UNCEASING WAVES

The Hindu-Muslim Love Story

Posted in Politics, Society and Culture by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

Originally published on Round Table India

“If you accept to play the games by the rules set up by those who own or control the board, you will always lose.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

Surprisingly, a writer for Scroll.in in a recent article asked a very pertinent question – “Why doesn’t the violence against Dalits incite liberal fury, as does violence against Muslims?” (Unsurprisingly though, he fails in his analysis.) But it is worth our while to consider this question. So what is it about caste violence that makes it worthy of far lesser attention and outrage than anti-Muslim violence?

One obvious conclusion to arrive at, and which is not without truth in it, is that the lives of lower castes value less. Three main material reasons for this is that the Dalits have never been ruling classes in this country and structural violence against Dalits has been a constant for centuries; two, Dalits do not have the international networks and influence like the Muslims, and atrocities against them will not provoke adverse reactions from external actors; finally, the (forced) invisibility of Dalits in the public sphere makes the liberal mind ignorant and immune to anti-Dalit violence.

But a far more insidious process is happening here, one that is ideological in nature. This is the Hindu-Muslim Love Story. And it is this narrative that we must try to decode if we are to understand why the concern for Muslims does not extend to the lower castes, if we are understand why the anti-Muslim BJP is enemy no 1 for the liberal Hindu, but the CPI(M) which began its rule in Bengal with the massacre of hundreds of Dalits is an ally in the fight against communalism.

Historical Precedents

The historical playground is important. At one end, the Hindutva brigade moans the Islamic invasions and the ‘cruelties’ of the Muslim rule in India. To counter the Right Hindus, it has been pointed out by several Left Hindu historians that the Muslim rule was tolerant to their Hindu subjects and that claims of persecutions were exaggerated. They present several historical records to show the privileges that Hindus enjoyed in Muslim courts. We know that the ‘Islamic bigot’ Aurangzeb’s court had a sizeable representation of upper-caste Hindus. Movies are made eulogizing Akbar’s affairs with Rajput princesses. We can add some more examples. Muslims served in Rana Pratap’s army. Devaraya II built mosques for his Muslim soldiers while Ramaraya allowed his Muslim subjects to kill and consume cows in their quarters. Vavar’s mosque near Ayyappan’s temple in Sabarimalai is worshipped by the Hindus. The Muslim lady Bibi Nanchari’s devotion to Vishnu is celebrated by The Hindu as a ‘tale of eternal love’ – indeed, she is considered at places in South India as a lover and consort of Vishnu.

Liberal scholars will hold up these facts to state the tolerance, pluralism, multiculturalism etc. of India. What is missing in these historical romances is the fact that none of this mutual tolerance and respect translated into a modicum of change for those at the lower ends of the society. None of these religiously liberal rulers even considered something as simple as providing the untouchable castes access to temple entry or a decent education. Whether the Indian postcolonialists like it or not, it was secular colonial modernity that opened up that space. That is another theme to be considered later. But it is precisely the validation of this Hindu-Muslim Love Story that is required to preserve the entity of India, to impose an artificial unity on several nations within the sub-continent, and to put a veil on far deeper structural injustices in the Indian society. Why? Because the Good Hindu realizes that the Muslim is necessary to his being-a-Hindu and is thus genuinely grateful to the Muslim for it.

Another writer on Round Table India, Khalid Anis Ansari, has captured how the Hindu-Muslim narrative in India is set by the Hindu upper castes and their Muslim equivalents, the Ashrafs. He also notes how this works to the detriment of the lower castes and the Pasmandas, the lower sections of the Muslims in India. Let us see how this ideology operates.

Good Hindu/Bad Hindu

Brahminism’s brilliance as an ideology is its creation of false binaries and forcing them on people who have nothing to gain from either side, but are nevertheless ‘compelled’ to take a side. Shankaracharya or Ramanujacharya? Gandhi or Savarkar? Congress or BJP? Teesta Setalvad or Amit Shah? This is a strategy that predates and perfectly complements the postmodern condition of making false free choices in neo-liberal capitalism. “Do you want Pepsi or Coke?” No thanks!

We might assume that the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim is such a binary that has dangerous consequences. But it is the Good Hindu/Bad Hindu binary that is far, far more lethal. The Bad Hindu is a bigot. Often coarse and vulgar, he is easily identified by his unabashed xenophobia. The Bad Hindu is just like any other fundamentalist in any other part of the world, easy to understand, easier to oppose.

