Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Is Post-Colonialism a Better Theory than Realism at Understanding And Explaining Geopolitics?








Understanding ‘geopolitics’, International Relations (IR) and IR Theories

The term ‘geopolitics’ refers the political affairs between countries at the global level in which the role of non-state actors like international NGOs and MNCs may have a great role. Instances of conflict, cooperation and all other forms of interaction between states fall under geopolitics, be it wars, commercial or peace treaties, regular state visits or summits of international organizations like the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), Council of Europe, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) or any other.

The discipline of International Relations (IR) is a study of the same that seeks to not only observe these events but also provide conceptual frameworks, which are called IR theories, to understand them in an incisive fashion.

What are Mainstream IR Theories (especially Realism) and Critical IR Theories?

Mainstream IR theories are theories that are believed to subscribe to what are regarded as conventional approaches to explaining geopolitics. These include liberalism (premised on the idea that humans desire for a better world for themselves, which can lead to cooperation between states to that end) and realism (premised on the idea that human beings are insecure and therefore self-interested, leading states to conflict with each other for resources). The debate between the proponents of these two constituted the First Great Debate of IR, which was largely believed to have been won by the realists. Realism is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflict side.For realism, the state marked the border between inside/outside, sovereign/anarchic, us/them. Accordingly, some people began questioning how the state came to be regarded as the most important actor in world politics, and how the state came to be understood as a unitary, rational actor. This approach critical of realism is not anti-state, it does not overlook the state, nor does it seek to move beyond the state. In many respects, it pays more attention to the state than realism, because instead of merely asserting that the state is the foundation of its paradigm, such an approach is concerned with the state’s historical and conceptual production, and its political formation, economic constitution, and social exclusions and how these impact geopolitics. Arguably, the greatest critic of idealism, EH Carr, also claimed that a simplistic realist model cannot sustain geopolitics. He recognized himself that the logic of “pure realism can offer nothing but a naked struggle for power which makes any kind of international society impossible”. Although he demolishes what he calls “the current utopia” of idealism, he at the same time attempts to build “a new utopia,” a realist world order.

This approach of moving beyond realism led to the rise of another IR theory, constructivism, which is still closely linked to realism and is in very many cases also regarded as a mainstream IR theory but it differs from liberalism and realism inasmuch as it adopts a post-positivist rather than a positivist approach.  The positivist methodology mainly believes in the verification of the samples and coming to the conclusion on the basis of the test only. They believe in the complete irrelevance of the personal value judgments of the observer. The positivist method also emphasizes the value of these empirical observations in determining the actual nature of reality. Positivism is an approach that holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience. Post-positivism seeks to look for a possibly alternative understanding of the same.

Constructivism is believed to mark the precursor to other post-positivist IR theories, known as the critical IR theories that seek to provide a more nuanced and deeper understanding of certain facets of the society that manifest themselves in geopolitics such as class, gender and the likes. Critical IR theories include the Marxist, post-structural, post-colonial and feminist IR theories. Mainstream IR theories premise themselves on the conception of anarchy (no over-arching sovereign entity) in geopolitics, while critical theories reflect on the social structures that recreate and maintain a particular anarchy in the interest of the informal hierarchies that inevitably emerged, seeking a radical overhaul of these hierarchies in the interest of human emancipation. Thus, critical theories are not just empirical but rooted in norms and values, and while the mainstream IR theory of liberalism is also based on some values, it is rooted in positivist rather than post-positivist methods unlike the critical theories and is largely believed to have failed the test of empiricism. However, the critical theories while offering a challenge to realism have also been criticized as seeking to poke holes to critique and provide some alternative narratives rather than be stand-alone, holistic conceptual frameworks to understand geopolitics.

Understanding a Critical IR Theory, Post-Colonialism, and Comparing it to Realism, A Mainstream IR Theory.

In this article, I shall be comparing the mainstream IR theory of realism and the critical IR theory of post-colonialism in examining which is better at accounting for geopolitics. The realist theory has been discussed in some detail while examining mainstream IR theories, and how critical IR theories came about.

The realist theory has been discussed in some detail while examining mainstream IR theories and how critical IR theories came about.

