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.

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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.”

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Why gender matters for building peace

by Mary Elizabeth King

One of the most extraordinary nonviolent, transnational movements of the modern age was the women’s suffrage movement of the first two decades of the 20th century. New Zealand first extended the franchise in the late 19th century—after two decades of organizing efforts. As the new century began, women’s suffrage movements gained strength in China, Iran, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and Vietnam. Another 20 years and women were enfranchised in countries around the world, from Uruguay to Austria, the Netherlands to Turkey, and Germany to the United States. Few if any of those leading the campaigns for the ballot for women would have identified their approach as one of nonviolent action, nor would they have known its philosophical underpinnings or strategic wisdom. Like most who have turned to civil resistance, they did so because it was a direct method not reliant on representatives or agencies and a practical way to oppose an intolerable situation.

What exactly is the link between the rights of women, gender, nonviolent action, and building peace?

The word gender originates with Old French and until recently pertained mainly to linguistic and grammatical practices of classifying words as either masculine, feminine or (in some languages) neuter. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest English usage in 1384. Chaucer used the French spelling gendre in 1398. UNESCO’s Guidelines on Gender-Neutral Language note that a person’s sex is a matter of chromosomes, whereas a person’s gender is a social and historical construction—the result of conditioning. I would further define the “feminist” project as the struggle for women’s emancipation, the insistence that women should be free as human beings to make fundamental choices in their lives.

Gender is not women’s lib by another name. Nor is it to say, with respect to nonviolent action, that women exude maternal attributes or possess a reflexive interest in peacemaking. Notions that women have a “natural” inclination toward conciliation and peace delegitimize the voices of women in policy and international relations. Rather, as Susan Moller Okin shows, the “social institutionalization of sexual differences” goes to the heart of politics, and therefore, peace.

At the University for Peace (UPEACE), where I teach, the gender and peace building department has persistently recognized the importance for young peace builders of studying nonviolent action. This recognition is partly related to an insight explained by Pam McAllister, who argues that “most of what we commonly call ‘women’s history’ is actually the history of women’s role in the development of nonviolent action.”

Programs and procedures for the empowerment of women have increasingly been recognized as fundamental to achieving durable peace. Data gathered over the past three decades show that improvements in the education and status of women stabilize and elevate the whole of societies. The uplift of women and their participation in public policy is now widely understood to be essential to economic growth, health status, reducing poverty, sustaining the environment, and consolidating democracy in all societies, including those long bent by authoritarianism and despotism.

Essential to the building of peace is an understanding that the ideologies and structures of patriarchy are among the most resilient systems of domination in human history, and are explicitly related to the socialization of men as warriors and exclusion of women from policy. The longevity and entrenchment of this social system has benefited from justifications of itself as “natural” and divinely sanctioned. Patriarchy has permeated structures and assumptions of power and economics, including forms of labor, presumptions of representative parliamentary bodies, religious dogma and the orthodoxies of faith traditions and leadership, military services, and concepts of the meanings of security.

In Africa, the exclusion of women is now being inferentially linked to the root causes of acute violent conflicts. For example, their customary invisibility in Rwanda is part of the background to 100 days in 1994 in which nearly one million unarmed persons were slaughtered. Crimes went unhalted. The international powers remained silent. (It should be noted that women participated in the genocide as well, killing other women or inciting men to rape and kill Tutsi women—as in the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, now on trial in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in Arusha, Tanzania.) In 2002, Rwanda’s secretary general for the ministry of gender, M. Claire Mukasine, now an elected senator, told a visiting UPEACE delegation of which I was part that Rwandan governance had traditionally excluded women from public affairs. “Rwanda had no tradition whatsoever of women being able to speak in public,” she said of the colonial period and onward.

It was assumed that the father, brother, or husband speaks for the women; in the past, women never took a stand in public. They were not permitted to speak out at community meetings or the elders’ sessions. We think the exclusion of women is connected to the sad events in Rwanda.

The results of this recognition are striking. Today, Rwanda has more women on an absolute and proportional basis of its parliamentarians than any other such legislative body worldwide.

The awarding of a 2011 joint Nobel Peace Prize to a Liberian woman, Leymah Gbowee, embodies the links between gender, war, peace, and nonviolent struggle.Miriam O’Reilly’s interview of her for the BBC World Service illustrates the connection. In the midst of civil war led by the warlord Charles Taylor, Gbowee’s Women and Peace Network in 2000 brought together thousands of Christian and Muslim women to sit-in in a football stadium, exerting their popular defiance against “all the violence around us.” They had to protest, she maintains, because “there were no other possibilities. We had no option of being invited to the peace talks. We put ourselves out there as a symbol.” The women called for an immediate ceasefire. When it was violated, the network turned to another nonviolent method: Lysistratic nonaction, refusing sex with their husbands.