The Good Hindu on the other hand is a peculiar phenomena. He reeks of ideology. You can find him quoting any radical text from anywhere in the world, giving support to exotic causes, and leading the fight against imperialism. He has several isms (pluralism, feminism, socialism etc) in his jhola which he will take out and use according to context. But the ism hidden in the pockets of his Fab-India kurta is the cultural logic of Brahminism…

In my stay in JNU, I had met some ultra-leftist Good Hindus who defended Osama bin Laden, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban for being ‘anti-imperialist’. These same leftists accused Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, and the Dravidian parties of being corrupt and practicing identity politics. But then again, these Good Hindus will also adopt the role of Dalit saviors if the situation requires, accusing the OBCs of being the real oppressors. They will discover Ambedkar and write a preface to him to introduce him to the Western world. They will use corporate platforms to convey communism, while lecturing to Dalits and OBCs about the evils of capitalism.They will question White privilege, but questioning Brahmin privilege will be termed ‘identity politics’. They will note how their party cadres are 90% Dalits, but not how their party leaders and intellectuals are 99% Brahmin… such are the riddles of the Good Hindu!

Fluid, flexible, and highly fashionable unlike his neanderthalic Bad Hindu counterpart, the Good Hindu is the highest point of evolution of Brahminism. And if there is a cause par excellence that he is committed to, it is Islamophilia. And we can take some examples from cinema to consider this point.

Some Islamophilic Cinematic Fantasies

We can consider some movies where the Hindu-Muslim identities are subject to an intense romantic treatment. These are just a few popular samples. Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995) is of a Hinduized Tamil male marrying a conservative Muslim girl. In the wake of the Mumbai riots, the love story comes to the foreground and unites Hindus and Muslims as one family, one nation, one India. Karan Johar’s Kurbaan (2009) shows a Hindu woman married to a Muslim terrorist and his My Name is Khan (2010) shows a Hindu woman married to a Muslim who is not a terrorist – both movies promoting the idea of tolerance and the vitality of modern India. The more recent Rajkumar Hirani’s PK (2014) showing a Hindu Indian girl in love with a Pakistani Muslim shows that Indianness can also be reconciled with Pakistaniness. Anything can go: as long as the Hindu upper caste remains at the top, and the Indian physical and ideological structure that preserves this remains intact.

Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) is instructive here. The Hindu character, Meenakshi Iyer, a conservative Brahmin wife and mother of a child, is exposed to an Islamophobic world of rioting Bad Hindus while travelling with a Muslim acquaintance. As she witnesses the violence, her humanitarian (Good Hindu) side takes over. She helps out her Muslim friend, and gets helped out by him in return, with both developing a strong mutual attraction eventually. We must resist the temptation to be blinded by these ‘human feelings’ overdoses and question the brutal logic that lies beneath. In the movie, Raja, the Muslim character does nothing to change the attitude of Mrs. Iyer towards her caste identity, how the “Iyer” identity by itself discursively implies that there are caste identities inferior to it. Is this not also the character of Muslim Rajas in India, who accommodated the elites, but did nothing for those at the lowest end of the spectrum? At the end of movie, as at the end of the Muslim rule in India, the Brahmin remained a Brahmin, if anything, more revitalized thanks to the Muslim. So, one must not miss the significance of this movie winning the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration. (Incidentally, Nargis Dutt’s story itself is a Hindu-Muslim Love Story.)

We can observe such fantasies playing among the reactions of the Good Hindus to the bogey of Love Jihad that was raised recently by the Bad Hindus. One such Good Hindu woman was very concerned for the safety of her Muslim partner and the prospects for their marriage under Modi rule. She feared, perhaps rightly, that the Modi rule would place restrictions on Hindu women to make their choices. And she ended up defending the Aam Aadmi Party, an outfit no less Brahminical than the BJP. Another such touching story was narrated in The New York Times, of one Ms. Iyer and a Mr. Khan. Their children were praised as “poster girls for a modern and liberal India.” So it is not just the reel, but also the real Mr. and Mrs. Iyer who make a fantastic story!

The Story That Is Not Told

Now, to prevent misinterpretation, the author must add here that he is not conveying a lack of belief in the possibility of love between a Hindu and Muslim. Indeed, love, genuine love, can exist between them as individuals. But when this love becomes a story that articulates certain identities (at the expense of others) and enters the terrain of discourse, it ceases to concern two individuals alone. It becomes political, exposes the politics of the narrators and the subjects, in what they say and what they do not say, and why this is so.

We know for a fact that violence in the forms of killings, attacks, sexual assaults and humiliation heaped on Dalits is a pan-Indian phenomenon, an everyday occurrence, and has been happening even prior to Muslim arrival. If so, why aren’t stories of inter-caste marriages and appeals for dismantling caste bigotries appearing in the public domain with the intensity and zeal as the Hindu-Muslim Love Story? Why couldn’t these individuals be critical towards their Hindu identity and challenge it? It is, as Ambedkar observed, because the Hindu who is obsessed with his own self and the selfish interests of his class is incapable of critical self-introspection. The Dalits and OBCs asserting their humanity will dislodge the superhuman status of the ones at the top. Which is why the romance of the external Other is much preferable to asking crucial questions about the construction of the Self, which stories of the internal Other will bring about. In fact, the romance of the external Other is a screen to prevent such questions being asked about the imagined Hindu Self.

