Friday, October 28, 2005

Naqvi on covering "Muslim" and international issues

The ‘Muslim-Muslim’ tag

Dilemmas of a political commentator in today’s world

Saeed Naqvi, The Indian Express

The other day, a senior colleague of mine — one I respect — approached me somewhat furtively. “There is much Muslim, Muslim in your writing these days.” I have written on Muslim-Muslim or rather Hindu-Muslim issues regularly since the Moradabad riots of 1982, right through the Mandir-Mandal days up to the Gujarat riots. In addition I had made 50 short films on aspects of our mixed culture (the fashionable term is composite culture, I believe). It was acclaimed as a series which went a long way in calming communal temperatures.

No one told me then that I was focusing too much on Muslim-Muslim, I said. He replied, “Then you were campaigning against fundamentalism.” He left me with the painful feeling that in the current phase I was with the fundamentalist tide.

But how does this current phase differ from the earlier one? Communalism in the earlier phase was a domestic affair, affecting politics and social movements in India. The Congress monolith was fragmenting. The vacant spaces were being filled by caste and communal forces. External inputs were there too, aggravating the internal situation. Zia-ul-Haq’s Nizam-e-Mustafa, later transformed into a full-blooded jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, had an impact this side of the border as well. Sikh militancy engulfed Punjab.

Earlier, the post-1973 quadrupling of oil prices had created global chaos. Marks and Spencers in London had set up signs in Arabic. The sheikhs of Araby were in occupation of the Savoy and Dorchester. Anti-Christ had entered the citadel. Much of what is happening in the Arab lands today has its roots in the rear-guard action the Reagan-Thatcher duet mounted then.

The impact on India of this phenomenon was enormous. Kerala labour, mostly Muslim, flooded the Gulf states. Remittances altered the sociology, indeed the landscape, with garish ‘Dubai’ houses. Arabs, flushed with funds, financed madrasas to salve their religious conscience. And when Hindus from the low castes converted to Islam in Meenakshipuram in 1982, I remember Ramnath Goenka exclaiming in the Express office on Mount Road, Chennai: “Hindu kahaan jaaye; Hindu kahaan jaaye (where should the Hindu go)?”

The “jihadi” victory against the Soviets in Afghanistan was, in no small measure, instrumental in the Soviet Union coming down like a melting glacier. Since 1989, it is this spare “jihadi” talent which has given muscle to the insurgency from across the border in Kashmir. Kashmir terrorism in turn added fuel to the Mandir-Mandal conflict which resulted in the fall of the Babri Masjid. That was the national mood which incrementally brought the NDA to power from ’98 to ’04.

There was no occasion for any “Muslim-Muslim” sort of writing throughout this period, except when eyebrows were raised with Jaswant Singh’s one-sided interest in Israel almost to the point of abandoning the Palestinians. If one took a critical note of this departure, does it place one in the ‘Muslim’ corner? I mention this because the trend was taking shape then.

Rajiv Gandhi, anxious to upgrade relations with Israel, hesitated because his Muslim advisers feared the step would affect the Muslim vote. I argued to the contrary. Uniformed Muslim leaders in the coterie had pinned the community down to Shah Bano, Salman Rushdie, Aligarh Muslim University and relations with Israel. The last, in particular, made no sense because the kings of Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, were either covertly or overtly dealing with Israel, as was Egypt. We did not have to be more loyal than the ‘kings’. Rajiv requested me to prepare a note on the lines indicated above. Ronen Sen, now our ambassador in Washington, processed the note which paved the way for P.V. Narasimha Rao opening embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi. Reaction from Indian Muslims? Not a word. It was never an issue. Israelis presented me with a plaque indicating that 10 trees would be planted in the hills of Jerusalem in my name!

All this autobiographical data is being furnished to bring out the irony of this “Muslim-Muslim” accusation. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mentioned in the US that India had the world’s second largest Shia population, he was probably impressing on the Americans how internally sensitive an anti-Iranian vote at the IAEA would be. He, nevertheless, voted for the resolution.

Shia sensitivities may have been an unnecessary point to raise. My opposition to the vote would be simple: Iran is an old friend. The world knows it. If I am compelled to vote, when Iran has not closed all diplomatic doors, I come across to all the UN members, and not just in SAARC, as one who buckles under US pressure. This does not give us the sort of profile credible members of the UNSC should have. And if Americans were friends they would understand our sensitivities on the matter without any prejudice to the nuclear deal. But the US argument is disconcertingly the opposite. You keep in line and that will enable us to persuade the Congress. The goodies “may” then follow.

The pressure under which the operation is taking place is extraordinary. If you make the simple argument I have made above, then you are a Leftist, a Muslim or even possibly a Shia! If our media were to cover foreign affairs properly, the allegation of “Muslim-Muslim” against some footloose journalists who go to the trouble spots would not be made.

The difficulty is that foreign affairs in the Indian media (except for some exceptions) is covered from South Block and a few think tanks where nuclear scientists congregate. And what is their theme? US, Pakistan, China.

No Sir, a comprehensive coverage of world affairs by the media worthy of a country with aspirations of UNSC membership, would involve going to the news spots — Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan, Niger, North Caucasus. And all of these are “Muslim, Muslim”. Read this week’s Economist, three of the five edits touch on “Muslim, Muslim”. But please do not fall into the obvious trap. Don’t be goaded into believing that any criticism of the US has a “Muslim, Muslim” source. Neither Venezuela nor Zimbabwe are Muslim, even by a long shot.

1 Comments:

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