Monday, January 8, 2007

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: The case of Anti-socials in Islam

A few weeks ago I had opportunity to come across a report in one of our local dailies whose headline read “Anti-socials have no place in Islam: Muslim body”. What followed the headline though was deeply disturbing because it established just how strong the popular impression regarding Muslims is. It is so strong that members of the Muslim community themselves are beginning to believe it.

Indian nationalism and popular culture has been built on the privileging of a certain manner and way of life. By and large it is an upper caste Hindu norm and there is a general agreement that Hinduism is what suffuses Indian culture. Like other nationalisms, there is also a deliberate creation of the internal enemy and this role is assigned primarily to the Indian Muslim. He is credited with being anti-national and a Pakistan-lover, the community is by and large uneducated and as such contributes to India’s population explosion and prove to be problems for the maintenance of law and order. All of this despite the fact that other communities can also be said to participate equally in these markers of the bad citizen.

All of these markers though were addressed by the All Goa Muslim Jamats Association in a recent representation. It promised to weed out anti-social elements from within the Muslim community. It recognized that the community was largely illiterate and needed to focus on education and obtaining higher end jobs. Now a good amount of this may be true. It may be true that there are persons among the various Muslim communities in Goa who engage in criminal activity. There may be a high rate of illiteracy among some Muslim groups in Goa. And what pray exactly, is an anti-social activity? What is disturbing is the fact that a Muslim organization itself can engage in sweeping statements of this manner. These statements came out in the wake of the recent bomb blasts in Bombay. It becomes obvious then that given the persecution that the Muslim community is subjected to at the slightest instance, this is a forced admission of guilt. After all one presumes that when you confess you are allowed to set things right yourself, instead of allowing unruly elements to knock you up, destroy your property and violate your family while doling out popular justice. Take an innocent man to the torture chamber and he will confess to almost any crime! Unfortunately, in trying to secure a place in the nation, what the All Goa Muslim Jamats Association has done, is to internalize and validate the popular impression of the Muslim.

The problem does not end there however. What we have to realize is that if there are truly anti-social elements, it is the right wing Hindu groups of this country, which display absolutist tendencies, going so far as to represent themselves as the true voice of the Hindus. In trying to placate these groups, what the Jamats Association has done it to only mimic a dubious model. Look at the representation that the Association reportedly made “Calling itself the supreme body representing around two lakh Muslimsin Goa”. On what basis does one become the supreme body to represent two lakh individuals? Is there a democratic process involved?

Further they repeat the same error that the Hindu right has been making, they associate the law of Islam (or religion) with the law of the State. "Any Muslim (who is) into illegal activities is not a Muslim. We will condemn such a Muslim". We have to recognize that the law of the State changes the definition of crime from time to time, the law of religion we would like to believe is unchanging, above and beyond the law of the State. Islamic law has famously been credited with taking sympathetic views of persons accused of crime, looking to the reason for the crime rather than simply applying a rule once the facts are proved. In addition, traditions in Islam have allowed a space for law outside of the State, recognizing the coercive powers of the State as well as its unpredictable and biased nature. The Association’s statement flies in the face of these traditions. Finally even though the Association is ostensibly making statements for the common good, the statements are still terribly absolutist; “we will condemn such a Muslim”? A Muslim into illegal activities is not a Muslim? What gives anyone the right to decide who is, or is not a Muslim, Hindu or a Catholic? These are statements of absolutist tendencies within society and can have no justification. That the Jamats Association is using this language is unfortunate, but it has for an excuse the fact that it is only internalizing the logic it is having to fight; the logic of the Hindu Right and the logic of the Indian nation state.

The solution to the situation we are facing today does not lie in responding to the challenges of the Right. To do so will only drag us into a situation where the terms of the debate are determined by them and please note that they are really in no mood to debate. They have judged already. There is definitely a need to go about some of the work that the Association has outlined. However, it needs to be done because we feel that it is important for ourselves, not because this is what we feel is required of us. As the recent arrests following the Bombay bomb blasts have shown, the Law and the State will suspect you even if you are an educated and ‘respectable’ Muslim. Let us not fool ourselves and ignore the fact that there is a disaffectation among Muslims in India. And there is reason to be. They have been marginalized within the nation. We need to address the cause for this disaffectation rather than accept the allegations made against the Muslim community and underline the lies that the Right has been spreading for a long time now.

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

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