What Position to Take?

Why did Ambedkar and Periyar attack ‘Islamophilic’ Gandhi more than ‘Islamophobic’ Savarkar? The intellectual acumen of Ambedkar and Periyar was such that they realized Bad Hindus like Savarkar and Golwalkar were only a malignant symptom (and one can extend this to the BJP, RSS and VHP too) while it was the Good Hindus like Gandhi then (and in contemporary times we can add CPI(M), Congress and others) who were saving the disease of Hinduism using the love of Muslims as a cover. The former wanted a militant Hinduism, one that would not tolerate other religions. The latter wanted to create an image of a benevolent Hinduism, one that would embrace other religions, while benevolently maintaining its inherent social hierarchy. The Bad Hindu wants only his own particularity to be respected. The Good Hindu, in his tolerance for all religious particularities, also wants his own particularity to be tolerated. Neither are capable of a genuine Universality. To be asked to choose between these two is to be subject to a fraud.

Unfortunately, some non-Brahmin writers too have fallen in the trap laid by the Good Hindus of specifically opposing Hindutva’s opposition to Islam and Muslims. I have sought to show in the article above how Brahminism is a dynamic system that creates elite subjects who BOTH hate and love Muslims. If the bad Hindu uses Dalits and OBCs as mere pawns in the Hindu-Muslim hate games, the Hindu-Muslim Love Story of the good Hindu places them as poor spectators allotted the cheapest seats in a farcical drama. The only radical thing to do is avoid taking sides and to articulate the Periayarite and Ambedkarite position that the construction of the Hindu identity is by itself an oppressive riddle that needs to be dismantled. Ambedkarism and Periyarism have no place in, and no need for, the fantasies of Mr and Mrs Iyer.

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Feudal Feminism etc…

Posted in Uncategorized by Karthick RM on October 11, 2016

While Asian women who live ‘western lifestyles’ are slut-shamed on the streets, the academese counterpart of it is to criticize them for conforming to ‘capitalist delusions’. Like this gibberish which argues that Muslim women who conform to tradition are more liberated than Muslim women who supposedly conform to capitalism. By this article, the old Muslim lady who suspects love-marriages is a proto-feminist. I suppose then the Muslim man who slaughters his female relative for entering into a love relationship with someone he doesnt like is a fervent anti-colonialist. The Hindu Right must take note of these arguments; now, the Khap Panchayats can legitimately claim that their expecting Hindu women to conform to pure traditional lifestyles is actually a resistance to Western capitalism! I mean, if old Muslim women were liberated in their purdahs, I am sure old Brahmin and Rajput women are also quite liberated in their caste communities. And kindly dont expect Jats to conform to your liberal white western lifestyles please!

As objectifying as capitalism may be, the liberal Muslim women whom this author hates with a blind fury have the liberty to walk out of an abusive relationship, marry someone else, remain single, or go lesbian. The Islamist mothers and grandmothers whom the author glorifies, however, never had this choice.Liberal western feminism has many problems. Not conforming to Islamic feudal values, however, is definitely not one of them. And if there were a choice between the two, I will gladly go with the former.

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A Note on the Paris Attacks

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Why didnt the Western media cover Beirut as much as Paris, a writer for Al Jazeera asks. Why didnt Al Jazeera cover the Tamil genocide as much as Palestine, can we ask? We dont because we maintain this minimal decency that we should not compare deaths, massacres of civilians, that each tragedy is unique in itself and should not be compared. Yes, the dominant Western media covers Western issues more, just as a dominant Arab media covers Arab issues more just as a dominant Indian media covers Indian issues more. Why is that surprising? (To be honest, among the three, there is more diversity in the Western media.)

We have friends, family, comrades, lovers, who died in Paris. If we in the Europe mourn them, it does not mean we do not care about Lebanon. It is only because the Paris attacks were closer to the places we frequent, closer to the places our loved ones frequent; and humans as a species relate more to tragedies closer to home. This is what makes us human. To mock this requires a level of coldness which the ISIS share.

I can sympathize with the outrage that the Lebanese may feel at the media coverage in the West. Tamils who were active during 2009 can relate to this, how the Indian media, especially the lib-left ones, blacked out or twisted stories about Sri Lanka. But if we started asking the left “what about us” with respect to the Tamil case, there will be no end, and nothing fruitful in the end. We can challenge this media coverage with more dignity and without trying to exploit the other person’s guilt.

Yes, there are people who changed their profile pics to the French flag without any politics whatsoever, just as a stunt. But if these are fakes, I can say with confidence that the entire Indian “pro-palestinian” group is one big fake and the worst stunt pullers that I have met. These fakes do not represent the tragedy that either the Parisians face now or the Palestinians have faced for long.

