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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 48 New Delhi, November 21, 2015

Just Some Questions on Obamaspeak

Saturday 21 November 2015, by Badri Raina

President Obama has invited the Muslims of the world not just to some introspection but, however suavely said, some self-flagellation as well after the terror attack in Paris. The inference here seems inescapable: whatever may have been done to the “Muslim” world, beginning from the time of the usurpation of Palestine, it is they who remain both responsible for the fate that afflicts them and obliged to find all the remedies. Curiously, all that even as the powers-that-be also tell us that terrorism has no religion.

Some questions then seem to beg themselves: is every German to be held responsible for the holocaust and obliged to carry on self-flagellating for what the Third Reich did? Is everyone in the Christian world to be held guilty for the sixty million deaths of non-White people that took place during the slave trade? (See Howasrd Zinn, Peoples’ History of the United States) Is every American culpable for that first genocide of modern history, namely, the extermination of the “Red Indians”, or that first and most horrendous act of terrorism, namely, the use of the atom bomb which annihilated some two hundred thousand innocent Japanese at one go? Is every Catholic to be held responsible for the Inquisition? Is every Russian to be thought guilty of assenting to the Stalinist purges? And, nearer home, is every Hindu complicit in the assassi-nation of Mahatma Gandhi, or the atrocities committed by the LTTE, culminating in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi? Must every Hindu be required to self-flagellate for what a Colonel Purohit or a Sadhvi Pragya or an Aseemanand has allegedly done? Or, every Sikh in the violence perpetrated by Khalistani separatists, leading to the the murder of Indira Gandhi? Or, must every Buddhist in the world do penance for the excesses committed by the state in Sri Lanka or in Myanamar? If so, we do here have a call for global self-flagellation, no one excepted.

Why, we ask and wonder, is it heinous for any Muslim, literate or not, liberal or not, peace-loving or not, to raise a question about what was done to Iraq in 2003 when in fact a vast number of Americans themselves, including such Presidential aspirants as Berni Sanders, have held that event and American foreign policy generally since the creation by the ISI and the CIA of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan chiefly responsible for having spawned the mayhem that now embroils parts of the world? Or, indeed, when many distinguished Americans and Britishers have publicly demanded that Bush, Cheney, and Blair be tried as war criminals? Indeed, why is it alright for reputed American intellectuals and columnists to point out that after the loss of Iran to the revolutionaries, the American establish-ment has systematically collaborated with the Saudi Arabian Wahabi project to destroy secular nation-states like Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, and criminal for Muslim commentators to do the same? Or to point out that while Israeli terrorism has never been called “Zionist” terrorism—going all the way back to the doings of the Stein and Irgun terror gangs—attacks by groups of terrorising Muslims should be called “Islamic“ terrorism? Or to call terror strikes effected by Hindu individuals not as “Hindu” terrorism but as “Right-wing extremism”? Or why is it so blasphemous for an Azam Khan to say precisely what Berni Sanders said just the other day during the second Democratic Presidential debate—that the attack on Iraq undertaken on wholly specious and unsubstantiated grounds was the one event that subsequently led to the fractious and radicalised mayhem in the Middle East?

Why, just why, do the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims—those that live in peace in the democratic cultures of India, or Indonesia, or Malaysia, or those in Europe and America—have to say “mea culpa” with every breath they take without ever the liberty to offer critiques of a kind that major sponsors and perpetrators of terrorism do not like? Indeed, why is such criticism to be thought ipso facto an act of complicity with those who, laced with money and arms from the very stables that grumble about terrorism, commit horrific acts of violence more often than not upon their co-religionists more than anybody else? At a time when so much is being said and heard about “intolerance”, is it not odd that there should be such intolerance of any criticism, however unanswerable, of the domiant discourse about terrorism around which there is such a claustrophobic consensus sought to be manufac-tured from day-to-day the world over? If it is true that the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, surely that shoe is worn by more than just one segment of the world’s populace; and it is hardly sustainable an argument that only one kind of the world’s footwear pinches.

One has lost count of the number of occasions on which the Muslim Ulema and Muslim organi-sations in India have publicly denounced terrorist acts by fellow Muslims—and not just as tactics. Elaborately scholarly disputations have been offered to underscore the position that terror undertaken in the garb of Islam is mere political activity without any sanction in tenets of the faith. And yet there remains the further oppressive demand that Muslims have no right or locus to criticise those others who critique terrorism from cannily interested and disingenuous positions in complete bad faith. Needless to say, this sort of praxis does not bear the promise of creating a climate of opinion where thought may be liberally expressed in non-monochromatic ways without the fear of being held guilty for what some so-called fellow-religionist may do in some part of the world with whatever justification or not.

It is time that India especially recognised the exemplary record of her exemplary Muslim citizens and gave them the fundamental right to critique dishonest accusations and distortions with force of argument and evidence without being cut off as a priori stuck with taint. Indeed, any other course cannot but have consequences opposite of those allegedly intended.

With every passing day and event, the unique value of India’s democratic pluralism shows up against oppressively monochromatic insistencies the world over. It is a wonderful thing we have. Let every Indian, in or out of any sort of power, help to keep it safe and flourishing in absolutely every Indian’s interest. That must include our willingness to listen to and credit, when justified, critiques expressed by those we may have been brainwashed to distrust.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.