Whichever side emerges victorious in May, the consensus in India is that the Nehruvian construct of secularism is dead—killed by its one-time supporters as much as by its dogged opponents. What will replace it is unclear. In the battle for India’s soul, only one side has shown up ready to fight.
Despite the temptation to blame violent extremism on foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State’s virtual caliphate, the fact is that the seeds of extremism in South Asia were sown long ago by elites from Kabul to Colombo. Often dressed up in the garb of anti-imperialism and nationalism, their brand of exclusionary politics, based on nativism and sectarianism, barely masks a deep and abiding commitment to a status quo of social inequality.
In the absence of international censure, China has stepped up its systematic persecution of Muslims, under the dubious pretense that it is fighting “terrorism” and protecting its economic interests. But more than just an attack on human rights, the crackdown is representative of President Xi Jinping’s totalitarian ambitions.
The news out of Xinjiang, China’s western region, this summer has been a steady stream of Orwellian horrors. A million people held against their will in political reeducation camps. Intelligence officials assigned as “adopted” members of civilian families. Checkpoints on every corner and mandatory spyware installed on every device. The targets of this police state are China’s Muslim Uighur minority, whose loyalties the central government has long distrusted for both nationalist and religious reasons.
The systematic persecution of Palestinians has long occupied a place in the consciousness of the ummah, the global community of Muslims. Muslims worldwide have watched for decades as Palestinians have been repeatedly displaced, subjected to disproportionate collective punishment, and denied statehood. While the Israeli occupation continues to stir up feelings of anger and powerlessness, another ethnic group — the Rohingya — is now emerging as the symbol of global injustice for Muslims.
The current crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, following coordinated attacks by a Rohingya militant group on some 30 police posts, is a grave threat to the security and stability of that restive state. While driven by mainly local dynamics and grievances, it also feeds Buddhist nationalism across the country.
Also Read: Myanmar’s problem state
Both Gandhi, for all his saintly status a profoundly sectarian Hindu leader, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League and the founder of Pakistan, were dead within a year after partition. If the British government had not been in such a panic-stricken rush to get out of India, there might have been time for more moderate Hindu and Muslim leaders to negotiate a different outcome.
Israel has long complained that India treats it like a mistress: glad to partake of its defense and technology charms, but a little embarrassed about the whole thing and unwilling to make the relationship too public. With Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel – the first ever by a sitting Indian prime minister – it will be like the two countries arriving hand in hand to opening night of the opera season, lit by a barrage of flashing cameras.
Islam can’t be reduced to a single sacred book, frozen in time. It’s a dynamic and complex tradition that was continually revised and re-revised over many lifetimes, and even within a single lifetime. You might even say that the history of Islam is a history in which Muslims are always reconsidering how the many layers of their textual inheritance square with their present social and political circumstances.