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Islam and Pluralism ( 18 Nov 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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By Saif Shahin,

Nov 19, 2008.

Indian Muslims must give up their minority mindset and reach out to the larger India around them

EVER SINCE that icy Iowa evening 10 months ago, when an unheralded black American burst on to the global consciousness by turning the tables on the front- running wife of an ex- president in the first Democratic caucus of the US presidential election 2008, Muslims in India — and around the world — have been awaiting their own Barack Obama. With Obama’s election victory on November 4, that wait should now be over.

Even a not- so- close scrutiny of his campaign shows that despite being black, Obama chose not to run as a ‘black candidate’. He rarely raised the concerns of the blacks and presented himself as someone who cut across community lines, focusing on national issues such as the economy, unemployment and bringing troops back from Iraq.

He even distanced himself from those friends and aides — such as Reverend Jeremiah Wright — who unwittingly brought attention to his ‘blackness’ by ridiculing the ‘whiteness’ of the opposition.

Indeed, so thick was this tenor of his campaign that it led many black Americans like Reverend Jesse Jackson — who has him run for president twice — to accuse Obama of “talking down” to black people. But Jackson was reduced to tears — of joy, of course — on Election Day in Chicago as he heard Obama deliver his victory speech.


Obama saw, at the very outset, that black Americans could not overcome racial discrimination by endlessly crying hoarse over their victimisation by the whites and leaving it at that, as the professional protest leadership of Jackson et al has been doing since the civil rights era.

Blaming the whites for all their problems was just that — blaming the ‘other’ community and thereby reinforcing the divide.

He realised it was the blacks who first needed to go beyond racial discrimination — by viewing themselves not primarily as blacks but as Americans.

One example of that would be for a coloured presidential candidate to contest, not for scoring a point over the whites or even for simply solving the concerns of the blacks, but for taking on the challenges that face the nation as a whole.

In attempting so, in hoping that if he made the call across the racial barrier, it will be answered, Obama obviously displayed an extraordinary leap of faith in the basic goodness of human nature. He succeeded, succeeded, and his election is being hailed by many not as a victory for multiracialism but as the dawn of a ‘post- racial’ America.

It’s a message that Indian Muslims should not miss.

They are not entirely wrong in blaming communal discrimination for many of their ills, including illiteracy, indigence and debilitating unemployment — the lowest among all religious communities. The same discrimination that shuts the doors of schools and offices to them has also seen them targeted in countless riots and pogroms since Independence. But they are wrong in blaming the majority community and leaving it at that — as they have also been doing since Independence.

Minority- ism

Where has this attitude of professional minority- ism led the community to? Reacting to their discrimination by ‘Indians’ on account of their Muslimness, at least some Indian Muslims have reacted by obliging themselves to become more Muslim — nudging themselves towards extremism. As is to be expected, the religion that these Muslims or their children are born or bred into is not as much Islam as a reactionary version of it.

That religion is, in turn, giving birth to psychos who take pleasure in murdering and maiming innocents.

Quite obviously, in turning away from their Indianness, these ultra- Muslims in truth turn away from Islam as well. They ruin their own lives and, alongside, reinforce the communalism they had set out to conquer.

Such fanatics are thankfully still just a few. However a less radical but much more widespread manifestation of the minority mentality is Muslims’ insulating themselves from the rest of society and shoving themselves into residential, cultural and even intellectual ghettos. No one is sure if Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajid, the two boys killed by Delhi Police and blamed for perpetrating serial blasts, were indeed guilty of terrorism. But they were surely guilty of living in Batla House — a teeming locality of tens of thousands in south Delhi where you would be hard put to find a single non- Muslim. Such ghettos exist in virtually every city, town or village with large or even average Muslim populations, and create a very physical dimension for the country’s communal divide.

Even until a couple of decades ago, many Muslim households — especially children — used to celebrate at least larger Indian festivals like Holi and Diwali with as much zest as anybody else. Today, Muslims’ cultural ghettoisation means that children who burst firecrackers on Diwali or play with colours on Holi are frowned upon or castigated by their elders [many of whom must have enjoyed the same celebrations in their own childhood]. Intellectually too, a number of Muslim families have turned away from mainstream education,

Preferring to send their children to madrassas and Urdu/ Arabic schools instead. Indeed, there are those who believe that reading and memorising the Quran by heart is all there is to education in this world.

