Ex­clu­sion not the an­ti­dote to Wah­habism

Fa­nati­cism and ex­clu­sion can­not be fought with fa­nati­cism and ex­clu­sion.

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

In 1992, this colum­nist warned “South Asia ex­perts” at meet­ings in the US that Wah­habism was an ex­is­ten­tial dan­ger to sev­eral coun­tries, in­clud­ing many that were Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity. How­ever, he was met with scep­ti­cism. The Wah­habis, after all, had been loyal foot sol­diers of first the UK and later the US for con­sid­er­ably over a cen­tury, first against the Turk­ish caliphate, later against Arab na­tion­al­ists such as Egypt’s Nasser or Al­ge­ria’s Ben Bella, and very re­cently against the USSR in Afghanistan. In­deed, prac­ti­tion­ers of this creed are still serv­ing in­cum­bent US ad­min­is­tra­tions, th­ese days against Iran and its al­lies such as Syria’s Bashar As­sad. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers as well as “think-tankers” in the US and the EU have, over the decades, in­dul­gently en­cour­aged Saudi Ara­bia to send bil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally to in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to the ex­clu­sivist, su­prem­a­cist Wa­habbi creed that was de­vel­oped more than two cen­turies ago, and which has since been seek­ing to gain more and more fol­low­ers across the globe, in the process, cre­at­ing se­vere rip­ple ef­fects on com­mu­nity re­la­tions. In In­dia, for in­stance, al­most ev­ery “Hin­duMus­lim” clash in­volv­ing loss of life is be­tween Wah­habis and mem­bers of the Hindu com­mu­nity. There have been close to zero such en­coun­ters be­tween Shias and Hin­dus, or be­tween Su­fis and Hin­dus, and rel­a­tively few be­tween Sun­nis and Hin­dus, if we dif­fer­en­ti­ate the Sunni com­mu­nity from the (much smaller num­ber of) Wah- habis who of­ten pose as the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tives of this im­por­tant branch of the Is­lamic faith. Al­most all acts of ter­ror in the US or the EU that have been per­pe­trated by Mus­lims have ac­tu­ally been car­ried out by Wah­habis, and th­ese teach­ings are also the ba­sis for the the­ol­ogy of Al Qaeda and its lat­est mu­tant, ISIS. Small won­der that th­ese days, warn­ings about Wah­habism are taken some­what more se­ri­ously even in the US and the EU than was the case a quar­ter-cen­tury ago, al­though even now, an­a­lysts there al­ways con­fuse Wah­habis with Sun­nis, thereby do­ing a great in­jus­tice to the lat­ter, many of whom are modern and the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of whom are mod­er­ate.

Now, Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man of the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia has be­come the first mem­ber of the Al Saud fam­ily to pub­licly ac­knowl­edge the harm done by Wah­habism, and to call for its sub­sti­tu­tion with gen­uine Is­lam, a faith that pro­motes tol­er­ance, mercy and benef­i­cence. The Saudi Crown Prince has acted just in time. A rolling back of Wah­habism and a re­turn of mod­er­ate and in­clu­sivist prac­tices is es­sen­tial for the Mus­lim com­mu­nity more than for oth­ers, and in such a task, In­dia’s mod­er­ate ma­jor­ity among Mus­lims can be a global as­set. At present, there are tens of mil­lions across the globe, who seg­re­gate them­selves from the rest of the so­ci­eties they are res­i­dent in, and who clutch at uni­for­mity in their dress and de­port­ment. There is noth­ing ob­jec­tion­able in the hi­jab or a head­scarf, if such choices be the con­se­quence of free will and are not based on co­er­cion. Should an over­all cli­mate of free­dom of ex­pres­sion and life­style pre­vail within a coun­try, such in­di­vid­u­als will find courage to chal­lenge those who are il­log­i­cal enough to claim that wear­ing the same type of dress as was in vogue a mil­len­nium ago is oblig­a­tory for the wearer to en­ter heaven.

In In­dia, where Mus­lim women have been in the lead in bat­tling against such me­dieval prac­tices as triple ta­laq, fi­nally a fight­back by the Mus­lim com­mu­nity against Wah­habism is tak­ing place, with sev­eral both in ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions as well as the work­place re­fus­ing to fol­low those dress codes that have been im­posed across cen­turies. Ex­cept of course vol­un­tar­ily, the way many women still wear that most grace­ful of dresses, the sari. It may be pos­si­ble to fight fire with fire, but fa­nati­cism and ex­clu­sion can­not be fought with fa­nati­cism and ex­clu­sion. Re­cent edicts of some schools in UP who have banned girls who wear the hi­jab or a head­scarf, will en­cour­age Wah­habi ten­den­cies, rather than damp them down. Such acts of ex­clu­sion will be used by the Wah­habis to val­i­date their “Us ver­sus Them” dia­lec­tic, thereby re­in­forc­ing ex­ist­ing affini­ties to this school of the­ol­ogy, rather than wean­ing peo­ple away from it.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween Malaysia and In­done­sia is that one coun­try en­forces a ban on the eat­ing of pork, the other does not. The dif­fer­ence be­tween Nepal and In­dia is that one of th­ese coun­tries pro­hibits the eat­ing of beef under threat of pros­e­cu­tion and, in prac­tice, some­times death, whereas the other freely per­mits its con­sump­tion. It is a big dif­fer­ence, al­though there is cer­tainly a case for re­duc­ing the eat­ing of beef, given the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of such con­sump­tion. How­ever, such an ob­jec­tive needs to be achieved through in­for­mal per­sua­sion and not through the force of law. A state that re­lies on the po­lice to en­force cer­tain choices in dress, diet and life­style choices is usu­ally one where laws are ig­nored by many. As­sum­ing that the script of the movie is as deroga­tory of the char­ac­ter of the hero­ine as is be­ing de­picted by de­trac­tors of Pad­ma­vati, ban­ning its ex­hi­bi­tion (that too with­out hav­ing seen the movie) will not erase the his­tor­i­cal fact that large parts of In­dia un­der­went cen­turies of rule by Mus­lim kings. Much more re­flec­tion needs to take place as to ex­actly why Mus­lim in­vaders were suc­cess­ful over Hindu kings who ruled over far more pros­per­ous lands. Rather than threaten film pro­duc­ers and ac­tors, those ag­grieved by it should in­stead pro­duce a movie that ends with a re­sound­ing vic­tory by the de­fend­ers of Chit­tor against Alaud­din Khilji, who would in this movie jump into a fire to es­cape his foes, thereby cre­at­ing an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity suit­ing their his­tor­i­cal pref­er­ences.

The UPA went into a frenzy of en­act­ments, pass­ing laws and im­pos­ing reg­u­la­tions each time a tele­vi­sion an­chor de­manded “ac­tion”. In the case of the NDA as well, there has been far too fre­quent a reliance on the blud­geon of law and the po­lice in en­forc­ing choices that are less than uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar. In a free so­ci­ety, reg­u­la­tions curb­ing free­dom of choice and speech should be the ex­cep­tion rather than the usual re­course of those elected to of­fice. Wah­habism can­not be de­feated or even slowed down through meth­ods and mind­sets sim­i­lar to those favoured by ad­her­ents of this creed.

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