Therefore, we move to post-colonialism. According to post-colonialists, mainstream IR theories are deeply Eurocentric, even their historical account of the emergence of the modern international order and therefore inevitably also in its account of the nature and functioning of this order, which as per them, needs to be challenged and fresh perspectives are therefore required.

The broad structure of post-colonial discourse points to several things - the ethnic, cultural and political makeup of the societies that were under colonial rule in Asia, Africa, South America and elsewhere. The engagement with the ideas of geopolitics could not have happened without the history of colonialism, which through its cosmopolitan nature, helped evolve the modern theory of the state and international community as we know it. Colonialism also helped to rediscover hitherto forgotten, neglected or unknown artifacts and texts in the Afro-Asian culture, but still there was a conscious, subconscious or unconscious Eurocentric layering to understanding and explaining that history/culture by European scholars which went on to be challenged. At times, there were undertones and overtones of chauvinism and jingoism in that challenge by sections of colonized or formerly colonized people and a sensible theorist would have to logically deduce, what is, in his/her view actually meaningful, relevant and rooted in facts and logic.*

Well-known post-colonial Palestinian Christian scholar Edward Said pointed how in Western discourse, in his highly acclaimed work titled ‘Orientalism’ Said elaborates the ways in which  the “Other" or “Orient” is looked upon as something alien for which reason he/she must be subjugated. This, according to Said, gives psychological legitimacy to the colonizer over the colonized. He also examines the relationship between knowledge and power and how the latter reproduces the former. Said highlighted that Arabs were stereotyped as orthodox and despotic, while the Bedouins among them were projected as cave-dwelling, reducing Arabs to savages. Said does indeed acknowledge, for example, in this article, that Muslim societies must reject theocracy and regressive practices and must engage in more introspection and reform (in his own words - "I do not at all believe that all the ills of Muslim countries are due to Zionism and imperialism"), but questions how some Western writers pass judgment on Islam at a basic, doctrinal level, without scholastic rigour in terms of properly citing references and how they often overlook violent right-wing movements among Jews and Christians which, as per Said, have been equally dangerous.**

In this context, an article by Iraqi analyst Raed Jarrar published on the website of the Al Jazeera, titled “Is it wrong to call the Mosul battle ‘liberation’?”, points out, what in his view, are the flaws about the narrative about Iraq in the Western media, which in his view, rightly condemns the ISIS  but doesn’t fully examine the devastating effects of US  policies in the region, such as fueling sectarian tensions, and having promoted militias, and he also points to how the Kurdish fighters in the Middle East (who have gained much acclaim for taking on the ISIS and protecting non-Muslim minorities from that barbaric outfit) have also been engaging in human rights violations against Arabs (indeed, Kurdish militants in Turkey have even bombed innocent civilians), glossed over by large sections of the international media.

The idea of the superiority of the Western civilization is critically challenged by post-colonialism, which questioning existing notions of power, agency and legitimacy, seeks to help to evolve the discipline of IR into being much more pluralistic and free from Eurocentric hegemony, with an infusion of new ideas that were earlier overlooked. Furthermore, post-colonial scholars maintain the view that decolonization did not free the new sovereign states from oppression. Therefore, post-colonialist studies are a continuing process of reconstruction of theory which examines problems such as racism and migration. In fact, in this context, highly acclaimed France-based Moroccan poet and playwright Tahar ben Jalloun’s work is indeed very pertinent. Many, though not all, post-colonialists have leftist economic leanings.

The text of the Mahabharat, an ancient Indian epic, for instance, can be analyzed to learn a certain kind of diplomacy vis-à-vis ideals and pragmatism. In times of strife, which the epic describes, reliability is given renewed momentum over ideals for a larger noble cause such that the idea of dharma or morality is actually not frozen in a static mould and the Mahabharat and other such ancient texts can perhaps better explain the psyche of the Indian diplomats than binaries of liberalism and realism being traced to Locke and Hobbes respectively and the idea of modernity in non-Western societies, like India, would have to be understood in a different context, looking at their own distinct historical patterns, which may not correspond to the Western notions of historical linearity, as Indian intellectual Ashis Nandy has pointed out. Books like ‘Applied Diplomacy - Through the Prism of Mythology: Writings of T P Sreenivasan’ edited by Divya S. Iyer and ‘The Making of Indian Diplomacy: A Critique of Eurocentrism’ by Deep Dattaray delve into narratives of Indian diplomacy by examining India’s past.

