Islamophobes are an interesting breed of people the world over. They might not be that easy to spot (take a suspicious look at the people sitting beside you right now). And even when called out, tend to deny that they harbour some extremely bigoted views.
Here’s a checklist. If you say yes to more than two of the below, congratulations! You are a closeted Islamophobe. This quiz is only for Indian Islamophobes but I am sure it can be tweaked for other countries as well.
- Religious affiliations of those involved in incidents of violence are your immediate concern.
- Despite belonging to a majority community in India, you feel victimised and taken advantage of.
- You believe intolerance and aggression is synonymous with certain communities.
- In your opinion, Kashmiri Muslims are just needlessly troubling the Indian state and deserve to be airdropped into Pakistan.
- While you believe that Islam is intrinsically more oppressive you do make exceptions for your friends from that community.
Here’s the thing, my Muslim friends don’t want to be exempted from their community. You can’t be selective when making a generalisation. If you decide when insulting a community that you’re not counting anyone you know personally, and you’re not counting all the nice or pleasant members of the said community (“exceptions!”), then what will be left of the community but the ones worth insulting? If someone, say a person from Punjab, told me that they generally dislike people whose parents come from Kerala and Bengal yet they find me alright I would personally be offended and so would my parents.
The fact is, I can do the exact same thing. Since most bigots enjoy making generalisations based on limited information I can also say that my best friend, a Muslim, is one of the kindest and gentlest boys I know. As the owner of two very fluffy cats, a love for irritating pop music and an inexplicable fear of bunny rabbits, he is quite possibly the least dangerous person I will ever know.
And if you forward me a picture, of a Jihadi beheading a hostage, as your evidence for how regressive the entire religion is, I’ll forward you back a picture of Faraaz Hossain who refused the chance to escape death because he wanted to stand by his friends.
But that’s neither here nor there, because I know the absurdity behind stereotyping a community based on specific examples. So stop with the examples right now and go ahead and claim your badge – I am an Islamophobe. Come out of your closet of bigotry.
Often a long discourse on how religion is a breeding ground for terrorists is followed up with a dismissive shake of the head and the statement that it is all politics anyway. That is simply not acceptable anymore. No – please decide. Politics and religion are very different matters. If you tell me it’s politics, then you are blaming a corrupt government and dishonest leaders, you’re saying different countries played their roles in creating the situation we face today. If you tell me it’s religion, you are telling me that ordinary practicing Muslims are responsible for the persecution of their own community and others. Then you are insulting my friend’s identity. You cannot drag a religion, and then end the conversation by saying “it’s all politics”. If it was, you would not have brought religion into the matter. Say no to hypocrisy. It’s a beginning.
It’s not enough to be compassionate to only the people you interact with under the guise of being a tolerant person while also holding onto your prejudices. People exist outside the ones you talk to and the ones the media focuses on. It’s not enough to speak up only about anything that may affect you or your loved ones.
And yes, it’s awful when things happen in Paris or Brussels or Mumbai or Delhi because those are places you and your family live in, those are places you may go to on vacation. But to then deny the magnitude of lives being wrecked by people outside those who we know? To ignore the fact that it is after all more Muslims being killed by ISIS than any other community? And now to brand them all as inherently cruel is to foolishly consider ISIS as the mouthpiece of Islam. It is to ignore the fact that this is precisely why the community faces double-edged persecution: from terrorists who adapted and manipulated their religion to oppress them and a worldwide persecution from the rest of us.
So why pretend that we care for all lives equally when we assign more importance to some deaths over others? The most credible figures cited that two hundred thousand people have been killed since the uprising began in Syria between 2012 to 2015 (the figures increasing daily), not to mention those who have gone missing, political prisoners and hostages. And this is only Syria. There is Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan – the list goes on. But a hundred white lives being lost will garner more attention, let’s not pretend otherwise.
The former ISIS hostage Nicolas Henin clinically assessed the situation in Syria in 2013 and instead of focussing on the horrors he experienced while a hostage, he asserted that “We should at least have the decency to try to understand the disgust of Syrians, who after two hundred thousand people have been killed, see that the West have only been affected by the beheading of its hostages” (Jihad Academy, Nicolas Henin). He repeatedly says that we are playing into the hands of the Islamic State because there is no better breeding ground for extremism than entire populations in despair – the challenges posted by this crisis are new and require a comprehensive response that eschews discrimination and marginalization.
Let’s keep that in mind when talking about these places, about states like Jammu and Kashmir – a state devastated for years. A state whose people underwent horrors that the average citizen of India can’t even begin to comprehend. Please be careful about what you may say about the people living there. If you expect them to be placid, if you expect them not to react with anything less than outrage after what they have endured, then it’s like telling a victim of rape to love their rapist.
You mention cases and perceptions about Muslims and their crimes to illustrate your understanding of the community. Did you read about this incident? Sick, intolerant, regressive. Donald Trump insults Muslims and bans them from entering his country and you call him intolerant with a shake of your head. You laugh at a sexist joke forwarded on a Whatsapp group but when Trump degrades women you gasp in shock. What is he doing other than explaining the logic that lies behind your jokes, the reason you find them funny? There is a slight difference that accompanies his terrifying honesty– the world knows him as a xenophobic, racist and sexist. You refuse to accept this about yourself.
I attended a speech by a man who had lived through the Emergency in prison. He said that prior to the Emergency people tended to talk unthinkingly. Talk about how sometimes they wished that the country could be run by a ‘benevolent dictator’ instead of the ineffective government they were subjected to. Talk irritably of ‘social justice warriors’, a troublesome group of people who tended to make a fuss about nothing.
And then came the Emergency, and the horrors that accompanied it. And after it had passed there was a … hush.
The hush of people learning to value their freedom, of people giving more importance to justice. The hush of people being more careful with their words. Bigots being shoved deep into the closet.
And then, as every major event in world history does, this one passed too. Before World War II, there were perceptions and stereotypes about Jews, like the stereotypes against black people and Muslims today. And they culminated, perhaps first in the form of whispers and jokes and facts gathered from random sources. And then Hitler emerged and finally, someone said what most were thinking. Bigots stepped freely out of the closet and the world realised the cruelty it was capable of producing.
And when it was over there was shame. The shame of educated intelligent people who had fallen into the trap of making generalisations and unthinking statements. The shame of people who never fell into the trap but never stood up against those who did. And the people who continued to stick to their prejudices were exposed for what they were – bigots. And so in today’s world almost no one makes generalisations about Jews anymore.
But here we are again, new leaders emerging, new communities being dragged through the mud, new generalisations being made.
And the ones of us that are silent or the ones that crack jokes or pass careless statements, it’s what we’re calling on ourselves. It’s what we are allowing to happen.
As for the closeted bigots – it’s time to come out of your closet. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs – that can take years, sometimes forever. I’m just asking you to accept what you are.
“You’re right, I don’t like Islam.”
“I have prejudices against the black community.”
“I cracked a homophobic joke because I’m homophobic.”
Say it for me, so I know what I’m dealing with. Say it for yourself and be at peace with who you are. Say it so that you imbibe the one positive trait about Donald Trump – the man is openly an asshole. Don’t be an asshole that hides behind jokes and subtle slips of your tongue.
Assholes of the world: be Donald Trump.