gratification. Therefore, “selfishness” for the purpose of self-improvement and the greater good is the first step to selflessness.
Indeed, the essence of all good deeds stems from a pure and tranquil soul.
The following is an excerpt from UZ Short Story Collection by Umm Zakiyyah:
To anyone else, today was an ordinary day, even if a bit dreary. The ground was wet from a fresh rain. The brown-green blades of grass glistened despite their imminent death. Dirt blotched the untended grass in patches, making Mohsina think of the back of her father’s head. His ever-growing bald spot, the color of aged chocolate like the rest of him, often made Mohsina think of the shameful bareness she felt whenever she walked into her social-psychology class. The professor grunted every time. And it stung every time. Though she was never quite sure if the sound of unambiguous disapproval was because she was suddenly present or because he was suddenly upset at the moment she was present. But it made her tug uncomfortably at her plain, black shoulder abaya and run a hand self-consciously over the cloth of her off-white hijab, like her father would run his calloused fingers over that bald spot whenever he was nervous or painfully self-aware all of a sudden.
“Bah,” Dr. Sherman would say in terse annoyance as he flapped his hand dismissively at Mohsina’s insistent, even if meek, protests against his Islamophobic tirades.
“It’s not because of Islam that so many Muslim women suffer,” she would blurt out before he gave her permission to speak. She feared if she waited for him to notice her reluctantly raised hand and point to her, she wouldn’t be able to say anything in response, not only because the gray-haired professor was bigoted and closed-minded, but also because Mohsina herself might lose the nerve. “Islam doesn’t allow men to enslave girls and sell them as virtual sex slaves into unwanted marriages.”
“You are naïve,” Dr. Sherman would say in a tone so subdued that Mohsina would squirm and look away from him. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m Muslim,” she would say, her voice shaking as she tried to speak more loudly, more confidently. “I should know.”
“Yes, you should,” he would say. “But you don’t.” Then he would look at her, eyes squinted from beneath the bushy gray-brown of his eyebrows. “Where is your family from again?”
Mohsina would swallow hard and avert her gaze. She hated this question. It was almost rhetorical. It was a cruel, even if subtle, announcement to all her white and brown-skinned “real” American classmates that she was inauthentic, an imposter. She was born in America and held a blue passport just like they did.
Why should she be put on the spot? “Where is your family from?” she wanted to ask the pale-skinned, blue-eyed professor with dirty blond hair and an overflowing beard; the almond-skinned, dark brown-eyed girl with braids plaited to her scalp and who always kept an iPod hidden on her lap; the tanned, used-to-be-white-skinned redhead who annoyingly picked at the blackheads on her chin—and the rest of the arrogant “Americans” who studied in furtive glances Mohsina’s creamy-coffee complexion and ebony eyes, and could only guess at the length and texture of Mohsina’s dark black hair tucked and hidden beneath the ubiquitous hijab.
No, Mohsina’s parents had not been Americans when their international flight landed in New York twenty years ago. They had been armed only with student visas and pathetic hopes and dreams for something better than “back home” (though that “something better” remained an elusive, if not mysterious, concept to their daughter even nineteen years after her birth only miles from the Statue of Liberty, a birth that allegedly represented the bulk of that “something better”).
Mohsina’s parents had exchanged the student visas for work visas and the work visas for green cards and the green cards for the coveted blue passports. But their only mistake, in Mohsina’s view, was exchanging their student-work-green idealism for the bitter reality they inadvertently signed their children up for even before they were born.
But, yes, Mohsina’s parents were American, just like the families of these snobby students, whose parents’ parents’ great grandparents likely arrived in a less flattering mode of transport than Mohsina’s, though with painstakingly similarly stupid ideas and tragic realities, the former or latter description most fitting depending on whether they arrived in the upper or lower deck.
“Why does it matter? Where we’re from?” Mohsina would manage to say in response to the professor’s never-ending question that challenged the validity of her nationality, the validity of her existence. And she knew her voice was shaking, but her hand was also trembling, and she didn’t like that. She hated that, actually. She hated that she let these self-righteous people get to her. “It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.”
