Who manages to vocalise in this mess?

Politics is personal might be a big phrase to flaunt. But what does it really mean?

Are we only saying that the choices we make are our political statements? This is a very superficial way of looking at it, externalising the personal. Over the last decade since starting this space, I have met a wide range of people from across the world, traveled a bit, and worked with most of them – usually in the setting of theatre, where things get really personal (I mean sweaty bodies and emotions on loose strings). I have seen politics (beliefs and principles relating to governance of society versus real situations) affect people’s bodies and minds to a great extent – on both sides of the spectrum. I have seen people get healthier and people lose all their health. As time goes, I seem to be part of the latter more often. 

When I was around 14 years old, there was a month-long campaign across India against communalism, very specifically BJP-led Hindutva and the India Shining Lie. I was one of the youngest in a crew of thirty people who made pit stops to meet various communities dialoguing the real issues that was going on with everyday people and to dissuade votes for BJP. This essentially meant garnering votes for the INC. As a teenager, with excited curiosity in history and political science, I found the argument of choosing a lesser devil baseless (Is Emergency easy to forget?). I was not born into any religion. So, I didn’t care much to be born into a country or a politics. I preferred to ask my questions however silly and often got into trouble. Also, I travelled most of the time to places in the country where I did not speak the language and managed to connect with people simply through eye contact and silent listening. I did not vocalise much during the whole trip though as a collective we were extremely vocal. 

While the group perceived me as a child who was often falling sick and needed care, I was dealing with the base predicament of going on a campaign quite clearly pro-INC, though far more vocally anti-BJP, and quite a bit of emotional, physical and sexual dangers. In the heart of Gujarat at Vadodara, we were finally blatantly attacked by a large group of saffron goons sporting lathis and testosterone. There were also of course many funny moments like a fellow traveller asking Sonia Gandhi at a brief meeting if she ate pasta or rice daily.

This apart, I got a strange glimpse into how and at what level different people need to and prefer to connect with the political climate of the country. The glimpse was extremely personal. I returned home thin as a bag of bones as having refused to eat rotis and terribly idealistic about the win against BJP that year. When you are 14 and such a thing happens, you truly learn to believe that you have changed the world for good. 

However, that feeling lasted barely even a year. School took me on a different set of trips across the country and exposed me to fights for the Sarvashiksa Abhyan, RTI, EGA and so on. I began to learn that most of these fights are long-drawn and I would have to keep engaging to figure out what it is I can do in this soup. The idea was not to get a job, but to find my context in this world and just do something at all. And so, I chose to study history.

This decision put me inside an educational institution purely because my parents were nostalgic about that space. The Scots and the 70s Communists had left that compound a long time back. A dilapidated Karl Marx House stood opposite it and I watched tea kadai thaathaa who had fed me many meals in his house lose his shop to a flyover there. Even my favourite professor, for whom I chose to study history there, retired in a few months. Depression began killing me. The standard of education and the absolute farce of student power in the internal credit system pushed me to begin any or some kind of platform where I can engage with people meaningfully – something as fluid as a tea shop, where people can walk in and out and I can engage and keep making/doing something at all. As the cause and effect pet of the historian, this blog led me to dabble in theatre and I went for the throat of the Establishment right at the beginning. 

When I began engaging in this space, my mother wrote me a small letter asking me not to get nihilistic. My dreams were big. But post the Koodankulam protests that is exactly what happened. I did not feel that high of having won against the establishment. I instead watched public discourse fizzle out. The nuclear power plant still stands there. The people there are still fighting for their right to health, right to life. And as goes, Koodankulam in one such place on the globe.

I stopped going for gatherings, marches. I found no use in petitioning. Even when Jallikattu Protests happened, I used my daughter as an excuse and basically landed up for just one long visit. And so, for most of such said causes over these years. 

Every time I got the chance to make something for stage, I harnessed the power of the collective and went for the throat again. Against urbanism, fascism, genocide… Spurts of vocalisation. Spurts of anger. Spurts of how much this was hurting me. 

Here is what happens. We believe vocalising is to have an opinion about everything as and when it happens or this is what I perceive by scrolling through metres of social media. Today, XYZ has won the elections. Does this make me angry, sad or jubilant? Then, there are some cry-outs once in a while when a flood or an earthquake happens where people we love live. 

There are however very few people vocalising that which is happening within them. For instance, what it feels like to fight against the tide and the authentic self to pay bills and meaningfully engage with the world. Drawing patterns against the various disasters and talking in overall terms about disaster management. Looking at the connection of how fascism is at a rise across the world, and not just here. No, it’s not fine to make a blanket statement like this once in a while in our engagements. 

This election and its results are not the end or the beginning of a world. It is the way things are moving in a cause and effect fashion – a result of a process – the failure of left? Zizek’s audacity to vote for Trump comes to mind here.

You can take a pill today so it does not hurt, but what is going to heal the world of this base philosophy of governance? The game does not end at the day you cast your vote whether or not the ideology you chose won the throne. My half-nihilist-half-idealist also known as the manic depressive self, tonight finds enough energy to rant. Tomorrow, it might cook about this. Day after, it might march about this. Every day, you are already doing something about this, but are you doing what you want to do? 

– sam pc.

Islamophilia cannot be an effective answer to Islamophobia

re-posted from Huffington Post, Huffpost Students UK, by Karthick RM, 23 December 2014.

islamophobiaThe 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 Rotherham child 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.


Karthick RM is a PhD student and Graduate teaching assistant at University of Essex. He blogs at Unceasing Waves. Some initial further readings –

+ A Glance in to the Archives of Islam by Slavoj Zizek. Lacan.com – “One becomes a full member of a community not simply by identifying with its explicit symbolic tradition, but only when one also assumes the spectral dimension that sustains this tradition, the undead ghosts that haunt the living, the secret history of traumatic fantasies transmitted “between the lines,” through the lacks and distortions of the explicit symbolic tradition…”

+ When does criticism of Islam become Islamophobia? Pandaemonium – “Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.”

+ Islamophilia by Douglas Murray – “For the record I don’t think everybody needs to spend their time being offensive about Islam. Not only is there no need to be offensive all the time, but most Muslims just want to get on with their lives as peacefully and successfully as everybody else. But there is an unevenness in our societies that needs to be corrected.”