The contrast between realism and post-colonialism can be understood with the help of some examples in the Indian context. The refusal of India under Nehru (Nehru has, in my view, been at the receiving end of much false and unjustified criticism from people of diverse political stripes in India itself, which I have sought to rebut here, which is obviously not to say that all criticism directed at him is unjustified or that he or any other human being is, in general, above criticismto take a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and instead give it to China (letters revealed in August 2016 between Nehru and India’s then ambassador to the US shedding light on his stand, removing any shred of doubt as to whether this did indeed happen) on one hand, demonstrates the pinnacle of idealism, while Nehru’s aggressive Forward Policy with China, to coercively impose India’s stand on the Sino-Indian border dispute when the Chinese were willing to negotiate (they accepted a part of the McMahon Line with Myanmar as their border by way of peaceful negotiation, and that very line was a serious bone of contention with India), though later proving to be misplaced, was an example of cold realism, as was Nehru’s irredentist, military approach towards Goa, which is difficult to decipher using the mainstream IR tools.

Another significant example is former Indian prime minister Morarji Desai, known for his integrity and having been heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of truth and minimizing violence, winding up Indian intelligence operations in Pakistan (started by his predecessor Indira Gandhi) and even informing then Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq of the details of the Indian agents in Pakistan, which can certainly not be explained by realism (though I do wish Desai had been realist on this score, and would condemn him for what he did in this regard). Speaking of Mahatma Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi, like Nehru, has, in my view, been at the receiving end of much false and unjustified criticism from people of diverse political stripes in India itself, which I have sought to rebut here, which is obviously not to say that all criticism directed at him is unjustified or that he or any other human being is, in general, above criticism), while several Western scholars have claimed that Mahatma Gandhi was influenced more by Western philosophical thought than by Indian thought (despite Mahatma Gandhi being a devout Hindu and a follower of Gautam Buddha, who lived in what is today India), this view has been strongly challenged by post-colonialists like Rajiv Malhotra (whose works exhibit a Hindu right-of-centre bent, but are indeed far from bigoted towards any ideology or collectivity of people, and even other such Hindu right-of-centre people who are no bigots, do exist, even in the RSS, as discussed here), especially in his book "Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity", a book in which Malhotra, other than discussing the Indic philosophical influences on Gandhi, deftly challenges many of the Western narratives and constructs about what we know as Hinduism. Committed to opposing Western hegemony in the discourse around non-Western peoples, Malhotra spent some time at the Council for Islamic Education, China Institute, Japan Foundation, Korea Foundation and Tibet House, out of which he appreciated the most the Chinese efforts at understanding, and promoting overseas, their own culture on their own terms.

Likewise, India entering into a civilian nuclear deal with the US to court US friendship without entering into any kind of fixed alliance (against China), even if unwritten, is grounded in a typically Indian approach, which may not be easy for many conventional realists to comprehend.

Another prominent voice in the domain of post-colonial studies is of Indian writer Sudipta Kaviraj, who expounds on the diversity of political opinions in India and other developing countries, often not acknowledged in the Western imagination (I may add, especially in the context of the Arab world and Iran, which not just after the influence of Western ideas but even earlier, have had a rich history of multiple approaches to religiosity, polity and social mores, the Persian civilisation having been a great one for thousands of years, predating the rise of Islam, and with many of the pre-Islamic cultural traits still prevalent in Iran, just as in Indonesia, even very many Muslims identify with the pre-Islamic Indonesian Hindu, Buddhist and animist culture). Indian Nobel Laurete Amartya Sen has, in his acclaimed book ‘The Argumentative Indian’, expounded on the rich tradition of dialectics in India since ancient times, and how that has provided a fertile soil for secular, pluralistic democracy to take root in India, in which Sen even explores the domain of India’s historical interaction with China in contemporary times, relating it to how the two great, ancient civilizations have interacted with each other over the centuries.