“It should matter, and it does matter,” Dr. Sherman would say before going on with his tirade as if Mohsina hadn’t interrupted him at all, as if Mohsina wasn’t sitting there at all, as if Mohsina didn’t exist at all.
The dull rubber heal of Mohsina’s shoe sank low into a patch of mud she didn’t see after she had stepped over another. She pulled her foot up carefully and frowned only briefly as she glanced down to see that the dark brown muck had risen over the sides of her slip-on shoe and soiled a thick white sock. At least it’s only one foot ruined, she thought to herself as she pulled at her heavy book bag and readjusted it on her shoulder.
A cold wetness plopped on the tip of her nose, and Mohsina instinctively swatted at it, inadvertently scratching the skin of her upper lip. When three more, then five more plopped on her cheeks, it became obvious to her that it was only rain. She looked up, her mouth agape as she shielded her eyes from the bright blur peering behind the darkening clouds. Her face was slapped with at least a dozen more, as if punishment for becoming annoyed in the first place. She turned her gaze back to the path in front of her and swallowed the drops that had fallen on her tongue, surprised by their sweet, salty taste.
“We are not like these selfish, reckless people,” her mother had told her a month before. “We don’t marry for love. We don’t marry for our own foolish desires. We marry for our families. We marry for our cultures. We marry for Allah.” Her mother had said the Creator’s name with such determined emphasis that Mohsina almost believed her. A pang of guilt had stabbed Mohsina, and she felt ashamed of herself. Who was she to choose love? Who was she to have foolish desires? Who was she to disrespect her family, insult her culture, and turn away from Allah?
“But he’s Muslim,” Mohsina had said, her voice a cross between an unabashed plea and a pathetic whine. “Can’t you just consider him? How is that selfish?”
The slap was so quick, so intense that Mohsina just stood still, blinking in disbelief as the solid white wall behind her mother’s angry, contorted face seemed to tip to one side.
“Who are you to question your parents?” her mother shot back, apparently unaware that Mohsina was struggling to overcome dizziness. “Do you know how much dowry he is paying us for you? Do you have any idea?”
Islam doesn’t allow men to enslave girls and sell them as virtual sex slaves into unwanted marriages.
“Or are you so drunk with all these stupid American ideas that you’ve forgotten who you are, where we come from?”
Why does it matter? Where we’re from?
“You are nothing without your family. You are nothing without your culture. You are nothing without your honor.”
It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.
This morning, Mohsina had turned off her cell phone and left it on the bus that rounded the college campus and on its fifth stop dropped her off in front of the tall, daunting, brick humanities building in which Dr. Sherman taught. As she wiped her muddied shoe against the concrete of the sidewalk that early, dreary morning, Mohsina wondered if Dr. Sherman would grunt at exactly 7:58, the time she usually walked into class.
The rain came down harder and soaked the sleeves of her abaya, but it was the clothes beneath—and in her book bag—that she was most worried about. But Mohsina had been standing on the corner behind the university parking garage for only two minutes when the familiar car pulled up and slowed to a stop beside her, its windshield wipers working furiously against the pouring rain.
She opened the passenger-side door and got in without a word and only mumbled her reply to the salaams. Sadness tugged at her heart as she considered what she was giving up by shutting that car door, pulling the seatbelt around her, and snapping it firmly in place.
It should matter, and it does matter.
Oddly, this made her smile, just a bit. She would miss her bigoted professor and her father’s bald spot and her mother’s uneven temper. But she would write them, maybe a year later, when this was all over and their hearts could only remember the good, when they would wish they could do it all over again and hear her, really hear their daughter when she spoke to them.
In the letter, Mohsina planned in her head, she’d say, “Thank you.”
Yes, she’d say, “Thank you.” And why not?
