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Competitive Paternalisms and the Indian Muslim

Competitive Paternalisms and the Indian Muslim Shajahan Madampat This is a response to Saroj Giri


Competitive Paternalisms and the Indian Muslim

Shajahan Madampat

his is a response to Saroj Giri’s article “Those Enemies of Freedom” (17 March 2012). While I generally agree with his principal contention that the exercise of autonomous political agency by marginalised groups beyond the paternalistic reform allowed by the state is viewed with suspicion and alarm, I think the context in which he chooses to articulate his argument is dubious. The deliberately vague style of writing and the conflation between rather unconnected issues on the one hand, and the monolithic perception about Muslims on the other are of a piece with the not so uncommon variety of illiberal secularism that often finds common cause with illiberal fanaticism in these weird times.

The hue and cry against Salman Rushdie attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, Giri seems to think, is an example of the exercise of autonomous political agency by the marginalised Muslim community. The critique of this uproarious turmoil, by extension, is reflective of the tendency on the part of the liberals to confi ne the marginalised, in this case the Muslims, to socio-economic issues and to deprive them of their legitimate rights to exercise political agency. This policy of “containment” pursued by the liberals – their favourable approach to questions of empowerment and protection from the Hindu zealots notwithstanding – seeks to condescendingly assign a role to the marginalised, which perpetuates the predominance of the elite without making them openly complicit in the process of marginalisation.The belaboured thesis, however, is devoid of any clear position on the causal factor – the banning of Rushdie and his book from India – that necessitated the article! Should Rushdie have been allowed to participate at the festival? Was the frenzied opposition to his visit on the part of a section of the Muslims justifiable on any ground? Why was the agitation so well-timed to coincide with elections in a number of states? Why did they not oppose when Rushdie visited India a number of times on private and public visits during the past two decades? Was the opposition to Rushdie’s visit a spontaneous overflow of the community’s wounded feelings or an engineered gimmick invented to advantage or disadvantage one party or the other in the elections? Is it acceptable to leave decisions on the publications of books and participation of writers and artists in events to the whims, fancies, delights and hurts of confessional blocs and their self-styled leaders?

Forgotten Crucial Issues

Giri conveniently ignores the other crucial facts germane to the subject of discussion: the worthies who mobilised people against Rushdie and blew the issue out of proportion were never party to any attempts at addressing the socioeconomic deprivations of the Muslims in India. The Jamaat-e-Islami spent the major chunk of its time in post-independence India trying to wean the community away from any meaningful empowerment on the pretext that the Muslims would be committing an act of polytheism if they either sought government employment in an unIslamic state or participated and voted in elections. The Jamiat-ulUlema-e-Hind (JUH) remained blissfully complicit in the Congress Party’s various acts of omission and commission against the community. Deoband clerics have in any case been too engrossed in their atavistic self-delusions to even notice the happenings in real-time, with the exception of life and death issues of the community such as The Satanic Verses, women’s clothes or full body scan! Unmindful of these and many other important issues central to his subject, Giri proceeds to pronounce his thesis, creating a text totally at odds with the context.

What particularly irked the author is the suggestion made by the liberals that the community should have focused on concrete issues of socio-economic deprivation instead of raking up emotive issues that would not help the community. In fact, Giri’s entire thesis originated from a deconstruction of this seemingly innocuous and well-intended suggestion made in the course of an impassioned discussion; he does not offer any other evidence or examples to substantiate it.

One of the factors that has contributed to the socio-economic deprivation of the Muslim community across the world is the vulnerability of some of its members to emotive non-issues. That is precisely why Ayatullah Khomeini sought to surmount the limitations of his minority Shia identity through a fatwa against Rushdie, thereby projecting himself as the saviour of not only Shiaism, but Islam in its entirety across the world. It is no accident that most of the Muslim countries in the world implement draconian regulations and restrictions on free speech.

The establishment and preservation of a safe inviolable zone in the realm of thought is indisputably one of the reasons why much of the community by and large remains gullible to wicked manipulations and is resistant to winds of change. Articles such as Giri’s strengthen the hands of the regressive forces within the community in no small measure. Besides, they are no less condescending and patronising than the liberals they excoriate. The liberals at least do not subscribe to the quixotic idea that all debates and criticisms within and about the community should be indefi nitely postponed until the external threats cease to exist.

It is high time those Muslims who do not doubt their political agency prayed aloud: Oh god, save us from our friends, we will protect ourselves against our enemies.

Shajahan Madampat ( is a writer and a cultural critic, writing in Malayalam, English and Arabic.

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