The world wouldn’t have forgotten the unfortunate Christchurch Mosque shootings in New Zealand, which killed around 50 people and was executed by a single gunman named Brenton Tarrant on Friday, 15th March 2019. To cement this day into the global memory, the United Nations recently passed a resolution to recognise 15th March, every year as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The proposal for the same was put forth by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
By Rohith Krishna
While the perpetrator of the attack was connected to the case of ‘White-Extremism’, in its receiving end, the incident was conceived as a case of Islamophobia. It cannot be denied that in this particular case, Muslims were the victims of the attack. But the larger issue of alt-right extremism could befall any racial, gender, immigrant and religious groups, in the same way. Hence, it could be problematized whether Islamophobia or White-Extremism was the larger cause for this particular attack. Certainly, one cannot equate both these terms or interchangeably use them. However, the U.N has decided to highlight the former over the latter.
India had expressed its concern on raising the phobia against one particular religion, which is equivalent to excluding all the other religions at large or not recognising the phobia against them. Citing examples of attacks on temples, gurudwaras and glorification of breaking idols, India highlighted the contemporary forms of threat faced by non-Abrahamic faiths globally. To seek plurality, India opined that time had come to acknowledge ‘religiophobia’ rather than elevating the phobia of just one religion. The term Islamophobia, and the UN’s recent decision to recognise it, along with India’s response to it have once again brought the term ‘Hinduphobia’ into the popular discourse.
It is notable that the Indian position didn’t demand a day for ‘Hinduphobia’ or ‘Sikhphobia’, rather it only acknowledged such anti-religious narratives do exist with non-Abrahamic religions as well, and therefore, singling out one religion might lead to divisions in the United Nations. The Indian envoy Śri Tirumūrti hinted that there already exists an International Day for Tolerance that more or less serves a similar purpose. On another occasion, about a couple of months earlier, Śri Tirumūrti at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had pointed out that only religious phobias against ‘Abrahamic Religions’, namely Islam, Christianity and Judaism have been mentioned in the 7th review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy passed by the U.N. He rightly said, “The emergence of contemporary forms of religiophobia, especially anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh phobias is a matter of serious concern and needs attention of the U.N and all member states to address this threat.”
While it is important to address the ignorance that non-Abrahamic cultures face, even at the U.N, it is also important for us to think about the term ‘Hinduphobia’ and understand its possible limitations at the conceptual level in conveying the challenges that the Hindu society faces.
Discussing the Limitations of the Term ‘Hinduphobia’
Borrowing the trend, an international day for Hinduphobia might initially appear as a strategic choice to resist the physical and epistemic violence against Hinduism. But on second thought, it might appear otherwise. If we are to recognise a day for Hinduphobia, then, we might be expected to or morally bound to recognise a day for Islamophobia as well, by ‘pluralist’ standards. This article argues that by observing a day against Hinduphobia, there is hardly anything to gain for the Indic civilizational voice. But there is certainly something to lose, as we would be bound to lose at least some strength in our ‘critical voice’ against proselytizing faiths for specific reasons, which would be explained further.
There is no absolute definition for the term Islamophobia, nor is there any proper identification of its source. Generally, it is the fear of Islamic terrorism and of Islam rising as a geopolitical force that is responsible for an equally radical eventual reactionary prejudice, hatred and attacks on the Muslims. It’s been recognised that the constant prejudice and attacks on Muslims have increased in the West, particularly after September 11 and other terror attacks in the European countries. OIC members, including Saudi Arabia, “stressed the necessity to combat hate and fear of Islam and Muslims.” Even Pakistan’s ambassador to U.N, Munir Akram noted while demanding the resolution that “Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims has escalated to epidemic proportions” (emphasis added).
To resist this, the best way would have been an approach where the Islamic world owns up the responsibility of radicalism along with responding to the radical extremist reactionary forces, who turn up against the Muslims; the ‘fear of Muslims’ is not built in a vacuum. In that case, nothing contributes in volumes to the ‘fear of Muslims’ than Islamic terrorism itself. Ironically, it was Pakistan known for its state-sponsored terrorism that introduced this resolution on behalf of OIC.