She would say kind words, just like the ones in Mohsina’s favorite song “Thank You for Hearing Me” by Sinead O’Connor.
Thank you, thank you for helping me
Thank you for breaking my heart
Thank you for tearing me apart
Now I’ve a strong, strong heart
But by then—Mohsina let herself imagine life beyond the rushed ceremony with the sympathetic American imam whom her parents refused to even talk to because he wasn’t from their country—she would probably have a bundle of new life in her arms (a son, maybe a daughter, it didn’t matter) whom she could present as a peace offering, as their own flesh and blood, to say, “See? It does matter. It should matter.”
Tears filled her eyes at this thought, but she let herself imagine the shock on her parents’ faces after they learned of Mohsina’s own “arranged marriage.” It would have been identical to the one they had planned for her, except this one had been arranged by Mohsina herself—with the support of her future husband and some “real” American Muslims—and after a zillion failed attempts at diplomacy with her own family, who coupled their self-righteousness with not the least bit of respect for what Allah really said marriage was supposed to be.
“Why did you choose America, of all places?” Mohsina had asked, exasperated after a particularly rough day of anti-Muslim bullying when she was in middle school.
“We couldn’t live back home anymore,” her father had told her, distant sadness in his eyes. “Times were tough, and it was destroying us. We had to take a chance and start life over again. We wanted better for ourselves. We wanted better for our future children.”
Mohsina wiped the unfallen tears from her eyes and leaned back in the passenger seat and exhaled in a single breath. It felt good to know that her father already understood, even if he didn’t know it just yet—and wouldn’t know it fully until Mohsina herself reappeared with the “blue passport” of her life firmly in her hands.
Get FREE eBook: UZ Short Story Collection
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As Israel incarcerates Palestinians and India continues to systematically Otherize and disempower Kashmiris—a reflection on the predicament of ethnic, religious and racial bio-minorities.
Events since September 11, 2001 have dramatically altered the political environment in the Muslim world, a vast and diverse region comprising the band of countries with significant Muslim populations that stretches from West Africa to the southern Philippines, as well as Muslim communities and Diasporas scattered throughout the world. The crafted paranoia of Muslims as the ‘perennial suspects’ with anything linked to terrorism is a stereotype that continues to pervade counter-intelligence driven efforts across territorial boundaries. This sustained campaign of Otherization through systemic epistemic racism manifested itself long before 9/11 especially in Palestine and Kashmir. And the continuum of such narrative violence not only undermine(s) and overshadow the political reality of Palestine and Kashmir but also produces a justification for Palestinian and Kashmiri bodies as killable others.
When India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A from the Indian Constitution, scrapping the special rights given to the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, parallels were immediately drawn around the world but particularly in Palestine with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Contextually, both Palestine and Kashmir are legacies of British colonial treaties and arrangements as well as its cartographic and demographic manoeuvres. There are differences in the inception of their respective colonial occupations in the post-World War II era of a wave of anti-colonial movements in the context of decolonisation.
And drawing from everyday aspects of Palestinian victimization, survival, life and death, and moving between the local and the global, reading Nadera Shalhoub’s Security Theology, Surveillance and the Politics of Fear introduces and analyses terms like the “politics of fear” and the “security theology” within the Israeli settler colonial logic of elimination and erasure. This book deeply resonates with the modus operandi used by Indian state inspired from Israeli model to control Kashmir. The violent acts committed against Palestinians and Kashmiris in the name of “security necessities” and how such “necessities” like of surveillance and detention, in order to maintain and sometimes reproduce the Israeli and Indian political economy of control.
Palestine and Kashmir: Tragedy of Populist alt-right Muscular Nationalism
In the case of Palestine, the Balfour declaration of 1917 declared British support for the Zionist project of a Jewish homeland. While historians have debated the politics of British support for Zionism versus its own interests in the Middle East during World War I, Zionism as a planned settler-colonial project was evident from that initial declaration of support by Lord Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, to Lord Baron Rothschild in 1917. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian has discussed these techniques of settler-colonialism as reliant on ‘security theology’, a racial and religious logic of superiority regarding a ‘secular’ Zionist nationalism, embedded in biblical claims and dependent on the erasure of Palestinian lives and dispossession of Palestinian land and resources.