Yes, Obama who is worrying about Paris but not Beirut is a hypocrite. So is Fidel Castro who accuses the US of creating ISIS but gave all diplomatic and political support to a state that resembles both in deed and ideology the Islamic State, the Sinhala-Buddhist regime of Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka is the perfect example of what the world will be if ISIS wins. And what coverage and solidarity did the Tamils get from the mainstream left? Imperialists will behave like imperialists will behave. They are brutal, hypocritical, cynical and manipulative. The sad part however is that the mainstream left is no different.

At some level, this also exposes the hypocrisy of certain ‘postcolonial’ activists – first you claim that you dont need attention from the West, next you scream if the West doesnt give you more attention. Just what and where is your politics exactly? To be honest, this “whataboutery” insults the victims more than the Western media people who you claim were ignorant to their plight.

Let us not undermine one person’s suffering in the name of highlighting another. Its like going to a house where a family has lost a loved one and making a statement that “Hey, this is sad, but you know in a road accident in New York in 1945, a whole family was wiped out.” There is nothing even mildly political about this.

Let us use this really grave moment to convey solidarity with the people who are standing up to racism and fundamentalism, be it in Paris, Lebanon, Tamil Eelam, Kurdistan, Baltimore, or Nigeria. But let us not do this “what about” games, especially with people who are our potential comrades, especially at such a time of crisis. The blood shed in Paris is the blood shed in Beirut is the blood shed in Jaffna is the blood shed in Diyarbakir. Praying for and showing solidarity with whatever is closest to you does not make you a racist. But trivializing the suffering of another makes you an absolute disgrace to humanity.

The Rise of the European Right Is a Wake-up Call for the European Left to Abandon Multiculturalism

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Originally published on Huffington Post

The astounding success of the Front National in the first round of France’s regional elections brought me no surprise. Though they didn’t win in the end, they have significantly increased their presence in France. The Right has been on an offensive insurgent mode in Europe for quite some time now. Quite strong Right-wing regimes rule Hungary and Poland. Anti-immigrant parties are on the rise in Denmark, Belgium and even in liberal Sweden. And at home, we have the UKIP that is steadily expanding its influence.

The success of the Right is not the validation of some inherently European racist tendencies as the politically correct would like to accuse, but rather the inevitable result of multiculturalism. The Right has capitalized where the Left has failed, weaving criticisms of practices of migrant communities into a strategically articulated discourse of xenophobia. The liberal-left, in its assumption that the best way to fight xenophobia is to treat the cultural practices of migrant communities as sacrosanct, has given ammunition to the Right’s discourse that immigrants will always remain alien to the European way of life.

Multiculturalism, and its dogma of uncritical tolerance of minority communities, has morally and politically undermined the Left and enabled the Right to project themselves as the defenders of Europe.

If in the era of colonialism the European liberal saw himself as the superhero responsible for saving all of humanity, in the era of multiculturalism, he sees himself as the supervillain responsible for all of humanity’s problems. To use a Freudian argument, the self-flagellating masochism of the European left-liberal is a form of a perverted narcissism. The left-liberal is secretly pleased at the ‘punishment’ being meted out to him by the exotic other, since he still remains the object of attention. This is why we could find so many apologetic rants in the wake of the Islamist terror attacks in Paris. “Yes, the attacks were bad, but we were the guilty ones.”

This sort of ridiculous posturing not only alienates the Left from the European masses, but also makes the vitriol of the Right more endearing. To be brutally honest, if I were a politically uneducated White working class person in a Parisian suburb, I would find the diabolical xenophobic frankness of the Front National more appealing than the sophistries of the liberal who expects me to bear responsibility for aggression committed against France.

If backward cultural practices of Muslim migrants are to be tolerated under the argument that they are integral to Islam, soon Hindu migrants too can make a claim, not without legitimacy, that practicing casteism is integral to being a Hindu. Indeed, Hindu lobby groups have opposed Britain’s attempts to criminalize the practice of casteism. There will be no limit to this, and the only politics that the Left will encounter from such groups is the politics of blackmail. As Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek rightly observed, “The more Western liberal leftists wallow in their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam.”

We need to differentiate between defending the lives and democratic rights of migrants and minorities and serving as apologists for the bigotries and backwardness among them. In fact, the only way to effectively defend the democratic rights of migrants is by being unapologetically critical of backward cultural practices among their communities and extending full support to progressives from such communities. The failure of the Left to do so is the only success of multiculturalism, and this provides the best rhetorical weapon for the Right to denounce migrants en masse as a backward lot.

As an ‘immigrant’ who has been in this country for about four years now, I agree with the Prime Minister David Cameron that British values need to be defended. But what are the British values we are talking about? The utopian communism of Gerrard Winstanley, the secular Republicanism of Shakespeare and the romantic Jacobinism of PB Shelley are the real British values, and very much European values. To think that migrants need not subscribe to these and should stay in their own little closeted cultures is also a form of racism.