The UN resolution is only an official recognition, but for it to become legitimate, it has to gain popularity among the public for which it has to be convincing. Islamophobia is only an empty label that cannot be theorised scientifically. One may come up with several instances or examples of violence against Muslims and attach it to this label to argue that Islamophobia exists. But attempts to theorise it scientifically as a phenomenon, would fail on cognitive grounds. By choosing an empty term like ‘Islamophobia’, which is devoid of an epistemic value, any instances right from reporting a religious violence, raising concerns about rapid demographic change, to even making a movie on the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus could be labelled and alleged as ‘Islamophobic’. It then strategically fuels to dismiss the genuine criticisms, questions and concerns raised against Islam than to resist the equally radical reactionary attacks on the victims as it happened in the Christchurch attack.
The article argues that this is the mileage or a political advantage that the empty term ‘Islamophobia’ would receive, which ‘Hinduphobia’ might not have in the long run for the very reason that the challenge of Hindus are different and unique. How would it sound if we explain the challenges faced by Pagan Greek and Egyptian civilisations, which led to their decline as some sort of ‘Greekophobia’ or ‘Egyptianophobia’?
Śri Gurumūrthy recognises that non-Abrahamic faiths such as Hinduism is ‘doctrinally tolerant’, contrary to the ‘doctrinally intolerant’ Abrahamic faiths such as Islam. As a result, the ‘phobia’ against Islam is a result of its own intolerance. Therefore, if they make a genuine attempt to study it, then Islamic intolerance and terrorism would only get self-exposed. Hence, they have come with an empty term that would potentially save them from such an embarrassment. But what could result in a ‘phobia’ against a non-proselytizing ‘doctrinally tolerant’ tradition like Hinduism? Is there any need for Hindu civilisation to camouflage on an empty term if we have nothing to be self-exposed? If not, is the term ‘Hinduphobia’ a dead end for Hindu civilisational voices? If we have nothing to be self-exposed to, the right choice is in front of us to do something else, rather than hanging around an empty term.
Much like Islamophobia, Hinduphobia is also not a concept with an epistemic value, rather it’s a term that is empty without a meaning. It is certainly not to negate any kind of violence that exists against Hinduism both physically and otherwise. Rather the argument is that this term is potential enough to block our thinking, in our conscious attempts to identify and understand the predicament of systemic distortion and violence that the Hindu society faces. Unlike the Islamic society that faces the embarrassment of Islamic terrorism globally, Hinduism does not face a global challenge of having terror outfits conducting terrorist attacks that have built a fear on behalf of the Hindu community. Nor were the attacks on Hindu idols, Gurudwaras, colonial systematic distortion of Hinduism, a kind of reactionary or revengeful act conducted against a prior attack by the Hindus or arises out of ‘fear’ of Hindus. The term ‘Hinduphobia’ does not help us explain our challenge, rather it limits our exploration. For instance, we know that certain religious traditions condemn Hinduism for its idolatry. This ends up at times in physical violence and temple attacks. We also know that there exist problems in colonial and leftist understanding of Indian culture. But these challenges cannot be explained, understood and resisted just by labeling that these people are suffering from Hinduphobia. Prof. Jakob De Roover frames this issue metaphorically in the following way, “…It must be clear how poor an answer this is. Imagine a similar explanation of the fact that I feel uncomfortable in cramped spaces. “Oh, that’s because you suffer from claustrophobia.” What is claustrophobia? It is the fear of being in small or enclosed spaces. In other words, I fear being in cramped spaces because I suffer from the condition of fearing such spaces. Inevitably, “Hinduphobia” will lead to similarly circular accounts that lack epistemic value.” This is to say that the threats formed against Hinduism from outside cultures are not random, blind or unexplainable so as to be called ‘Hinduphobia’.
