While Muslims in India share a love-hate relationship with the US, they are mature enough to understand that India cannot set its foreign policies to please a minority community,
Syed Shahabuddin Delhi
Muslim Indians have traditionally nursed negative feelings towards the West. Ever since the slow but steady penetration of Western powers in the Indian sub-continent began, Muslim Indians have been influenced by many anti-Western movements: Shah Waliullah’s invitation to Durrani, the fatwa of Shah Abdul Aziz, the jehad by Syed Ahmad Shaheed, the active Muslim participation in the First War of Independence in 1857, the Wahabi Movement, the Muslim rejection of English and Western culture, Muslim sympathy for the Afghans in the third Anglo-Afghan War, the Khilafat movement, the formation of the Provisional Government of Independent India in Kabul, the nationalist Ulema’s fatwa against joining the British Indian Army.
All this was seen by the community through the prism of the Western role in colonising, dividing, dominating and conquering the Muslim World, forcing the withdrawal of the Ottomans from eastern Europe, the defeat of Turkey in World War One, the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire into states — some historic, some artificial — the abolition of the caliphate, and British mandate and subsequent partition of Palestine followed by the steady occupation of Arab Palestine by Israel.
Whether it is the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR in 1979 or the invasion of Iraq by the US in 1991 or the invasion of Afghanistan followed by the occupation of Iraq by the US in 2002, all this is in the eyes of the Muslim World a continuation of the centuries old war against Islam that began with the crusades and expulsion of the Arabs from Spain.
All these have left multiple scratches on the mind of Muslim India. Today, the USA, the successor of and synonymous with Western imperialism, is the invincible mega-power and its ideologues do not conceal their pride in the new imperialism. However, the Muslim world realises that it is the West’s advancement in science and superiority in arms that caused the fall of the Muslim lands.
The USA is seen as the chief protagonist in the continuing war against Islam and is held responsible for the neo-colonial economic exploitation of its natural resources as well as for perpetuation of feudalism and tribalism, which block the path to democratisation and modernisation.
There was a time at the end of World War Two when Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia were the only Muslim majority states that enjoyed at least nominal freedom and the visible attributes of sovereignty. Today there are more than 50, but nearly all of them are seen by Muslims as dancing to US tunes. The Muslim majority states have emerged from the debris of the colonial order, but during the last 50 years, their people continue to struggle for freedom and democracy, for complete control over their economic resources, for real self-determination. At every turn, they find their path to freedom and democracy blocked by the West, which has increasingly come to be personified by the USA, externally and internally.
The US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and their continued occupation and military presence in many other Muslim states and its support to anti-democratic regimes make a mockery of its claim to be the standard bearer of freedom and democracy. Muslim masses everywhere know the name of the game, it is oil and Israel.
Muslim Indians form the geographical centre of the Muslim world though they form a minority in their own country. They cannot be impervious to the currents and cross-currents flowing on the surface or below in the Muslim world. Ideas and emotions have a way of crossing borders.
Then there is another side of the picture. Like all peoples in the developing world, the Muslims are equally mesmerized by the technological progress of the US and by its high standards of living. Today it is the destination and there is a continuous stream of migration from the developing world to the US in search of knowledge, money and comfort. Muslim Indians are no exception.
So the US is seen both as good and bad; both as the enemy and as the friend, it is both loved and hated; it is both admired and criticised. There is the double image of the USA as morally degenerate and as the frontier of science and technology.
While entertaining suspicions about its intentions towards Islam and the objectives in the Muslim world, while seeing it as the main force behind "Zionist" expansionism and anti-Islamic conspiracies, while dissociating from its culture, Muslim Indians also appreciate its role as the upholder of freedom, equality and justice and the rule of law in the USA.
Muslim Indians, therefore, are not opposed to development of political, scientific, technological and economic cooperation between India and the US. However, they hope that by virtue of its size and influence India will not become a camp follower and support US foreign policy across the board, and that India will be able to follow an independent policy towards the Muslim world, particularly in supporting the Palestinian cause against Israeli expansionism and in encouraging the forces of modernisation that seek protection against tyrannical rules as well as foreign predators.
Muslim Indians are in a fortunate situation. They are citizens of a democratic and secular state in which they enjoy freedom, equality and justice. They value their precious rights when they look at the Muslim world to the west, to the east and to the north. They count their blessings, notwithstanding occasional Nellies, Bhagalpurs and Gujarats. They are committed to the national aspiration of their country rising to become a pole in tomorrow’s multipolar world. They hope that India will both restrain anti-Islamic forces within the country and become more effectively involved in international and regional affairs and promote justice and equality in international political and economic relations.
It is widely acknowledged in Muslim circles that Islamic extremism has no scope in India. The extremists who dream of establishing an Islamic state in India or restoring Muslim rules are very few and stand totally marginalised in the community. This explains why terrorism has struck no roots. This overall understanding underlies the quest of the community for modern education, for acquisition of technology and managerial skills, while maintaining its Islamic identity. India’s Muslim community, which forms the second largest Muslim community in the world, naturally expects the national leadership and the government to take due cognisance of their sentiments when another Muslim community is in distress as in Palestine, Iraq or Chechnya.
But it is wise enough to realize that India’s attitude towards and relationship with other countries cannot be determined solely in terms of the sensitivities and inclinations of one community but of national interests. On the whole, so long as the government sees national interest in maintaining good relations with the Muslim world, there is no conflict at all. It realizes the limits of the pressure it can exercise on the national foreign policy, constituting, as it does, only 13 per cent of the population and a relatively smaller part of its intellectual and academic resources. So it is wise enough to take in its stride developments that may not be tally with its liking.
In sum, the community feels that India’s relations with world powers, including the US, will not be determined solely on the basis of geo-economic and strategic considerations and that Indian diplomacy shall not sever the moral nerve line that has characterised it since Independence.
Conversely, Muslim Indians have, in the light of their experience, also come to know how little the Muslim world can do for them. So its pre-Indep
endence exuberance for the Muslim causes in the larger world outside (such as the Khilafat) has cooled off. And happily so. It lives today, more in the real world and not in an imagined world in which Islam and anti-Islam are constantly pitted against each other. The Constitutional path, the path of democracy and secularism, it has adopted for addressing its grievances and for correcting the flaws in the system and the anomalies in its working has also served to moderate its impulses and aspirations.
That explains why it gave almost no support to the armed insurgency in Kashmir though it fully sympathised with the Kashmiri grievances of erosion of democracy and autonomy and violation of their human and fundamental rights. Equally, it has not extended any support to pan-Islamic terrorism. Osama bin Laden has not been able to recruit even one Muslim Indian in all 15 years!