This method is named for Aristophanes’ farce of 411 B.C.E., first performed in an Athens exhausted by the Peloponnesian War. His hit play, Lysistrata, featured a sex strike by the war-weary women of both sides to end hostilities. Gbowee told the BBC that the idea of a sex strike came from frustration, as a means of pushing Liberian men, who had been silent and thus complicit with the war and violence. Maintaining that they would be fasting as an act of denial, the Liberian women held that as long as they were protesting and fasting, they could not be intimate with their men.

“We said let’s place our already battered bodies into the streets,” Gbowee remembers. “Let’s show the world that with our broken selves we can heal the nation.”

In 2006, the newly elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, another of the 2011 Nobel Peace laureates, formally requested Taylor’s extradition. Upon arrival in Monrovia, he was transferred to the custody of the United Nations. He is still held in the U.N. Detention Unit in The Hague, where he is on trial for his role in the civil war.

Taking gender seriously in the process of building peace, finally, is the job of everyone, not just of women. A former student of mine is the gender officer for the Nigerian parliament, and he, along with several other male, West African former students of mine, are doing important and strategic work. A Pakistani woman student, having completed her doctorate in gender at the London School of Economics, soon returns home to teach with these multiple areas of strength. An Israeli former student completed her doctoral studies, works for a civil-society organization, and is active in the peace movement. Each in different ways recognizes that building lasting peace must include taking questions of gender seriously.

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This article was reprinted from WagingNonviolence.org (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0),  a source for news, analysis, and original reporting about nonviolent activism, as well as for discussion of the theory behind it.

Mary Elizabeth King is professor of peace and conflict studies at the UN-affiliated University for Peace and a Rothermere American Institute Fellow at the University of Oxford, in Britain. She is the author of The New York Times on Emerging Democracies in Eastern EuropeA Quiet RevolutionFreedom Song, and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. During the U.S. civil rights movement, she worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. (no relation), in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Her website is at maryking.info.

Causes Leading to Senkodi’s Death and Tamil Nadu Assembly’s Resolution

by Iravanathivar

I woke up on the 29th of August to the news of a woman having immolated herself. She had entered the Kanchipuram taluk collector’s office and set herself on fire the previous day, in the hope of preventing the hanging of three fellow Tamils and human beings. The Supreme Court has ordered Perarivalen, Murugan and Santhan to be executed on the 9th of September for their alleged roles in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Few outside Tamil Nadu (T.N) know the complexity of this case, along with the discrepancies between the Court verdict, the evidences presented through the CBI interrogation and the findings of the Jain commission. Later I came to know that her name was Senkodi, and she was a young but active member of the social movement Makkal Mandram (Peoples assembly/forum). Quite contrary to some English media’s presentation of the movement as Tamil chauvinistic, Makkal Mandram (and Senkodi) was involved in numerous struggles against slum eviction, caste and labor oppression and had a reputation for supporting oppressed peoples’ struggles[1]. Such a simplistic approach is also seen in the national media, especially the mainstream English media, and there is little attempt to understand the complexities of the situation – Senkodi’s death, the protest against the executions and the T.N assembly’s unanimous resolution.

Murugan | Shanthan | Perarivalan

On 30th August, after days of massive state-wide protests by students, lawyers, social organizations, writers and movie persona, the Madras High court ordered an 8 week stay on the execution. The T.N assembly then passed a unanimous resolution on proposing clemency to the three on death row by reducing their ‘punishment’ to life. What is important to keep in mind is that there are many, rather compelling factors that caused the T.N assembly to act collectively on this case and that there is a social and political historical context for the Tamils to be infuriated over the central government’s dealing with Tamils in India and Sri Lanka. It is in such a context that one should understand the recent mass protests and activism in Tamil Nadu.
This approach to understand the agitation is very clearly non-existent among the mainstream national as well as English media. Whether this is out of ignorance or is consciously done remains to be answered. One thing which is clear is that these media’ attitudes only strengthen the notion that in the Hindi heartland and amongst Indian patriots there is an apathy towards the oppression and hardships of Tamils and a basic disrespect towards the peoples’ collective sentiments and grievances. The same day as the resolution was passed, NDTV aired a news report on the issue, which it arrogantly termed Rajiv murder: Politics triumphs over Justice’. Barkha Dutt is seen rigorously emphasizing that justice on behalf of Rajiv is falling victim to emotionalism and politics in Tamil Nadu. Janata Party’s Subramanian Swamy strengthens this opinion and remarks that the T.N assembly action reflects cowardice.  The previous day in the Tamil news channel Putihya Thalaimurai Subramanian Swami makes a similar remark and is seen referring to the protesters who oppose the executions as betrayers of the nation. D.R Kartikeyan and Ex-supreme court Justice Soli Sorabjee unashamedly say that the investigation, interrogation and the verdict was ‘water proof’ and that there is no point claiming the innocence of the three, and that if ever they should seek to escape the ropes they should profess that they feel guilt and remorseful for their crime.

