Muslim Identity in CAA-NRC protests irks Shekhar Gupta

The Muslim Identity Paradox – National Identity Vs. Muslim Identity -- Shekhar accuses Muslim Indians of stereotypes, and even goes to the extent of nefariously symbolizing them with terrorism

“Acknowledged differences may create mutual respect, but hazy misunderstandings bring forth nothing but prejudice and rejection.”

― Tariq Ramadan in "Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity"

Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of The Print, argues in his recent article that “Muslims pronounced they are Indians first…” – referring to the recent protests against Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and NRC at Delhi’s Jama Masjid. As innocent as the headline and the opening substance of the article may look like, the essence of it smells of astute Islamophobia. It essentially engrains the same Islamophobic overtures that have become the celebrated fulcrum of the league of communist liberals in its entire insolence. To that extent, Shekhar is quick to acknowledge that the Muslim identity emanating from the recent protests against CAA and NRC at Delhi’s Jama Masjid breaks many a Muslim stereotype. However, his succeeding arguments appear as sardonic of the Muslim identity as Arundhati Roy’s “Gandhi, but with guns” assertion of the Maoists – which he cites in his article. His nonchalant rendering of the Muslim Indian identity argumentatively dislodges “whatever little sympathy the Muslim Indian Identity might have had” as an incumbent religious minority of the world’s largest “secular” democracy. 

Shekhar further articulates how this Muslim identity at the Jama Masjid is breaking the stereotypes – “The Muslims are questioning the majority’s first claim to Indian patriotism. They are also saying something immigrants, dominated by those from India, chanted in Britain four decades ago when racism grew rampant: Come what may, we are here to stay.” First things first – more than questioning the majority’s first claim, Muslim Indians are passionately trying to “reclaim” their own rightful vestige to Indian patriotism, which seems to have been brutally hijacked by the Rightist forces. It was definitely not expected from a journalist of the stature of Shekhar Gupta to be so reversely extrapolative to divisively position the Muslim Indian’s patriotic claim into “us vs. them” – a rhetoric on which the Rightists have thrived all along. Second – by equating Muslim Indians with British immigrants, do you also wish to submit to the same Sanghi claim that Muslim Indians essentially belong to somewhere outside India? Why else must the Muslim Indians’ chant – “come what may, we are here to stay” – be equated with that of the British immigrants?

The opening congratulatory remarks by Shekhar state that “These are Muslims, ‘dressed’ like Muslims. We underline this since our prime minister just indicated that the clothes people wear signal their intentions.” Argument accepted – refuting a bigoted and blinkered remark on the identity of clothes requires as prudent a response, specifically when the entire minority is being signaled into a persevering identity crisis. What then fails me is this – how could you, Mr. Gupta, accentuate the bigoted and blinkered remarks on clothes at the beginning of your article, and then yourself fall for the “clothes as stereotyped Muslim identity” fallacy towards the end, at the same time? This is indeed in bad taste, Mr. Gupta; no less than what the Sanghis cull out of the Muslim Indian identity.

Shekhar accuses Muslim Indians of stereotypes, and even goes to the extent of nefariously symbolizing them with terrorism – “There’s been an even stronger symbolism of the angry Muslim, represented by the AK-47, RDX, the many Mujahideen and Lashkars, al Qaeda and ISIS. Those angry Muslims are also easy to fight and defeat. … For almost three decades now, the concern has been, what if the Muslims get really frustrated and take to terror?” Before you rebuke Muslim Indians of breeding and harvesting stereotypes, let me ask you this – who created these stereotypes anyways? How could the average Muslim Indians (or angry Muslims – in your terms) become a symbolism of stereotyped terrorism without borrowing the refurbished Islamophobic stereotypes of liberals like you? Agree with you that “Some young Muslims, in the odd pocket, did take to terror.” However, I rest my case if a journalist of your caliber fails the test of differentiating between “some” and all; and equating it with callous stereotype of “symbolic identity”.

For once, I do agree with you when you say of the so-called Muslim clergies – “There are so many of them, you could always find a Bukhari or a Madani to take a position for and against anything.” It’s a pity – nay, another stereotype – that the average Muslim Indians’ despise of nonchalant and disconcerted clergies is not acknowledged enough. Would you, Mr. Gupta, lend us your hand in confiscating this poignant stereotype that we revere the Shahi Imam without any binaries? 

We live in an era of ideological imperialism – where aligning with the majority perception of a “minority identity” is the only way of inclusion. For once, Arundhati Roy may well be justified in styling Maoists as Gandhi, but with guns. Obviously – “You couldn’t be both, Gandhian and Maoist, at the same time”. Do you, Mr. Gupta, imply the same when rejoicing over the fact that Muslims were seen at the Jama Masjid “With ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in place of the kalma, the Tricolour, not the green for a flag, pictures of Ambedkar and Gandhi and not Ka’aba, and ‘Hindustan Zindabad”. Mr. Gupta, if you murmured what you couldn’t say out loud, let me spell it out clearly for you. Do you insinuate that a Muslim Indian couldn’t wear both, a Muslim identity (with the Kalma and the picture of the Kaaba) and a national identity (pictures of Ambedkar and Gandhi), at the same time?

Our identity is not in the dress alone, Mr. Gupta. It is our Kalma – very much along with the national anthem – it must be seen in summation – not as being replaced by the national anthem. What the majority doctrine has always wanted (and I would not be shy in counting both Sanghis and Liberals in this) is assimilation of the Muslim Indians’ national identity at the cost of their individual identity. When the Ali Brothers (Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali) spearheaded the Khilafat Movement back in the British Indian history, Gandhiji aligned with them and promised to work and fight the common enemy together. The intention was the same, struggle against oppression and tyranny. The enemy was the same, British Colonialism. Why can’t a Gandhi and a Mohammad Ali Jauhar promise to work and fight the common enemy together again – each reliving their own respective individual identities and outshining their unified national identity at the same time? Where does the reason or need to pitch national identity vs. Muslim identity (and then assess, prioritize, and superimpose one identity over the other) arise, Mr. Gupta? Would you, Mr. Gupta, help answer this ravishing question raging inside me – Did Gandhiji dress and look more Indian than the Ali Brothers?

Sharjeel Ahmad is MBA and an Economics graduate. He is an instructional designer by profession and is presently based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He has keen interest in social, economic, and political issues facing Indian populace, with special emphasis on minority issues.