In the case of Kashmir, This achingly beautiful land, previously known in the West largely as the title of a Led Zeppelin jam, was ruled by the British East India Company and then sold the territory of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846 through the Treaty of Amritsar to a Dogra Hindu Ruler. By 1947, given a long history of a repressive Hindu Dogra rule over a largely Kashmiri Muslim population, argues Historian Mridu Rai in Hindu Rule and Muslim subjects “there was already a Quit Kashmir movement against the Dogras”. Mapping Kashmir requires the use of special language and symbols-nomenclature such as “ceded;’ “administered;’ and “claimed” and the dotted boundary marking a cease-fire line-as markers of its contested and in-between status. To also understand, the Indian occupation of Kashmir operates as much through electoral democracy as it does through intensive militarization and institutionalized impunity that structures the conditions, possibilities, priorities, and life trajectories of Kashmiris inside and outside of the valley to what Adam Roberts refers as the “process” of occupation that is context specific and cannot be reduced to a singular “character and purpose” Kashmir is also a theatre of democracy in which elections are routinely held to foster the illusion of a representative and legitimate governance. These new expressions of normalcy, both discursive and institutional, shape the everyday-colonizing spaces of sociality and community, remapping time and space, and helping build an illusion of the everyday that is somehow sheltered from the scars of death and violence.
War on Terror—A Killable Other
Surveillance, detentions and the politics of fear—a tripartite triangle shapes the security theology of Israel and Palestine to contain political dissent in the Modern world. Tracing the genealogy we see how nation state politics is based on the modern conception of the Westphalian model, which organizes and monopolizes violence under the exclusive authority of a sovereign state. This conception, Khaled Al-Kassimi asserts “only began to characterize global politics in the 19th century and more so at the beginning of the 20th century, contrary to the political myth that perceives the year 1648 as the moment where world state leaders monopolized, organized and structured violence.” The killings of 14-year-old unarmed Palestinians child Ali Abu Alia killed few days back in Al Mughair village near Ramallah by Israeli sniper mark a new chapter in the degradation of human life in Palestine and the Occupied Territories. Transpiring events such as these also makes one think about the continuing scandal of violent political Otherization in Kashmir, with complete indifference to the lives of the men, women and children who live there. In both cases, the targeted communities are Muslim though they are products of very different contextual histories with a common colonizer. The global dynamics of genocide are not, in spite of appearances, primarily about Muslimness. The obsession with projecting Muslims as a coordinated global category is a collaborative project of highly specific Western and Muslim political theologies. It should not be viewed as a self-evident, universal fact.
Indian state discovered an opportunity to frame its counter insurgency efforts in Kashmir within the wider context of the nasty brutish and long Americas war on terrorism. In doing so, successive Indian governments have tried to promote the idea that their counter terrorism efforts in Kashmir are to subdue a threat similar to that faced by Israel from Hamas. This is an attempt on the part of the government to distract from its own failings in addressing the genuine political aspirations of the majority Muslims in Kashmir. “Seen through the fog of the “war on terror” and the Indian government’s own cynical propaganda, the problem in Kashmir seemed entirely to do with jihadist terrorists” wrote Indian author, Pankaj Mishra in 2008.
Israel too, like India, saw an opening, and since 9/11 has tried to exonerate its occupation by jumping on the global War on Terror bandwagon. Israel’s continued colonisation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza has relied heavily upon brandishing the Palestinian resistance as a threat to the survival of the Israeli state; while Israel remains the largest recipient of military aid from the United States (and is soon to receive the biggest US military package in American-Israeli history) and holds an unofficial nuclear arsenal. Though undeniable that the political instability in the region is the major reason of disturbance in the valley, the presence of 300,000 – 500,000 of India’s military and security forces, coupled with the hard-nosed attitude of every Indian government in the past 25 years, has robbed Kashmiris of any meaningful prospect of a peaceful future.