In the name of multiculturalism, we cannot allow an infantile liberal-Left deny and denigrate all that is radical and emancipatory about Europe. Because only the far-Right, which hates egalitarian European values as much as the Islamists, will be the eventual beneficiary of this.

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Je Suis Robespierre

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Originally published on The European Magazine

One should not be cynical here. The protests that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre, that saw millions on the streets of Paris, were indeed genuine in their concern for Frenchlaïcité and the liberté that emerges from it. But this is not enough. This liberté cannot be sustained without the other two essential ingredients, égalité and fraternité. Which is why we need to revisit the ideas of the greatest European revolutionary whose birth anniversary fell earlier this month (no, Google Doodle did not honor him.)

Liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort

The slogan of the Jacobins under Maximillien Robespierre was liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort_. That is, there was a political will, almost a passion, to court death for the cause of liberty, equality and fraternity. This was the foundation for modern French laïcité. After the Thermidorian reaction, “_fraternité_” and “_ou la mort” was removed. And under Napoleon Bonaparte, it was reduced to liberté and ordre public – much like the present regime, which seems to want to balance liberty of speech and surveillance for public security. The radical universalism of the French Revolution, represented in its call for fraternité, was to be replaced.

In his speech “On the Trial of the King”, Robespierre said “We invoke forms, because we have no principles; we pride ourselves on our delicacy, because we lack energy; we flaunt a false humanity, because the feeling of true humanity is foreign to us”. We can extend this and say that we preach tolerance for particularities, because we have lost faith in universality; we submit to surveillance, because we do not dare to think beyond the system; we pick sides between majority and minority bigots, because we have lost the will to imagine a united fight against all bigotry.

Where should we stand now? In his last speech, Robespierre emphasizes “When reason is proscribed as a crime, tyranny reigns; when good citizens are condemned to silence, then obviously scoundrels must rule.” Here, both the state that persecutes individuals for treading on too controversial topics (like foreign misadventures) or the multiculturalist liberals who engage in censorship and self-censorship on topics that might be considered as offending minorities (like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons) obey the same perverse logic of criminalizing reason.

State Violence or Islamist Violence?

This again brings to the other problem, of violence. Here too, simple binaries operate. One is either an apologist for state violence, or one is an apologist for Islamist violence. Yes, one can argue that with all its flaws, the French state is far better than the Islamists that oppose it, that secular tyranny is any day preferable to religious tyranny. But this too betrays a lack of political imagination, the desire to create a new world order. It is probably only that vision, a revisiting of Robespierre, and a reinvented Jacobinism that can really safeguard French culture. If anything, the greatest threat to French culture comes not from immigrants, but rather from the general apathy of the French to their own radical past and its significance for the future.

Michel Houellebecq’s recent dystopian novel Soumission, unfairly accused of Islamophobia by some liberal critics, deals precisely with the costs of apathy and cynicism that pervades Western society and politics. Islamism is merely a metaphor in the novel for any dangerous and regressive ideology than can take over a nihilistic society with the promise of order and meaning.

Charlie Hebdo’s sacrifice served as a wake-up call for the values of laïcité and liberté. To defend and to take forward the “Je Suis Charlie” movement and to make it genuinely universal, we need to now say “Je Suis Robespierre”.

Charlie Hebdo Deserves the PEN Honour and Why the Critics are Wrong

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on May 13, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

PEN American Center has decided to give Charlie Hebdo a long overdue recognition – its Freedom of Expression Courage award. On its website, PEN justified its decision arguing, quite legitimately, that “Only a handful of people are willing to put themselves in peril to build a world in which we are all free to say what we believe” and that the journalists of Charlie Hebdo belonged to this category.

Unfortunately, but predictably enough, few writers have decided to boycott the event where the Hebdo journalists will be awarded. One of them, American writer Rachel Kushner, defended her decision arguing that Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance”. The others too gave similar arguments.

A most honorable and courageous exception, Salman Rushdie slammed these writers for their “very, very bad move.” He further said that “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.”

Charlie Hebdo demonstrated a moral and intellectual courage that most media in the Anglo-Saxon world refuse to show – the willingness to stand up to bigots of all types and colors. While the liberal-left here mostly only engage in White-guilt trips blaming Europe for all ills in the world, the Hebdo journalists, in the true spirit of the tradition of Voltaire and Moliere, mercilessly lampooned all those who wielded power, be it the French government, the Le Pens, or the Islamists.

Now, the Islamists might hail from ‘marginalized’ communities but they definitely are not an ‘oppressed’ community. A group which has the ability to strike journalists at will, which is responsible for the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks creating a climate of fear causing an exodus of Jews from France, which intimidates members of its own community to follow archaic cultural practices is neither an ‘oppressed minority’ nor its representative, but a death cult.

