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NOTE: The New Arab published my latest piece about a Pakistani-American delegation making a normalizing visit to Israel. The leader of the group has close ties both to the Democratic Party and right-wing pro-Israel Islamophobes.
Last week, the BJP national spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, speaking during a TV debate, offered a blasphemous insult against the Prophet Muhammad. which deeply angered most of India’s 200-million Muslims. Islamophobes and right-wing bullies everywhere employ domination, sexual insult and gender shaming in order to transform opponents into social deviants. It’s a hallmark of the fascist mind. Sharma’s insult was another iteraton of this phenomenon. BJP immediately suspended Sharma and expelled the Party’s chief media advisor, who tweeted in support of her comments.
The remarks themselves were bad enough. But they come on top of a wave of anti-Muslim hate from Hindutva circles. These include a 2020 Dehli pogrom in response to an anti-Muslim citizenship law. It led to the murders of 50 Muslims. A 2021 Hindutva religious assembly explicitly called for genocide against Muslims in order to protect Hinduism. Universities have banned the hijab worn by Muslim women. BJP leader have threatened to raze mosques. Were it not for this longstanding pattern of hatred by Indian Hindu nationalists, her remarks might have passed as a mere slight, rather than provoking an international crisis.
— Nupur Sharma (@NupurSharmaBJP) June 5, 2022
After her suspension, Sharma issued an “unconditional apology” in which she “withdrew” her remarks “unreservedly.” But she added fuel to the fire by following up with a tweet (above) “explaining” her original comments, which made things worse. A cardinal rule of apologies is to say sorry and leave it at that. If you “explain” your offensive remarks, you aren’t apologizing, you’re defending them. It wipes out whatever good you may have intended. After receiving death threats, she even blamed a Muslim leader saying that if she was murdered, he would be to blame. That doesn’t sound like someone expressing contrition.
While Muslims outside India have generally remained silent in the face of the Hindutva onslaught, this particular slight is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Muslim world’s response was little short of fury; something close to the hate and loathing provoked by the Danish Mohammed cartoons nearly 20 years ago. The BJP scandal has offended Muslims universally, deeply and personally.
India’s ruling BJP party was caught completely unawares. As far as it was concerned, Sharma’s comments were no different than ones offered hundreds, perhaps thousands of times before by their leaders and followers. The Party’s first move to suspend Sharma failed to quell the disquiet. The uproar snowballed, with nearly a dozen Muslim countries summoning their Indian ambassadors for a dressing-down. In yet another desperate effort at damage control, it finally expelled Sharma. She had been a good soldier and fell on her sword as any good Hindutva soldier would. She will no doubt be richly rewarded as a martyr by her admiring Hindutva fans. She may even be recruited to run as a parliamentary candidate.
India’s conflict between Hindutva Ideology and its global interests
While anti-Muslim hatred is at the heart of the Hindutva ideology, the BJP and its leader, Mahendra Modi, are ultimately political realists. They understand that in order to pursue their supremacist agenda they must not stir up world opinion against them. It’s all well and good to engage in provocation against Indian Muslims and pursue an agenda of full Hindu dominance. After all, it is the basis of Hindutva. But when the hate leaks outside India and jeopardizes global relationships, Modi understands that he must make a tactical retreat.
As a result, BJP released a statement claiming that BJP rejected views like Sharma’s:
“The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion. The Bharatiya Janata Party is also against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy,” the BJP said in a statement issued by its general secretary Arun Singh on Sunday.
Not even the most saffron of Indians believed this. Every Indian knows what BJP stands for and it certainly isn’t religious tolerance. The release of the hollow words has made the scandal even worse.
Sharma became a sacrificial victim whose demise was meant to appease the Muslim world. And it probably will. Just as India has interests it much protect, even if it means jettisoning one of its leaders, so the Muslim nations have various interests which align with India. Everyone will eventually “calm down” and order will be restored. Then BJP can go back to its old ways of hating Muslims. And the Muslim states can go back to hating on Iran, or each other, and pursuing their own national interests.
What’s ironic about the furor from the Muslim world is that BJP has engaged in a decades-long assault against Indian Muslims. Why did this particular event draw such universal ire? Where were they in 1992, for example, when Hindu mobs tore apart the Babri mosque brick by brick? Why didn’t they declare a global boycott of India? Why didn’t they offer a unified front in the face of this outrage?
