The beheading of Samuel Paty did not make headlines in India. Nor did the French President’s moving tribute to this teacher at his state funeral last week. Emmanuel Macron said, “Samuel Paty became on Friday the face of our republic, of our determination to break terrorists, to diminish Islamists, to live as a community of free citizens in our country.” He added that if France’s foundational values of liberty, equality and fraternity were not taught to children in schools it would not be possible to keep them alive.
It was for trying to teach them, in a school in a Paris suburb, that Paty was killed by a Russian Islamist. While telling his students about the importance of freedom of expression he showed them those cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that were published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo five years ago. Before showing them to his class he said he was happy to allow Muslim students to leave if they found them objectionable. News of what happened soon appeared on social media, and this enraged his 18-year-old killer enough to come looking for him. He beheaded him publicly and posted pictures of his severed head online.
The reason why this story is important for us in India is that something similar happened to a teacher in Kerala some years ago. His hand was severed by our homegrown jihadists because they objected to a lesson he taught about the Prophet of Islam. It is also important for us because our own foundational values are under threat from both Hindutva fanatics and Islamists. At the risk of being called Islamophobic, I believe that the jihadist threat is more organised and more dangerous. It has to be fought but it has to be fought in the arena of ideas. Not by retaliatory violence.
So far, all we have seen is retaliatory violence not just by Hindutva fanatics but by the state. We saw this most recently when the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh claimed after the Hathras horror that there was an ‘international conspiracy’ to defame his fair name. Four young Muslim men were arrested ostensibly for being part of this mysterious plot. Earlier this year, when Muslims took to the streets to protest against CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), Muslim students, poets, journalists and dissidents were arrested. The Shaheen Bagh protest was depicted as a Pakistani plot.
In the course of all this what has been forgotten is that India does have a jihadist movement and it must be confronted in the way that the French President has just done. Indian political and religious leaders must stand up for what India stands for. Instead of allowing Hindutva fanatics to spew hatred and violence in the streets and on social media, the Prime Minister needs to state clearly what it is about Islam that clashes with the foundational values of India. He needs to say that the primitive idea of blasphemy does not exist in any of India’s religions. He needs to say that the Sanatan Dharma does not make a distinction between believers and unbelievers, so those Muslims who subscribe to ideas of this kind must keep them at home.
There is no point in pretending, as too many leftist historians have, that Muslim conquerors did not do terrible things or that they did not destroy temples to build mosques. They did and the wounds still exist but they need healing. Not hatred and revenge. It is time to deal with them as South Africa did with its wounds through a Truth Commission. I have suggested before that the Dalai Lama would be the best person to bring together religious preachers of all religions to discuss how these wounds of history can be healed. My own humble suggestion is that a beginning could be made by urging the Muslim community to give up the Idgah that looms over the dungeon in which Krishna is believed to have been born, and the mosque that looms over the Vishvanath Mandir in Varanasi. The last thing we need is another movement of the Ayodhya kind.
What we do need is to find out which organisations are responsible for spreading jihadist ideology across India so successfully that schoolgirls these days are seen wearing hijabs in classrooms. As someone who is charged with ‘appeasement’ every time I write about the rising tide of Hindutva, I would like to make clear once and for all that I believe that the jihadists have an ideology that could rightly be described as the Nazism of today. Hindutva in its current incarnation is an ideology based entirely on hatred but less dangerous because it does not have religious sanction.
Jihadists take their inspiration from the Quran that says blasphemy and apostasy are crimes against Allah. So, after Samuel Paty was beheaded, Sheikh Ali Al-Yousuf of the International Union of Muslim Scholars said that his beheading was in accordance with Shariat law but that this should have been done by the Islamic State. In India, there is no room for either the Islamic State, its evil ideology, or for ‘scholars’ who talk such rubbish. Our religions and the foundational values of our nation do not sanction primitive concepts like blasphemy and apostasy. It is sad that our leaders do not make this as clear as the French President did last week. And, this is why leadership has passed into the hands of fanatics.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 25, 2020 under the title “Dealing with Islamism”.