There is thus no space for the viewer to scrutinize the claims of innocence and political imprisonment of the inmates. Ms. Dutt is also seen asking Congress spokesman Renuka Chaudry that if she put aside her diplomatic caution, as an Indian citizen, feel disturbed that a state Assembly can vote to give clemency to the murderers of the nation’s Prime minister.Twitter messages are seen on the screen stating that an example should be set by executing them, and Subramanian Swamy says if they are given clemency, what signals does it send then to aspiring Prime Minister assassins.

There is a complete absence of analysis, of what the deep-rooted causes are of the affair in T.N. There is also a complete lack of articulation of the actions of the IPKF in Sri Lanka during the late 1980s. Not stopping there the whole news report seemed to build a notion that the opposition to the execution in T.N is due to Tamil nationalism, as Swamy says ‘parochial sentiments’ and emotionalism. The movements of several thousands protesters, few hunger strikes, the death of Senkodi and various road blocks by students is simply reduced to as being fuelled by emotionalism and parochial sentiments. Such representation implies that there is no social and historical base for Tamils to be agonized or assert grievances towards the centre. Let me briefly introduce some of the main pillars of the sociopolitical and historical context for the mass protest against the execution and show the magnitude and astonishing continuity of the apathy displayed by the Centre.

The IPKF period, which Swamy simply calls a ‘policy’, is silenced from Indian history, text books and in the classrooms. When calling it a policy he unjustly absolves the IPKF of all responsibility for social actions that had severe consequences on the people of the north and east of Sri Lanka i.e. for Tamil speaking people of the island. During the period of 1987-1990, the Tamil traditional homeland saw severe destruction of lives, livelihood and environment. The ‘peace keeping force’ which at its peak numbered 100 000 men were pitched in a guerilla war with the LTTE numbering around 5000. The triggering of this war is complex, but the IPKF become notorious for committing grave human rights abuses, by deploying scorched earth tactics and collateral damage to the Tamil population[2]. Till this day the Indian government denies any wrong doing and has indeed kept most of its population in dark of the ‘policy’[3].

The central Government’s response to and handling of the killings of T.N fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) over the past three decades is not only irresponsible but also shows an arrogant, uncaring but deliberate passiveness towards Tamils.Neither severe condemnation nor apprehensive actions is forthcomingfrom the Centre over the Sri Lankan authorities as result of these killings. Therefore an emboldened SLN indulges in arbitrary arrests, torture and murder of straying Tamil Nadu fishermen, and till date over 530 fishermen have suffered death as a consequence[4]. In stark contrast to this is the Central Government’s response to the Pakistani Authorities when they apprehend and subsequently incarcerate Gujarati or Bombay fishermen. When these fishermen are arrested and brought to Karachi, the national media, the Hindi heartland and the Central government erupts with anger. National media covers the stories, Central government threatens the Pakistani government with severe punishment and protests commence in the Hindi heartland urging the governments to save their fellow countrymen. When T.N fishermen are mercilessly killed by SLN not a single voice emerges from the Central Government. The people of T.N are apparently not considered as equal countrymen nor worthy of using time on protesting their death. This contrast is by now well internalized by many Tamils in Tamil Nadu and it is reflected in many of the recent protest, unfortunately it seems like the Centre and mainstream National media is again oblivious to this historical base for pent-up anger against Centre.

Then there is the Genocidal war which happened in Sri Lanka from November 2008 till May 2009 and the Center and Mainstream national media’s responses to it.  While the war ravaged the Tamil dominated north-eastern areas of the island, it was covered frequently in Tamil media and massive protests emerged in T.N, desperately urging the Centre, to stop the war ruthlessly conducted on their fellow Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka. National media, both Hindi and English, apparently missed out on the noisy happenings in their neighboring island state. The news which was reported during the war, presented it as a legitimate war on terror, where achievements of the progressing Sri Lankan army in terms of area captured or militants killed where illuminated and LTTE was solely held responsible for civilian deaths. The Central government and the Indian state were passive and content with issuing statements such as ‘…we urge both parts to show restraint for the sake of civilians…’[5].  Allegations that India assists the Sri Lankan government against the LTTE and Tamil civilians started to circulate among Tamil media circles as the last war ravaged on, but only after the war’s end and especially when conformed with the release of the Wikileaks Indian cables in 2011 did the allegations gain substance among the hitherto cynical elements in India[6]. Later it become clear through many sources that India had indeed been intricately connected in facilitating the war on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government. This was done through warding off international pressure, providing logistic information through unmanned aircraft Vehicles (UAV) and military hardware, weapon and ammunitions.  Even the magnitude of human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan state was not reported in the national media, only the atrocities committed by the LTTE were brought to light.