And the writers who are boycotting the PEN event are inadvertently legitimizing the ideology, politics, and actions of this group. This only serves as an encouragement to Islamists that instead of being hauled up for their crimes, it is rather their victims who will be targeted for being ‘racist’, ‘intolerant’ and what not. This also discourages genuinely progressive intellectuals from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities from having a much needed dialogue on the structural problems within Islam. By placing Islam beyond criticism, the liberal-left may pander to their own guilt, but they are doing nothing to help the oppressed.

Europeans should not be guilty about the claims of discrimination that Islamists and their apologists frequently shell out as an excuse for Muslim extremism. We must be bold enough to recognize that Islamism is not a legitimate reaction of an oppressed group, but a powerful world movement funded by petrodollars, arms trade, drug trafficking and sex slavery. If there is anything writers in the West should be guilty about, it is the sordid history of how the Western powers funded these movements in the past to counter secular and socialist movements in the Middle-East and in the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

Unfortunately, what the liberal-left is practicing here is a worse form of Islamophobia – the fear of offending Muslim extremists. And White writers assuming that all Muslims get offended by Hebdo’s cartoons – as if there are no secular, sober and sane individuals and political movements in the so-called Muslim world – is also a form of racism.

But to further contemplate on Kushner’s comment that Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance” – should we tolerate primordial savagery that is anathema to all forms of civilization? Can the French Partisans in World War II also be accused of “cultural intolerance” towards Nazism? GK Chesterton’s statement holds true here – tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing.

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Excerpt from my Review of Slavoj Zizek’s “Trouble in Paradise”

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published at The Oxonian Review

This drawing of simple binaries on unqualified distinctions of oppressor and oppressed is precisely what afflicts the Left political spectrum today, especially in Anglophone countries. Of course, the right-wing discourse that every Muslim is a potential terrorist is downright racist. But what does one call the equally problematic response of the multicultural left that any criticism of Islam, or the cultural practices of Muslim communities, is tantamount to Islamophobia? If one can excuse away the Charlie Hebdo massacre by reference to the brutality of French colonialism, then one can also excuse Nazism by reference to the brutal political and economic stipulations laid on Germany post-World War I. There is a monopolization of the discourse on Islam by Islamists and liberal Muslims which is being actively, or passively, assisted by the Western multicultural Left at the cost of those within the so-called “Muslim world” who care little for the Islamic religion, and the real or imagined offences against it, and who are instead working towards radical political struggle and social reform within their communities. This is the “Third” that is being ignored. An honourable exception, Žižek is miles ahead of his leftist peers in his insistence that Islamism is not a legitimate response to, but rather an inherent part of, global capitalism–an illegitimate child.

The Multicultural Inquisition of Our Times

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

In a sense, the Stalinist persecution of political dissidents was a lot more brutal than that of the fascists. Dont get me wrong, if the option was only between Hitler and Stalin I would gladly prefer Stalin, despite all the atrocities that he committed. But it is also important to recognize that the leftists who were murdered by the fascists knew that they were being martyred for a noble cause. Those murdered by the Stalinists, especially through the show trials, underwent a double murder. A spiritual one, followed by the physical. As Orwell put it in 1984, they were compelled to believe, against all reason, that two plus two was five. Their spirit of dissidence was broken, they were forced to confess their infidelity, and later unglamourously executed or made to rot in a gulag. In comparison, the greater moral crime was not the political genocide of leftists by fascists, but rather the mass murder of dissident leftists by the Stalinist dogmatists. One can say that Stalinism was a continuation of murders of heretics by the Inquisition.

Historically, the brutal and absolute power of the Inquisition lay not just in breaking the body of the heretic, but in breaking their soul. It was necessary to show the heretics as sinners against a divinely established body of truth, by virtue of which they had to be excommunicated and purged. In a sense, this is what the multicultural liberal-left is doing in the name of ‘defending minority cultures’. By default, any one who criticizes these minority cultures is considered a White patriarch/racist/Islamophobe etc and publicly shamed. There is a tacit assumption that these cultures matter to all individuals from non-Western societies and that they need not be integrated into Western Enlightenment standards. And while this liberal-left does not have the power to physically murder like the Catholic Inquistion or Stalinism, they still have a power to enforce censorship and mark labels on individuals in the media. So in place of the “heretic” or the “traitor”, we have the “White imperialist capitalist patriarch” or the “Islamophobe”.

As a “minority within a minority” (Tamil) in the West, I find these uncritical approvals of minority cultures frightening. Worse, I find it hard to get my articles published because they do not criticize the West and/or Israel enough. I can claim a triple discrimination here – racists here detest me because I am a “bloody immigrant”, my “fellow South Asians” hate me because I unconditionally oppose their cultural bigotries, and the liberal-left Whites censor me because I do not fit into their “lets blame the West for everything and exonerate the rest from everything” dogma. And several of my progressive ‘Muslim’ friends from Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian communities face the same problem.