Some are of course forced into these physical and mental ghettos, but many other Muslims have turned to them by choice. What they do not realise is that in doing so, they are being no different from those multitudes of black Americans whose ghettoisation has mired them into a vortex of crime and degeneration.

But minority- ism and mainstream- ism are matters of choice, as Obama’s rise has proved. Indian Muslims too can choose to remain the discriminated against minority they are, or they can give up their mentality of victim-hood and reach out to the rest of the country. It is only then that the fault- lines will begin to disappear.

Many Hindus actually believe that all Muslim men keep four wives, that they breed like rats in a bid to overtake India’s Hindu population and become the majority, that they have vowed to kill every non- Muslim they encounter and so forth. These myths will not be busted unless Muslims meet Hindus cordially and invite them to their households, where Hindus can see Muslims for what they really are.


Muslim ulema have made a beginning by urging the community to shun terrorism as not just un- Islamic but anti- Islamic.

They must also go a step further by calling upon Muslims to eschew their insularity and proactively engage with the India around them. Only then will they conquer communal discrimination.

Of course it won’t happen in a day, just as no one expects racial discrimination in the US to suddenly turn history after Obama’s victory. But that victory has shown that this is the only way forward.

Obama’s victory has also given Indian Muslims their very own Barack Obama.

And that is Obama himself, insofar as he is an everyday man with a notoriously “funny name” from a minority community who defied almost impossible odds to mark a giant leap in inter- community relations.

The medium is the message. If Obama can, then so can every Indian Muslim — if he dares to hope and pushes for a change.

Saif Shahin can be reached at




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    That is:

    Obama Advisor's Disturbing Affiliations In India

    By Vinod K. Jose 12 November, 2008

    The economist of Indian origin on President-Elect Barack Obama's transition team, Ms. Sonal Shah, has one dubious credential on her resume--her relationship with the Hindu extremist group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). This militant group was held responsible for the genocidal pogroms against Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 that killed 2,000 people and rendered 100,000 homeless. Ms. Shah was the "National Coordinator" for the VHP in North America . So the lingering question is: why hasn't the Obama team vetted enough on Ms. Sonal Shah's Hindu extremist connections?

    Obama's Indian By Vijay Prashad 12 November, 2008 Counterpunch
    The likely suspects have picked up the phone and moved to the transition headquarters. Among them is a former CAP fellow and now Google employee, Sonal Shah. Shah is well known in the South Asian American community, and is a fixture in the Washington liberal circuit. The latter know her for her Democratic credentials, most of which seem to lie somewhere between neo-liberalism and welfare liberalism. The bleeding heart pauses, but then ticks again to the tune of pragmatism. This is perfect material for the CAP, which is hardly enthusiastic about the Democratic Leadership Council’s total commitment to triangulation (which means capitulation to conservatism), but it is not averse to a little political calculus itself. Shah, a product of the University of Chicago, shined her corporate shoes at Anderson Consulting (who was Enron’s accountant), which probably made it easier for her to go into Clinton’s Treasury Department, where she helped Robert Rubin put a U. S. stamp on the post-1997 Asian economic recovery. The corporate side was balanced with an interest in the ideology of “giving back.” When Bush took office, Shah went to the Center for Global Development, and while there joined her brother Anand in forming Indicorps. Knowing full well the desire among many South Asian Americans to give back to their homeland, the Shahs created an organization to help them go and volunteer in India, to do for them what the Peacecorps did for young liberals in the 1960s. Shah left the CAP to work for Goldman Sachs, and then went to Google. Shah’s story is not unlike that of most of the CAP fellows, many of whom honed their dexterity at trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, capital and freedom, private accumulation and human needs.

    But there is a less typical side to the Shah story. Born in Gujarat, India, Shah came to the United States as a two-year old. Her father, a chemical engineer, first worked in New York before moving to Houston, and then moving away from his education toward the stock market. The Shahs remain active in Houston’s Indian community, not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj (a society for people from Gujarat), but also in the far more cruel organizations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (the main political party of the Hindu Right) and the Ekal Vidyalaya. Shah’s parents, Ramesh and Kokila, not only work as volunteers for these outfits, but they also held positions of authority in them. Their daughter was not far behind. She was an active member of the VHPA, the U. S. branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organization should “inculcate a fear psychosis among [India’s] Muslim community.” This was Shah’s boss. Till 2001, Shah was the National Coordinator of the VHPA.

    By Aamir Mughal