Surveillance and Control
Amid technologies of controlling bodies, there has been a strategic paradigmatic shift to ‘monitor’ all forms of political dissent. Behind the loss of lives, of continuing sieges and crackdowns in the recent decade in Palestine and Kashmir unravels the close counter insurgency alliance between India and Israel. This cooperation has deepened under the current populist ultra-nationalist regimes in both the countries and the alarming news of the spyware, Pegasus, being used to spy upon human rights defenders in India is another revelation of the closeness of the Israeli State as well as defence and surveillance companies to India’s State apparatus. A collaboration unravelling between BDS India, People’s Dispatch and NewsClick.in, offers an overview of the arms trade as well as security cooperation between India and Israel. It also shows how Israeli defence industry profits from the occupation, apartheid and colonialism against Palestinian people, and India’s purchase of these arms—around 50% of the total weapons export of Israel—finances this illegal occupation. In turn, this collaboration fuels the militarisation of Kashmir as well as other parts of India, creating the logic of ‘perpetual insecurity’.
Surveillance of Palestinian and Kashmiri ‘bodies’ have always been an integral part of Indian and Israel’s colonial project. Before the creation of the state of Israel, squads from the Zionist paramilitary group the Haganah roamed Palestinian villages and cities, gathering information on Palestinian residents. Such surveillance over Palestinian lives continued after Israel’s 1967 occupation of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Tools deployed included population registries, identification cards, land surveys, watchtowers, imprisonment, and torture. Although surveillance has always been a vital constituent of the ruling apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Apart from the presence of more than 600,000 Indian troops and other visible markers of a military occupation, various surveillance units dot Kashmir’s landscape. There is a strong physical surveillance in place with a plethora of new technologies, such as phone and internet monitoring and interception, and CCTV, has enabled Indian state to surveil the population it occupies on a massive, intrusive scale and not even in educational centres are left due to sustained anti-India protests. Such panopticon that has been encircling Kashmir is a construction of the Indian state, which has been intensifying its mass-surveillance architecture in the region for over a decade. Indian state shifted its focus on social media to monitor what individual Kashmiris say and do, as well as to gather and analyse information on attitudes among the Kashmiri population more broadly. The recent upsurge in summoning people to police stations and counter-insurgency torture centres disabling social media accounts came as a by-product of the ‘politics of fear’ raising voices against the Indian state and brutalization of Kashmiri bodies, to visit police stations in one such example of the ‘controlling’ the flow of information.
In November 2014, Vasundhara Sirnate, the chief coordinator of research at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy wrote in an article in The Hindu: “An Intelligence Bureau official stationed in Kashmir told me that they were tapping 10 lakh phones in Kashmir alone by 2014.” Mobile telephony was introduced in India in 1995 and, owing to security concerns, was permitted in Jammu and Kashmir only in 2003. For the state, the arrival of cellular phones proved to be beneficial in tracking down militants. However, since 2008, a surge in mass civil uprisings and the use of technology for information dissemination, protests and mobilisation in the state have led to major curbs on mobile services and the internet. The government also relies heavily on human intelligence or “agents” embedded within the population. “Surveillance aided by technology is only a supplement and not a replacement to the human interface,” Rajendera Kumar the director general of police in Jammu and Kashmir. In Kashmir, tracking Social Media posts, columnists, or students actively involved in raising their voices against Indian atrocities in Kashmir and abroad is a surveillance tool used to identify and then curtail such voices of dissent. The recent cases of UAPA against two Kashmiri journalists, Gowhar Geelani and Masrat Zahra sharing their professional work on social media and students like Sameer and Aqib for democratically registering their dissent in Kashmir University is an example of such cases.
