By Khaled Ahmed
October 16, 2015
A Hindu mob in Dadri, just outside Delhi, broke into 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq’s home last month, accused him of eating and storing beef before beating him to death. This year, Bangladeshis have been killing secular bloggers “for offering insult to Islam”, before escalating to killing foreigners and flagging the presence of the Islamic State in the country — a Japanese and an Italian were sacrificed so that “hardliners who have been shut out of the political mainstream”, according to experts, could be appeased. Australia cancelled its cricket tour to signal what the world thinks of Bangladesh now. Pakistan is already a cricket pariah because of terrorism.
Pakistan has been punished. Its Islamisation under General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law in the 1970-’80s transformed it into a jihadi state until its institutions couldn’t protect its people any more. This change coincided with the changing Muslim mind in South Asia and the Middle East.
After the breakup of 1971, Bangladesh and Pakistan chose secular-democratic governments. Leaders of both governments were killed and the generals took over, strangely aping each other: Even the Islamising amendment in their constitutions had to be the eighth amendment!
That India was bent on joining the Islamist bandwagon was noted by Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz, who stayed on in India after attending a mushaira in 1981 to avoid the generals’ wrath — only to be called an Indian spy by the Muslim League government in Islamabad. She wrote in Urdu, “tum bilkul hum jaise niklay (You turned out to be just like us!/ Where were you hiding all this time, buddy?/ That stupidity, that ignorance/ We wallowed in for a century/ Look, it arrived at your shores too!)”
Then Sri Lanka joined in with its ethnic-based violence, to which its Tamils responded with such original mayhem that al-Qaeda had to adopt its novel technique of killing. A Tamil suicide-bomber in India took the life of ex-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Today, Colombo faces a tough job in getting back to normal while religious temperatures still run high. Its next-door neighbour and a member of Saarc, the Maldives, a sinking bunch of islands, has succumbed to religion too, imprisoning its secular former president and sending out its madrassa-trained youth as Islamic State terrorists.
The Saarc member in the northeast of South Asia, Afghanistan, is more primal and Hobbesian, spreading its savagery downwards into Pakistan. Muslims from all over the world congregated in Afghanistan to jettison centuries of civilisation that threatened to eclipse their true religion. Afghanistan was just the place for this kind of denudation of the soul: It never became a proper state because it was never centralised enough and suffered when called upon to expel its foreigners. Next-door Pakistan caught the virus and became imitative while aspiring to control its neighbour.
The closing of the Muslim mind is a global development. Muslim Arabs fleeing to Europe to escape carnage at the hands of fellow Muslims are hardly aware that in the fullness of time, they too might react to identity crises by radicalising. Are we going to see a closing of the Indian mind, too?
The West is reacting to Muslim migration; it is going rightwing and becoming more inward-looking as it focuses on “inequality”, a contradictory trend combining the xenophobia of the right with the non-self-correcting socialism of the left.
The human mind gets honed to higher levels of consciousness when it engages in commerce. The warrior remains backward, living off a primitive aspect of the modern state called nationalism. (Tagore cottoned on to this and spoke against it.) The Indian mind towards the end of the 20th century was ready to embrace the economic opportunity offered by the free market. The growth rate indicators that dogged it for decades improved and the world woke up to a new India. Socialism retreated behind two essential approaches: The free market and the protection of the disadvantaged.
India’s left produced the big leaders it needed and sustained democracy that other states of South Asia couldn’t. It produced Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the right, whom the world saw as a statesman instead of a Hindu leader, despite his advocacy of Hindutva under a secular Constitution. After all, there were always communal riots in secular India, and many inquiry commissions were routinely set up to investigate their occurrence.
The rise of Narendra Modi in Gujarat was good news for a world tired of asking India to open up. No one is going to believe it, but his economic pragmatism inspired leaders in Pakistan on both sides of its bipartisan system.
Unlike Modi, the drag of jihad and smaller-state revisionist nationalism was too much for both Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif — the latter actually legitimised his approach to “new” India by winning the 2013 election on the slogan of economic “normalisation” with India. Ironically, Modi scored his record-breaking electoral victory under an opposite slogan.
Pakistan rejoiced in the first week of October, when the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence of a man who murdered Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011 for criticising the blasphemy law that routinely victimises non-Muslims in Pakistan. In August this year, a Kannada intellectual in Karnataka, M.M. Kalburgi, was killed by a mob because he had blasphemed against a local saint.
Modi seeks appeasement of Indian anger over the transgressions of the Pakistani state, but has not yet responded to the rising rate of foreign investment in India after the Chinese market declined. His critics at home want him to induct the reforms needed by the economy before it can become globally attractive. Internal dissent within Hindu society reflected in criticism over the Dadri outrage is a negative development. It also makes life difficult in the already troubled states in India’s neighbourhood.
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’