Africa too has a post-colonial strand in its novels and poetry (seeking to understand Africa on Eurocentric terms is very problematic at many levels, as this article rightly highlights), not only from its Muslim-majority countries (Tahar ben Jalloun from Morocco has been referred to earlier), but also in the context of its animist culture, in the context of which work done by the scholar Harry Garuba is quite pertinent. Despite growing interest in African animism in academic circles, it still remains under-represented in the intellectual discourse. A major problem with post-colonialism is that in the discipline of IR, it has failed to institutionalize itself, the way it has in other social sciences like literary theory and sociology.

Post-colonial narratives also turn their attention to the indigenous people inhabiting parts of what is known as the West, such as in the American context, the Red Indians (or even the Tlingits of Alaska) and how they came to be engaged with the European-origin people - British, French and others - in many ways in the spirit of foreign policy like diplomacy and war. Post-colonial literature on this facet of Western history (such as what the Red Indians saw as their betrayal by George Washington) gives even Americans an opportunity to re-examine themselves in the context of their own nation-building and thereby, their own foreign policy. In this connection, this essay analyzing the portrayal of Native Americans in popular culture in the US and more interestingly, how this subject should be approached today in the context of pedagogy, is fascinating, as is some interesting work that has been done on “decolonizing” research methodologies to study indigenous peoples. This research paper on Red Indians as actors in international politics during the Cold War is directly relevant to the discipline of IR.

Post-colonialism, as we have seen, is indeed a potent force for exploring new bodies of knowledge relating to human behaviour and new power structures, and in that sense, offers an interesting critique of what we understand as realism in the mainstream sense.

Yes, post-colonial narratives can also take the form of hyperbolic West-bashing and chauvinistic and self-righteous assertions by non-Western people, even validated by some Westerners, either overawed by some Eastern people or even excessively swept away by historical guilt. However, that in no way, means that post-colonialism as a critical IR theory can be altogether discredited and by that yardstick, all theories will have proponents whose work can indeed by strongly challenged.

A post-colonial framework of discussing geopolitics should draw from mainstream theories wherever necessary to give a holistic picture, rather than strive to exist only as offering contrarian narratives, which would make it less meaningful in itself.

Conclusion

Clearly, the binary of liberalism and realism – the mainstream IR theories – cannot explain non-Western geopolitics very well. This inability sets the impetus for novel approaches like post-colonialism.
Realism has its own significance which is here to stay, but such an approach to understanding geopolitics may aside from lack of values to give a direction, fail to explain the non-Western world even in a pragmatic context, for despite Western influence and attempts to imitate the West (as discussed by Indian post-colonial writer HK Bhabha), the non-Western world can be far from be understood very well on Eurocentric terms. A meaningful post-colonial approach, which draws on what is relevant in realism and constructivism, but moves beyond the same, can be a better framework to understand geopolitics, which encompasses state actors that are not only Western, more so with the increasing globalization, the prevalence of diaspora from non-Western countries in the West and the emerging multipolarity.


A limitation of this article, however, has been that it engages with realism and post-colonialism at a basic, conceptual level to compare the two rather than engage in in-depth analysis of the scholarship produced by proponents of the two theories, one mainstream and the other critical, to actually examine who has been better at examining what facets of geopolitics, for that would entail a very detailed discourse putting to test both the theories, and the focus in this article has been from a broad, conceptual angle.


*For instance, while the genuinely documented achievements of ancient Indian mathematicians and scientists must be promoted and celebrated, but promoting an un-historical history of science that conveniently undermines the scientific creativity of all non-Hindu civilisations (to claim in a baseless fashion that all knowledge was “stolen” from here) and promotes Hindu religious texts as undisputed history, with supposedly much science in them, doesn’t bode well for promoting a scientific temperament. Going by the Jewish texts, even Solomon had a flying vehicle (there are similar references in ancient Egyptian and Greek lore too), and many science-fiction stories by writers like Joules Verne have mentioned things really invented later, but that does not mean those stories were true when they were written, nor does referring to real places like Delhi or Mumbai or Hastinapur or Kurukshetra in a story make that story true, and as Karan Thapar, whether you love him or hate him, logically points out – “how do you account for the fact the scientific knowledge and achievements you are boasting of have been lost, if not also long forgotten, and there is no trace of any records to substantiate they ever occurred?”. Rather than spreading awareness about the documented scientific achievements of our civilisation, we would only largely make a laughing stock of ourselves by boasting of scientific achievements from religious lore! There are indeed such counterparts among Muslim rightists, including the celebrity-preacher Zakir Naik, too, talking of religious lore being scientific (not a very good idea), as discussed in this article.