Torture, Detentions and Politics of Fear
In many respects, the plight of the Kashmiris has parallels with the struggle of the Palestinian people: The militarisation of Kashmiri territory, clamping down on demonstrations (often violently) and routine detentions of protestors and activists is a reality the Palestinians and now Kashmiris know too well. While the conflicts in Kashmir and Palestine stem from different geopolitical histories, and each with varied level of success in achieving lasting peace and stability, the daily pressures of living under heavy military presence have made for similar experiences for both Kashmiris and Palestinians. Illegal detention and disappearances is the norm and Dissent is labelled as political blasphemy. It is estimated that since 1990, around 8,000 men “disappeared” while in custody or during crackdowns. In 2006, HRW reported a similar pattern of state violence and a disregard for basic civil liberties of the Kashmiri people that it had documented 13 years earlier.
While a number of laws applicable in J&K allow for administrative detention, the most commonly used is the PSA. Administrative detention is also provided for in other forms such as house arrest, as well as Section 107 read with Section 151 of the J&K Code of Criminal Procedure (1989).As the period of permissible detention is limited in these provisions due to availability of bail, they are sometimes used in J&K only to detain individuals while the paperwork for PSA detention orders or criminal charges are being prepared. PSA provides for detention for a maximum of two years “in the case of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State.” It further allows for administrative detention of up to one year where “any person is acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. A report by J&K Coalition of Civil Society (J&KCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’ (APDP) said 662 persons, including a former chief minister and sitting MP, were booked under the PSA in 2019.
Laws like PSA enables the state to impose surveillance in Kashmir, with the aim of subduing the resistance. The unnecessary and excessive interference with, and monitoring of, detainees by police and military personnel even after their release from prison, makes detainees continue to exist in virtual confinement. The surveillance becomes so pervasive that detainees openly claim to experience imprisonment without actually being in prison. Also, their horrific treatment in prison –from forced cohabitation with criminals, to degrading and demeaning treatment inside the jails– is enforced with the intent of establishing Indian authority and making Kashmiri citizens fear. The experience of the Kashmiris with the Indian security apparatus would be irrefutably familiar to the Palestinian people. During their near 60-year long struggle against Israeli occupation, the Palestinians have undergone two uprisings (first and second intifada) that resulted in massive crackdowns in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the first Intifada, which started in 1988, a similar chain of events would occur; tens of thousands were injured protesting the occupation and over a thousand Palestinians were killed as the Israel Defence Forces responded with brute force. In November 1989, Israeli Human rights group Btselem estimated that over 1,700 Palestinians were detained, of whom many were held for prolonged periods and tortured during their time in detention.
Since Palestine and Kashmir are both carved up by borders people of both the territories are swallowed whole. Stories are silenced and blood flows into rivers. Military checkpoints, armoured vehicles, and borders occupy not just the land, but penetrate deeper, into the psyches of people. Occupation is sophisticated. The diverse policies in order of a homeland—Palestine and Kashmir—occupied by hostile forces evokes emotions of fury, and humiliation. Discourses linked to torture and surveillance ring true with the experience of suffering in Kashmir and Palestine. Kashmir thus, is increasingly going the Palestinian way. To end on what Mahmoud Darwish mentions:
The killer looks at the ghost of the murdered, not in his eyes, without remorse. He tells the mob, “Do not blame me: I am afraid, I killed because I was scared, and I will kill because I am scared.” A few interpreted the sentence as the right to kill in self-defense. A few shared their opinions saying, “Justice is the overflow of the generosity of power.” As if the deceased should apologize to the killer for the trauma he caused him. Others said, “If this incident occurred in another country, would the murdered individual have a name and a reputation?” The mob paid their condolences to the killer but when a foreigner wondered, “But what is the reason for killing a baby?” The mob replied, “Because one day this baby will grow up and then we will fear him.” “But why kill the mother?” The mob said, “Because she will raise a memory.” The mob shouted in unison, “Fear and not justice is the foundation for authority.” (Darwish, 2008, pp. 85–86)
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Source: Muslim Matters