It is dark humour that for all their ire against Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ theses, in fact, it is precisely the multicultural liberal-left who are the true Huntingtonians of the modern times. Why? More than the right-wingers, it is they who believe that there is something called a ‘Muslim world’, as different from the other worlds, whose inhabitants prioritize the Islamic identity over all else, and that it is a liberal duty to respect this identity. A critical interrogation of the ideology that nurtures this identity or the bigots that it privileges is to be avoided, well, because it would be Islamophobic. Obviously, the right-wing belief that “Everyone from the Muslim world is a potential terrorist” is wrong. But what do you call the left-liberal dogma that “Everyone from the Muslim world loves their Muslim identity and we must love them remaining that way”?

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a collective of writers, artists, lawyers, academics and activists – most of them ‘Muslims’ – from across the world signed a petition urging governments to not recognize “moderate” Islamists, but instead combat Islamism through “political means and mass mobilisation, not by giving extra privileges to any religion.”

Of course, the right-wing media did not cover any of this. It would undermine their theory that anything progressive would elude the Muslims. But the general silence of the liberal-left in engaging with these viewpoints from the ‘others’ in the ‘Muslim world’ was painful. Isn’t their privileging of both “moderate” and “hardcore” Islamist voices contributing to the further silencing of those who reject the Muslim identity politics and seek alternatives in radical emancipatory political projects?

In an interview, Neil deGrasse Tyson commented on the three phases of the life of a scientific truth – First people say: “It can’t be true”. Second they say: “It conflicts with the bible.” Third they say: “It’s true all along.” The same applies for political truths. The great political truth of our time is this – Islamism is a problem by itself and there are progressives from various Muslim communities across the world waging a life-or-death struggle against it. It cannot be excused or explained away by blaming Western imperialism. Western liberal-leftists now say that this can’t be true. They will next say that it conflicts with the multicultural gospel and censor all those who reject this thesis. Eventually they will say that it is true all along.

But by then, there will be many more victims of terrorist attacks like the Copenhagen shootings which the European Right will cynically manipulate to further their indiscriminate xenophobia. And if we do not stand up to the Inquisition that the politically correct multicultural left have forced upon us, we might as well embrace a century of competing fundamentalisms.

J’accuse: Charlie Hebdo and the Rank Stupidity of the Infantile Left

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on January 20, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

In the wake of the brutal murders at the office of the French satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo, did you come across any article which read something like the following?

‘While the Hebdo murders are sad (add few token lines of phony sympathy) France has killed many people during colonialism. And it has a history of white racism. Plus, it is also engaged in neo-colonial endeavors. Likewise, Charlie Hebdo is Islamophobic (give few examples). The murderers are just isolated madmen and do not have an ideology. etc etc.’

Well done! You’ve just had a generous dose of infantile leftism! Criticism is reserved only for the West and Israel. Only the Whites and Jews have it in them to be the super-villains of the world. The rest are just innocent suffering victims. And yes, the ‘resistance’ of these ‘victims’ – whatever form it might come in – ought not be criticized. Ironically, this sort of Manichean thinking, that of the bad West vs the poor Rest, is precisely the mirror-image of the Bush doctrine of “either you are with us or against us”.

Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek made an interesting comment about such trends among the left: “For the multiculturalist, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are prohibited, Italians and Irish get a little respect, blacks are good, native Americans are even better. The further away we go, the more they deserve respect. This is a kind of inverted, patronizing respect that puts everyone at a distance.”

The irrational hatred for Whites and Jews (including those from the working class) apart, this is precisely the kind of patronizing respect that the infantile left in Western countries shows towards Islamism. In reality, this left is much like the right, in that it secretly accepts that Muslims are incapable of radical social reform, and hence, becomes a patron of Islamist identity politics. And the bogey it invents to hide its own failures and to shut down legitimate criticisms of Islamism is that of Islamophobia. And the ‘name-and-shame’ campaign this coterie launches against critics – not to mention the real, existential threat posed by Islamic fanatic groups – create a climate where there is self-censorship that writers, intellectuals and comedians impose on themselves. The implicit message seems to be this: criticize Islam, and you are an Islamophobe. Should you be killed, you probably deserved it.

Isn’t that what is also transpiring in Hebdo attack case? Though the magazine was clearly an equal-opportunity offender some on the left have used even this tragic circumstance to paint the institution as ‘Islamophobic’.

I did come across a few nauseating articles but this one by Richard Seymour on a magazine that goes by the name “Jacobin” takes the cake. Let alone a solidarity with the victims – which the writer believes to be “platitudinous” – there is not even a word of condemnation of the terrorists (again, a term which the writer opposes to categorize the killers) who executed this barbaric attack. Instead there is a banal sermon on the possible dangers of Islamophobia, a totally irrelevant anecdote about Thatcher coupled with an inappropriate comparison with the IRA, and accusations at Charlie Hebdo which make it sound as though the magazine invited the attack.

