Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Four Things That Indian Hindus Must Understand About Their Muslim Compatriots

I've been reading a lot of highly polarising stuff on social media, and it has slowly been dawning on me that a lot of Hindus, even nominally educated ones, have been intellectually lazy in not taking the time to analyse the facts about their Muslim compatriots.

Many of them have strong opinions that seem to be backed by facts, but their logic is a bit dodgy.

I would like to spell out the four fundamental flaws in their logic.

1. Worldwide Islamic terrorism has little involvement from Indian Muslims

2. The Kashmir problem does not concern Muslims in the rest of India

3. Bangladeshi Muslim immigration is different from the population growth of Indian Muslims

4. Mediaeval Muslim invaders have very few genetic links to modern Indian Muslims

Let me elaborate.

1. Worldwide Islamic terrorism has little involvement from  Indian Muslims

Since September 2001, the world has rudely awoken to the problem of Islamic terror, and Muslims are now looked upon with suspicion worldwide. Acts of Islamic terror in Western countries have been carried out by Muslims from many countries. However, hardly any have been from India. 

The curious case of the Indian Muslim and terror did not escape the notice of Time Magazine, which carried an item in its April 10, 2015 issue - "What India Can Teach Us About Muslims And Assimilation".

Since the rise of ISIS in Syria and the establishment of a putative caliphate, Muslims from around the world have travelled there to become part of the group, with a couple of notable exceptions - India and Indonesia. There are hardly any ISIS recruits from these two countries.

Perhaps the best certificate, though, is the left-handed one from Zakir Musa, a former member of the Hizb-ul-Mujaheddin who joined Al Qaeda. He called Indian Muslims "shameless" for not joining the global jihad.

There is thus sufficient evidence that the Indian Muslim is a breed apart, and deserves a greater degree of trust and reciprocal goodwill.

2. The Kashmir problem does not concern Muslims in the rest of India

Kashmir has been a simmering problem for India ever since independence. Part of the problem has been fomented by the Pakistani army, but that doesn't fully explain it. Part of the problem has been the periodic dishonesty of the Indian government (rigged elections in 1987, for example), and a heavy-handed approach to security (AFSPA and the human rights violations it condones), but those don't fully explain it either. An unspoken aspect of the Kashmir problem is a fairly widespread desire for an Islamic state, and the readiness of the more extreme separatists to simply eliminate their moderate counterparts.

So there definitely is a hardline Islamist element to the never-ending violence in Kashmir, and a major part of it is local in origin. This can be frustrating and infuriating to the average Indian, who sees Kashmir as always getting favourable treatment (both through the protections of Article 370 and the investments made by the Indian state into J & K). The expulsion of Kashmiri Hindus (the Pandits) from the valley during the 1990s also exacerbates this feeling.

However, Muslims in the rest of India have nothing to do with Kashmir. There is hardly any support for Kashmiri separatism expressed by Muslim groups in the rest of India. The non-Kashmiri Muslim voice has been remarkably muted on this issue. Hence there is no reason for any frustration that Indian Hindus may feel about Kashmir to spill over towards Muslims in the rest of India. Apart from the accident of sharing a religion, there is nothing in common between the latter and the separatists in Kashmir.

3. Bangladeshi Muslim immigration is different from the population growth of Indian Muslims

There is a serious problem of illegal immigration of people from Bangladesh into the northeastern states of India and West Bengal, and from there, into the rest of India. Some estimates put the number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India at 20 million. Not only is illegal immigration indefensible, it also threatens to rapidly change the demographics of Indian states, turning many districts and electoral constituencies into Muslim-majority ones and potentially shifting the balance of political power within India. Clearly, this is a serious national security problem that needs to be urgently tackled.

However, the problem of Bangladeshi immigration is not to be conflated with the population growth rate of Muslims in the rest of India. In this context, I have often heard the scaremongering message that "Muslims will outnumber Hindus in 30-40 years".

I found this such a remarkably precise and potentially falsifiable statement that I immediately got to work with a spreadsheet, and the last four decades of census data. I saw that over these four decades, both Hindu and Muslim growth rates have been steadily falling, and also that the Muslim growth rate has always been higher than the Hindu growth rate. I extrapolated forward for the next 40 years, by factoring in continuing falls in both Hindu and Muslim rates of population growth, but also ensuring that the Muslim growth rate remained above the Hindu one throughout. I also had to keep my growth rates from becoming too high, because otherwise the total Indian population would exceed reasonable limits.

As I had pretty much expected, the highest percentage of the total population that my model projected for Indian Muslims in 40 years was 19%. A more realistic set of growth rate figures put this percentage at 16% (at which time the total Indian population would be about 1.7 billion). This is a far cry from the 50+% that the term "outnumber" implies.

The myth of a soon-to-be Muslim majority is precisely that - a myth. Fortunately, it's extremely easy to refute with a spreadsheet and some independent thinking

It's clear that Indian Muslims are in no position to threaten the numerical dominance of Hindus any time in the foreseeable future, so the majority should stop thinking of itself as a threatened minority.

4. Mediaeval Muslim invaders have very few genetic links to modern Indian Muslims

Genetically speaking, Indian Muslims are virtually identical to their Hindu neighbours. The overwhelming majority of them are of Indian stock and are descendants of converts to Islam from Hinduism. With some (highly diluted) exceptions, they are not descendants of Turks, Mongols, Persians, Afghans or any of the other Muslim races that invaded, conquered and plundered India centuries ago.

Treating Indian Muslims as "Baabar ke aulaad" (children of the Moghul invader Baabar) is not only not based on fact, it is needlessly harsh. If the forefathers of Indian Muslims were originally Hindus (who were probably converted at swordpoint), they were probably victimised to an even greater extent than the Hindus who managed to hold out. This understanding should lead to greater empathy and a feeling of oneness, rather than alienation.

So, to repeat what I said at the beginning of this post, I believe many Indian Hindus have been intellectually lazy in not thinking deeply enough about the four distinctions I have made here. That may explain the flawed reasoning and needless paranoia that I see on social media. A cool head and the application of logic can lead to a much more reassuring worldview than an ideology based on fear and suspicion.

In addition, it would not just be unfair, but also needlessly self-defeating, to treat a loyal group of fellow Indians with suspicion. Continued "othering" of a group of people can cause alienation, and perhaps even radicalise a few in the process. It would be a tragic irony if the myth of the "enemy within" turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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