Let me begin by making it clear that I detest fanatics. I particularly detest violent fanatics. So, it pleased me that we finally saw a crackdown on the violently fanatical Popular Front of India (PFI) last week. I have followed the activities of this jihadist outfit since it first came to my notice 12 years ago when its operatives chopped off Professor T J Joseph’s hand because they believed he was guilty of insulting the Prophet of Islam. This act of violent fanaticism destroyed not just this teacher’s hand but his life. He lost his job, his wife killed herself because she could not handle the constant, jihadist threat under which they lived, and a recent report I read on the News 18 website says that the Professor believes that the ‘real culprits’ have still not been punished.
Since this horrible act, PFI operatives have been guilty of murdering people they consider enemies of their violent, fanatical interpretation of Islam. They have also been guilty of spreading jihadist ideas across India. So well have they succeeded in this endeavour that young Muslim girls have gone to the Supreme Court to demand the right to wear the hijab in classrooms. Their lawyers argue that it is a question of choice and privacy but also argue that it is a compulsory religious tenet. Which is it?
The hijab ladies are being backed by another group of fanatics who usually go unnoticed because their fanaticism comes from politics and not religion. This group can be loosely clubbed under the category of liberals and leftists although it is an insult to the idea of liberalism to use it for this bunch of fanatics. Leftist non-Muslim ladies are arguing stridently that the women in Iran who are burning their hijabs in public and the women in India who are demanding the right to wear the hijab are fighting the same fight. It is a matter of a woman’s right to choose what she wears, they say, without noticing that the religious men who interpret their religion for them take away this choice. They make it compulsory.
It is compulsion that allowed the morality police in Iran to arrest Masah Amini for not wearing her hijab in what they considered the proper way, and it was in their custody that this young woman died. She has become the symbol of the protests that are currently sweeping across Iran. These protests have the support of all my civilized Iranian friends who were forced to flee their country when religious fanatics took over under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. I took a personal interest in what happened in Iran then because it was a time when violent fanatics happened to become leaders of the Sikh religion in which I was born. Having been brought up in a religious Sikh family I wrote in an earlier version of this column that I was ashamed by the violent distortions that had been introduced into Sikhism and immediately became a target.
Receiving death threats is very unpleasant, so my sympathies are with Nupur Sharma although I believe she spoke in the tones of a Hindutva fanatic in a time that is fraught with tensions between Hindutva and Jihadi fanaticism. It does not need saying, but cannot be said enough, that fanaticism breeds fanaticism. This is what is happening in India. It is disingenuous to say as that gang of leftist fanatics like to, that political Islam is a direct consequence of the constant attacks on Islam and Muslims that have come to define the rule of Narendra Modi. He seals himself in a cocoon of deafening silence, they like to point out, but allows his ministers, party spokespersons and social media loonies to spread poison without realizing how much damage they are doing to ‘Ma Bhaarti’.
Hindutva fanatics are as despicable as Jihadi fanatics, but it is wrong to say that it is because Hindu fanatics tore down the Babri Masjid that we have seen the rise of political Islam. Having covered events in the Kashmir Valley for more than 40 years, I can report that radical Islamists started spreading poison in Kashmir before the Babri Masjid was torn down. I was witness to cinemas, bars and liquors shops being closed in Srinagar by jihadists who threw acid on unveiled women. The violent jihadists who participated in the 9/11 attacks and spread terrorism across Europe had nothing to do with India, but it is their influence that has changed the nature of the much gentler Indian Islam we once knew.
So now that we have Hindutva fanatics and Islamist fanatics competing for territory in our country what should happen? In one word: leadership. The Prime Minister can no longer hide in his cocoon of resounding silence he has to speak out against all forms of religious and political fanaticism. He needs to discover that the people who pose a real threat to national security are not the dissidents, journalists, and comedians his Home Minister routinely jails but the fanatics that roam freely in our streets. He alone is in a position to reassure Indian Muslims that his government will not be partisan. Today they are being lured by the ideology of Islamism because they see the Indian state as unfair and unjust. It is not just the fanatics of the PFI who need to be locked up but Hindutva fanatics too.