Israel’s Judeo-Supremacist Hate Echoes Hindutva Ideology
Israel’s treatment of its Muslim minority offers strong parallels to India’s treatment of its Muslim community. Over the years, Israeli religious leaders and their followers have grown increasingly violent and menacing in pursuit of their agenda. The theft of Palestinian land and homes has continued apace. But new restrictions and insults were added to them. Israeli restrictions imposed on Muslim worshippers at Haram al-Sharif during Ramadan in 2021 led to mass riots throughout the country, and finally an Israeli attack on Gaza, killing several hundred Palestinians.
During Ramadan this year, Israeli police again desecrated the holy site, firing tear gas and stun grenades into the sacred sanctum. A Palestinian was murdered there by a Border Police officer. Israeli forces fought pitched battles with worshippers both inside the mosque and in the courtyard outside. Enraged Palestinians sought to avenge this insult, mounting five separate terror attacks inside Israel.
The fever pitch continued with last week’s Jerusalem Day march, in which tens of thousands of radical Israeli settlers paraded through the Muslim neighborhoods of East Jerusalem shouting blood-curdling slogans, chants, and death threats to the Palestinian residents, who cowered inside their homes. The march concluded at the Kotel, revered by these fanatics as the site of the ancient Jewish temple. There they shouted, not just their typical ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘Mohammed is Dead‘ slogans; they voiced their joy at the murder of a young Palestinian boy, Muhammed Abu Kheir, who was burned to death by settlers. Adding insult to injury, they bellowed by the thousands that recently murdered Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Aqleh, was a “whore.” As I wrote earlier, sexual degradation against Muslims appears to be a powerful elixir both for Israeli and Indian religious extremists.
The ultimate goal of Israeli fanatics is to rebuild the Temple. In order to do so, they will have to destroy Haram al-Sharif. Palestinian Muslims know this, which is why thousands flocked to Al Aqsa to defend it. India, 30 years ago, endured the same paroxysm of hate when the Babri mosque was destroyed. The mob’s fury was fueled by the unfounded claim that Muslims had built the mosque on the site of an earlier Hindu temple dedicated to the god Ram. Recently, India’s Supreme Court ruled that Hindus may build a temple on that very site. If that sounds familiar, it should. The fanatical Jews who want to restore the Temple have adopted the same eliminationist approach in seeking to restore their Temple which, they believe, was usurped by the building of Haram al-Sharif on its ruins by an 8th century caliph.
Just as Hindutva envisions India as a Hindu-supremacist, ethno-religious state, in which the Muslim minority will be tolerated only if it accepts its subservient status, so Israel offers the same “deal” to its own Palestinian minority. To exist within the Judeo-supremacist state, Palestinians must accept Jewish dominance and their own second-class status. As the controversial Nation-State law declares, Israel is a state of Jews, by Jews and for Jews. The country’s Palestinian citizens may remain. But If they object to their status, they can leave. And Israel will motivate them to do so by imposing punitive laws and official procedures that squeeze them out. Just as Hindus declare that Muslims can leave India for Pakistan, right-wing MKs routinely scream at their Palestinian counterparts that they should “go back to Jordan” or any other Arab state that will have them.
Just as the Muslim world has observed a long silence in the face of Hindutva’s campaign against India’s religious minority, American Jews barely murmured a peep in the face of Israel’s desecration of Muslim holy sites and its terror campaign against Palestinians. Only infrequently do American Jewish leaders voice “concern” over Israel’s murderous policies toward Palestinians. It usually takes a war in which thousands of Palestinian die for Jewish groups to rouse themselves from slumber. The customary approach is either to enthusiastically promote Brand Israel or stand by in silence as lesser outrages occur. There wasn’t even a murmur from them after Israel murdered US citizen, Shireen Abu Aqleh.
Just as many in the global Muslim world wonder what it might take for their leaders to join in real, lasting solidarity with their Indian brothers and sisters, so progressive Jews ponder what it will take to arouse their communal organizations to demand moral accountability for Israel’s crimes When will American Jews end their romance with liberal Zionism and demand a state which respects all religions equally and offer rights to the Muslim minority equal to those of the Jewish majority?
Lawyers among you will catche the reference in my post title to the legal concept called fruit of the poisonous tree. In this case, instead of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden which gave Adam and Eve the ability to distinguish between good and evil, both Israel and India have eaten of the fruit of the poisonous tree. The fruit of such a tree infects anyone eating it. That explains the hatred and violence of Hindutva and Judeo-spremacy which pervades both, and explains their equally toxic view of Islam.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.