For two long years most people outside Tamil Nadu, and even the upper classes within T.N were in ignorance about the genocidal nature of the war. This was reflected in the English and national media reports. It was also evident that many in the upper classes in T.N mirrored the same apathy as the central and national media in relation to the genocidal war in Sri Lanka. The whole war as represented in mainstream Indian media unfortunately suited the interest of Colombo. Through presenting it as a final and successful war against the world’s most effective terrorist organization, the deliberate nature of the ‘impacts’ on the civilian population caught in between was left unaccounted for, the Sri Lankan armed forces aerial and artillery bombardment of Government proclaimed no-fire zones, hospitals and heavily concentrated human presence were left untold.

In contrast, social organization, students, activist, sections of the masses, and politicians (albeit in the interest of populism) in T.N were behind massive protests against the conduct of the war, firmly saying this was a genocidal war against the island Tamils, but their frustration and grievances were not responded to by the Central government. In mid January 2009, Muthukumar, a young and promising journalist, wrote of a long letter in Tamil stating his frustration over the inaction of the international community and the Indian government to stop the last war, and explained that he is to commit an act out of desperation since it is the only thing he thought would bring an attention and momentum to the protest against the war. On 29th of January 2011, Muthukumar immolated himself to death, but the international community and Indian government ignored his calls, and Indian mainstream media turned a blind eye[7]. This event and the central govt. response to the protests during 2008-2009 have also reaffirmed the notion of apathy towards Tamils.

Senkodi the young social activist who immolated herself to death, stated she was in a similar state as Muthukumar in her letter, and hoped her death could bring some much-needed attention and scrutiny to the protesters and her demands. What astonishes me is in fact the continuity of the Central governments apathy towards Tamil agony, protests and demands and the mainstream national media’s’ inability to understand this.  If one wants to avoid a further divide and alienation between the Indian state, the national media and the mainstream Hindi public who embrace the state-centric views on the one side and Tamils who are conscious of (the former) apathy from  North on the other , one must fundamentally understand the demand and the grievances of the protesting Tamils and then from a national media perspective report the developments of the protest and dissatisfaction of Tamils in a just social and political context. The national media must step away from its state-centric stand, it’s out of place patriotism and resist reductionist approaches.

That nationalism can function as opium for the masses is in fact more applicable to nation-state centered nationalism and patriotism, such awareness should be present among national media. In this case, the Tamil’s grievances are well based in the regions social history.  Strong emotions and sentiments are in fact part of the fuelling factor for the protests, but they are not of an imagined nature. It is ironic that the patriotism on part of the national media, very evident in questions posed by Mrs .Dutt which is irrational and causing harm, and it is emotionalism embedded in such attitudes that shrouds them from the will to genuinely understand the recent mass protest, the self-immolation of Senkodi and the T.N resolution.

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Endnotes:

[2] See: ”In the Name of Peace: IPKF Massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka” a book complied and documented by the Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) and was published by the Delhi Tamil Students Union in 2011, to get an idea of the destruction caused by IPKF.

[3] IPKF is conveniantly forgotten, left unanalysed or reduced to an paragraph in academic books on India as well as books on Indian history, e.g. see ”Reinvention of India:Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy” by S.Corbridge and J.Harriss or ”Modern south asian history: History, Culture and Political Economy” by J.Ayesha and S.Bose.

[5] India’s paranoia that China could utilize any alienation between New Delhi and Colombo is, even 2 years after the war, still directing the Central governments passive approach towards Colombo and its diplomatically ignoring of demands from T.N related to punitive actions against Colombo, see: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/2623.

[6] The book ”Sri Lanka:From War to Peace” was authored by journalist Nitin Anant Gokhale in late 2009 and reveals information about how the Indian Government secretly abetted the Sri Lankan Govt in the war, but to my knowledge this was not circulated in national media at the time. see: http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/aug/20/slide-show-1-how-india-helped-lanka-destroy-the-ltte.htm.

[7] For a report, Muthukumar’s death and a english translation of the letter see: http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=28208

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