It is precisely this sort of irresponsible justifications of acts of blind terrorism that shrink the already limited political space for progressive activists, representatives of the working class and oppressed nations. And no less a person than Lenin condemned these sort of acts. Seymour asks his readers to check up on Said’s Orientalism (and it is not a wonder that he is disapproving of Zizek). But maybe he should re-read – and try to understand – what Lenin meant when he called terrorist-glorification tendencies an ‘infantile disorder’.

A true leftist would realize that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not merely an attack on a liberal freedom of press – it is an attack of a core Marxist value, namely, the ethical imperative to critically examine every ideology under the sun, and Islam is no special exception. For a leftist to ignore that is imbecility at its worst.

As far Islamist terrorism goes, maybe the Left should remember what Robespierre, the patriarch of modern day revolutionaries, said – “To punish the oppressors of humanity is benevolence; to be benevolent to them is barbarism.” This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.

Islamophilia Cannot Be an Effective Answer to Islamophobia

Posted in International by Karthick RM on December 24, 2014

Originally published on Huffington Post

The recent siege by an Islamist in Sydney has raised all too familiar debates about Islamophobia. The general right-wing argument, of course, is that such acts of terrorism are justified by a hard-core minority of Muslims and that downplaying the role of Islam is potentially harmful. On the other hand, the general liberal-left argument is that expecting all Muslims to condemn such acts is bigoted because a whole community cannot be held accountable for the actions of a few ‘deranged lunatics’.

Central to both arguments is an unstated belief that the Islamic identity is central to all Muslims, and while the former despises it, the latter preaches a patronising tolerance of the same. And both are wrong.

We have to look at Islamophobia as the tendency to blame Muslims as a whole, without any differentiation of nation, culture, class, gender, and political orientation for terrorist acts committed by Islamists.

Likewise, we have to look at Islamophilia as the tendency to exonerate Islam as an ideology from the crimes that are committed in its name, as the belief that the Muslim identity is good in itself and is central to an adherent of the faith.

Reality, if anything, shows the contrary. Proponents of the two sides are unlikely to remember that the first state to declare itself officially atheist in the world happened to be a predominantly ‘Muslim’ country – socialist Albania. Under Enver Hoxha, the state banned religion and religious preaching, shut down mosques, and tried to achieve gender parity in all services. In practice, the ‘Muslim’ Hoxha was the most rabid Islamophobe of the previous century. Incidentally, it was precisely those western governments – who are now accused of harbouring Islamophobia – who railed against Hoxha for curbing religious freedom for Muslims.

Several other examples could be given. The Indonesian Communist Party led insurgency, the Kurdish movement in the middle-east, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (Turkey), the Communist Party of Iran – all militantly secular movements led by ‘Muslims’ – have faced brutal repression from variants of Islamism. It would be a brutal illogic to say that the murder of thousands of individuals from these movements had nothing to do with the Islamic ideology that the states they challenged upheld.

Why is this important? Drawing parallels from other cases, can we say that the Inquisition’s slaughter of tens of thousands of heretics at the stake was just an act committed by a few ‘deranged lunatics’ and that the ideology of the Church had no role to play in it? Can we say that the discrimination against Dalits, the lowest castes in the Hindu hierarchy, owes to a few bad individuals and is not a structural problem in Hinduism? Can we say that war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamils were just acts of bad soldiers and they can be divorced from the genocidal intent of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism?

Similarly, we cannot excuse the Islamic ideology from the terrorism and violence that is committed in its name. There is a lot in political Islam that justifies violence against non-Muslims, sexism and terroristic acts and those Muslims who have been fighting it for long have written the best testimonials. For liberals in the West to ignore this and to engage in downright immature acts, like wearing a hijab to convey solidarity with Muslim women, is tantamount to mocking those progressives in Muslim communities who resist the cultural diktats of political Islam.

A more critical approach to political Islam is needed. Commenting on the Rotherhamchild abuse scandal, which saw the sexual abuse of over a thousand white, mostly working class, children by men of Pakistani-Muslim origin, Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek argued that raising questions about inherent sexism and violence in these communities is neither racist nor Islamophobic. Rather, it is this questioning alone that can guarantee an authentic co-existence.

Liberals and leftists in the West are right to condemn the bigotry of the majority community, but the fundamentalism of the minority community cannot be spared from criticism. If those identifying as left and liberal fail to criticise the dangerous trends of Islamism, the right will step up for the task. That is a future no one wants and political correctness can do little to fight it. Maybe one can start by expressing critical solidarity with those progressive movements from within the Muslim communities that are willing to think beyond narrow religious identities and are willing to challenge the bigotries in Islamic ideology.