**Terrorism, and even terrorism citing a theological basis, is not a Muslim monopoly. As you can see here, very many instances of terrorism globally, even in the name of religion, have been carried out by those identifying themselves as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even Buddhists, the victims of the acts of terrorists from each of these religious groupings not always being Muslims. However, just like most people of these religious groupings are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims (and not supporting terrorism applies to even most of those Muslims with other regressive and not-so-liberal attitudes on issues like gender and homosexuality).


It is possible to quote any scripture (allegedly out of context according to its liberal adherents) to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved, an ancient Hindu scripture, is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion. This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this regard, as does this video make an interesting watch in this connection. There are Quranic verses like 2:2565:25:85:326:1086:15110:9949:1360:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and preaches nothing but peace, and the Quran and Hadiths devote considerable space to talking about honesty (there’s an anecdote of Prophet Muhammad punishing a Muslim for stealing from a Jewish gentleman’s house), kindness, forgiveness, humility and striving for socioeconomic egalitarianism.


Very many mainstream Muslims do indeed believe that Islam is the only religion that can lead to God since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, as mainstream Christians believe the same for Christianity since the advent of Jesus, but that doesn’t entail intolerance towards those of other faiths. To explain this with an analogy, if a certain coaching centre (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coaching centre, it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups (the relevant verses in the context of the Quran have already been cited, and  Rom. 12:18 and 1 Tim 2:2  may be cited in the context of the Bible).
Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that does not in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people.


And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s, with the US-backed Islamist resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan having signalled its rise. And, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims very laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists, and Kurdish, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian Muslims have also been fighting the ISIS.  In India too, most of the terrorism is not by Muslims, as you can see here and here.


It is not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is also not as though Muslims are another species  that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions in the form of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.


Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!
And for those suggesting any marriage between a Hindu boy and Muslim girl as amounting to “love jihad”, they may note that many Muslim women too have married Hindu men, like Katrina Kaif, Sussanne Khan, Zohra Sehgal (formerly Zohra Khan), Neelima Azim (Pankaj Kapoor’s wife), Nargis and leading Mumbai cyclist Firoza, and some have even converted to Hinduism upon marriage, like famous sitarist Annapurna Devi (formerly Roshanara Khan), fashion model Nalini Patel (formerly Nayyara Mirza), Maharashtra politician Asha Gawli (formerly Zubeida Mujawar), South Indian actress Khushboo Sundar (formerly Nakhat Khan) and Bollywood actress Zubeida.

Not too long ago, even the Modi sarkar conceded that there is no evidence whatsoever to justify the Hindu rightist conspiracy theory of the Taj Mahal having been a temple of Lord Shiv. And yes, historically, while many (not all) Muslim rulers have a historical record of intolerance to Hindus, so do many ancient Hindu rulers like Mihirakula and Pushyamitra Shunga have a historical record of intolerance to Buddhists (of course, there can be a debate on the historicity of these allegations, but the point is that religious intolerance wasn’t unheard of even in pre-Islamic times in India). One may add in this context that there is this totally incorrect notion that Muslims are the only ones who stop non-Muslims from entering some of their holiest places of worship like the Kaba in Mecca, but actually, several Hindu temples, like the Pashupati Nath temple in Nepal, too bar non-Hindus from entering them, while many mosques and Sufi shrines have absolutely no problem with non-Muslims visiting them or even praying there. Also, the conspiracy theory about the Kaba being a Shiv temple have their basis in the writings of one Mr. Oak, who was not even a historian, and he is actually not even taken seriously even by those historians, Indian or of other nationalities, who have saffron or other religious right-wing leanings, and in fact, some votaries of this theory claim that Lord Shiv has been ‘imprisoned’ by Muslims, which refutes the logic that God is all powerful! Oak also said that Christianity is Krishna-Neeti (though ‘Christianity’ as a term does not exist in Hebrew, and came about much later in history!) and many other such ludicrous things! There are websites making claims about non-existent Arabic texts to prove their point. While such propaganda (except the bit about Lord Shiv being ‘imprisoned’!) may please the Hindu chauvinist who desperately wishes to imagine ancient India to be the only centre of human civilization, impartially speaking, one ought to thoroughly dissect it before taking it seriously. These are just completely baseless rants being circulated on the social media that don’t have the backing of any serious historian, not even the most right-wing ones. These conspiracy theories are typical of loony religious rightists, including Muslim rightists in Pakistan attributing 26/11 to RAW and many genuine liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan are dismissed by conspiracy theorists as agents of the CIA, RAW and/or Mossad!


