Muslims participate in all kinds of politics without giving up their Muslim identity

November 29, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

A Muslim man holding the Indian tricolour flagDelhi, November 27, 2012: Hilal Ahmed is an associate fellow at the Delhi based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and specialises on political Islam, Muslim’s political representation and the evolution of Muslim modernities in South Asia.

In this series, the logic of protest, TCN will talk to a number of academicians, civil rights advocates, and members of intelligentsia and try to encourage a constructive debate on the issue.

M. Reyaz spoke with Hilal Ahmed over phone on the ‘politics of selective protests.’ Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Why do we see disproportionate response to the Palestine issue amongst Indian Muslims?
Hilal Ahmed: Before answering your questions, I must tell you that Muslim as community is not a homogenous monolithic category and hence we need to delve deeper in the labels of issues represented and rearticulated in different contexts. We also need to understand the ways in which certain popular and mediatized debates become ‘Muslim issues.’ These processes are complex, very complicated, and without unpacking them it would be inappropriate to mark a few ‘protests’ as Muslim protests! I think we need to make a distinction between the everyday lives of Muslims and the media type images of Muslims.

However, I do not think that this question is unimportant. India had a sympathetic policy towards Palestine that provided a scope to different political ideologies to articulate the issues in their own ways. For instance, for the left-liberals, broadly speaking, Palestine has always been a question of nationhood, right to self-determination and human rights. Similarly, for Muslim political groups, it has been a question of identity and protection of religiously sacred places of worship. Precisely for this reason, it has always been possible to establish a derivative link between the Palestine issues and the political realities we encounter in India.

Q. But why Muslims generally tend to ignore Muslim-Muslim conflicts like in Syria, Mali, etc., or for that matter methods use by Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
HA: I have reservations with your question. This is what I had hinted at initially, that we need to make distinction between mediatised interpretation and realities of everyday lives. I, for example, know of many aalims who are against Taliban or their type of ideologies. But the media has a preconceived notion of ‘narrow-minded’ Muslims and so most mediated messages, visuals appear in that direction.

Q. Why don’t we see similar protests over issues that concerns Indian Muslims, like ‘arbitrary’ detention of Muslim youths, reservations, discrimination, etc.
HA: I don’t think that is the case. I can, in fact, give you several examples of Muslim groups organising protests or marches in massive numbers. Ali Anwar organized a massive gathering in Delhi over the issues of Pashmanda (marginalised) Muslims. Many similar marches have been organised in Tamil Nadu or in other parts of the country.

Moreover, I can for certain tell you that Muslims in India participate in all kinds of movements, without giving up their Muslim identity.

Q. But does such protest serve any purpose?
HA: As a social science researcher, I am not in a position to judge that without proper research or study. Impact is long-term process and so I can’t really judge that.

Q. Can there be more effective ways to fulfill your demands rather than protests?
HA: This is a political question that has its own specificity. But I would like say that it is very important to look at the ways in which politics is intellectually understood by those who practice it. In my view, the intellectual level of our politicians in general, Muslim politicians in particular, is not as high as that of earlier generation, like Azad, Gandhi, Nehru, or in later years Lohia. One may have reservations with the rightist politics LK Advani or Abdullah Bukhari, but they intelligently provided arguments and justified their respective causes. We don’t see many politicians like them these days.

Interesting things are happening though, and is not as bleak as it appears. Politicians like AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal or MIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi have intelligently merged the identity issue with larger demands of empowerment or other issues. We should not see it from communal-secular binary, but wait to see how things churn out.

– tcn

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