As mentioned earlier, unlike in the case of Islamic world, our challenges are different and unique. There is a need in India to focus on the cognitive framework to understand the repeatedly guided attacks on Hinduism — their temples for idolatry, for recognising them as infidels or the case of epistemic violence in academia. There is a certain way of conceptual continuity in which Hinduism is understood by both the medieval and modern Islamic and European cultures (regardless of their pity or hostility towards the Indian culture). What has made them interested in studying about Hinduism in the first place? What has made these distinct ‘outsiders’ think or experience Hinduism in similar ways across centuries? Either what they are saying is true or there are some conceptual limitations that they suffer from, which they borrow from their own cultures, which Hindu civilisation needs to study and voice out – a herculean task that lies ahead of us, which cannot be summed up or contained with an empty term such as ‘Hinduphobia’.
As mentioned above, by coining and elevating an empty term like ‘Islamophobia’, political Islam might have certain advantages that ‘Hinduphobia’ or ‘Sikhphobia’ might not have in the same way, in the long run. For Indians, after more than 70 years of Independence, it is high time to invest in such a kind of comparative study of cultures. By dismissing and trying to answer this long-standing intellectual legacy of ‘Colonial Consciousness’ through an empty term like ‘Hinduphobia’ (a term that cannot be theorised but only labeled) would only help us in stagnating the process of understanding the conceptual confines that have forced outside cultures to view a certain set of notions as truth regarding Indian society and culture. It is also worth remembering that these understandings by outsiders on Hinduism and India, are sometimes taken as reality or received knowledge even by many Hindus today (who may not be really ‘Hinduphobic’).
Do we need an International Day named on a term that is empty? The violence against Hindus, which is physical and epistemic, could be understood and dealt otherwise as mentioned above. On the contrary, empty terms like Hinduphobia would only stagnate our minds from understanding this phenomenon. Initially, the secular ploy said that ‘all religions are the same’ (which helped the ‘doctrinally intolerant’ to liquidate with ‘doctrinally tolerant’ ones, by subsuming everything into a universal category called ‘religion’). Similarly, would this lead us to say all religions face threats and there are ‘phobias’ against all religions? So that the doctrinally intolerant ones can continue perpetuating violence against the doctrinally tolerant ones in both physical and epistemic ways, as it has been happening for centuries? And when traditions like Hinduism raises its responses to this, an empty helpless answer would readily be given in the way that “you are just one of them, since all religion faces ‘phobias’ against one another” (implying that including Hinduism as a religion is also partly responsible for this general phenomenon of ‘phobia’). In that sense, just like how the category of religion was universalised, a category of Phobia is also being universalised, both rooted in the conceptual structures of Abrahamic tradition.
In phase one, all traditions were subsumed and defined under the category and rules of ‘religion’. In phase two, when monotheism begins to get exposed of their ‘doctrinal intolerance’ against other traditions, the problem is gradually subsumed and generalised into an empty category called ‘phobia'(a category to be shared along with non-Abrahamic faiths as well). This is a dead end for Hindu civilisation in its exploration and developing its cultural responses against the contemporary Civilisational Discourses. To simply put, the violence that comes against doctrinally tolerant traditions cannot be conceived or put in the same language that is used to address the violence that comes against doctrinally intolerant ones.
In the light of the discussion above, what could be the potential consequences in accepting an International Day for Hinduphobia? Wouldn’t accepting a day for Hinduphobia or Sikhphobia would then indirectly give legitimacy to observe the International Day for Islamophobia? Possibly then India would be expected to respect and accept the term ‘Islamophobia’, an empty label that would be potentially thrown against India at every unnecessary instance, for even raising its voice against the threat of Islamic radicalism. In accepting the term Islamophobia, India would also lose its ‘critical voice’ against Islam while trying to express and address its own future threats. It then could be wise for India to stand out and not follow the trend and not play a ‘victim card’ by having a day for ‘phobia’. Let that be a ‘privilege’ that the Islamic world alone enjoys or suffers in loneliness at international platforms, as a status that could be always problematical and challenged at cognitive levels in the long run.
This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them.