There are also misplaced notions of Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India, though the Muslim population growth rate is declining (not the population itself, which cannot decline usually for any community), and the population growth rate of Keralite Muslims is less than UPite Hindus, for instance, and yes, even otherwise, if someone sees Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India as a real problem, they should appeal to the Indian government to legally impose a two-child norm for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion, rather than just generate unnecessary hatred for an entire community and divide the nation. Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having many children because they practise polygamy as permitted by their faith (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy), even though that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would respectively give birth to the number of children they would, irrespective of whether they are married to one man or four different men! In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith (and, in fact, it was outlawed for Hindus only after independence, and Nehru faced stern opposition for the same from orthodox Hindus). The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man – to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna‘s mother) and Rohini (Balram‘s mother) and Ram‘s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach‘s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna‘s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after his multiple wives (if he has multiple wives in the first place) equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today. As for harems, these too have not been a monopoly of Muslim rulers, and the practice has existed among Hindu rulers too, such as in South India, and even among Buddhist rulers in Sri Lanka. And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. Many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former president V.V. Giri, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children, and even Narendra Modi is the third of his parents‘ six children.


Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Parsis as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram‘s daughter (though this is a South Indian folk adaptation not to be found in the Puranic lore, it shows that the idea hasn‘t always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.

An allegation often leveled against Islam and Muslim societies is sexism. It should be noted that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was a successful businesswoman, and the world’s oldest existing university, which is in Morocco and dates back to 859 AD, was set up by Fatima al Fihri, a well-educated Muslim woman. Prophet Muhammad is even believed to have mandated education for all, irrespective of gender, as you can see here and here, and in fact, the education cutting across gender lines even includes physical education. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad himself is believed to have said that children (he did not specify only boys) must be taught archery, horse-riding and swimming. In fact, a woman, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, fought in his army, just as Hindu lore refers to Arjun’s wife Chitrangada as an ace fighter and how Kaikeyi and Madri were ace charioteers. This article discusses in some detail the freedoms accorded to women by Islam and early Muslim societies, and how they partook in war, diplomacy, business and several other fields of life, and how the veil came in later as a norm in Muslim history.  Currently, many Kurdish Muslim women are bravely fighting the ISIS, and there was news of an Iraqi Kurdish woman, Rehana, killing over a hundred ISIS terrorists. Major Mariam Al Mansouri, a female fighter pilot from the UAE, has also been involved in anti-ISIS operations. While one would not assert that Islam or any other major global religion (and in this, we include the oriental faiths as much as the Abrahamic religions) is completely free from patriarchy (with all due respect to everyone’s religious sentiments), this mindset of prohibiting girls’ education represents a deeply patriarchal mindset among these ultra-conservative terrorists hailing from tribal Pashtun communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has no basis in Islamic theology, and very many people across the globe who have identified themselves as Muslims have educated their daughters.



No Muslim-majority country (but for parts of them ruled by militias like the Taliban and ISIS), not even Saudi Arabia, has legally imposed wearing burqas (though only Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards wearing burqas, it must be noted that the Quran does not ordain it, nor do quotations attributed to Prophet Muhammad of undisputed authenticity), or prohibited women from driving (though only Saudi Arabia, other than militia-ruled regions, has imposed a ban on women driving, but a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibits women from driving. In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, another Islamic state which largely follows the same Wahabi sect of Islam as Saudi Arabia, there are women-run family taxis, and Laleh Seddigh, an Iranian Muslim woman, is among the best car-racers globally, competing with men.


The author would like to thank his friends Suvankur Sukul, Rudre Malik, Siddhant Kalra and Karan Bidani for their help and support.

By:


Karmanye Thadani
Knowledge Council

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