While I’m astonished that an Israeli mainstream news service would even address this story at all, let alone report in a considerably balanced manner; There are many very basic questions that this 2-and-a-half minute segment whizzes through, that I’d like to comment on. Continue reading “Khirbat Tuqu’ & the Silent World”
On 22 June 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, asserted that burqas (or the burqa-clad?) are “not welcome” in France, adding that “[i]n our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity” and that “the veils reduced dignity.”France’s Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, estimated at six-million-strong. And this is just an approximation, as the French Republic implicitly claims to be post-race and post-religion via a prohibition on any census that would take into account the race or religion of its citizens. (This anxiety mirrors the brouhaha in Indian media àpropos the much-contested enumeration of OBCs or Other Backward Castes in the Indian census surveys of 2011, or the urgency to declare some spaces post-caste, post-feminist, and post-racist while casteism, patriarchy and racism continue unabated.)
In annexing Kashmir, Indian leaders put aside their progressive anti-colonialism, and pursued a policy that stood in direct confrontation with the goals of struggling Kashmiris. Nehru’s professed derision for princes and despots proved facile in Kashmir in this first real test of his commitment to anti-colonialism and democratic values. His decision to urge the discredited and runaway Dogra ruler to sign the imperial Instrument of Accession, and then accept it, was a defeat for the oppressed Kashmiris who had, with great sacrifices, forced the Dogra ruler out. By recognizing the authority of the Dogra ruler, Indian sovereignty over Kashmir simply replaced the sovereignty enshrined in the Dogra maharaja. But along with that sovereignty, India inherited Dogra rule’s illegitimacy as well.
On 26 January 1992, Murli Manohar Joshi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, after travelling by road all the way from the southern tip of India, was airlifted from Jammu to the heart of Srinagar where he half-raised the Indian flag near historic Lal Chowk. All of Kashmir was put under severe curfew, and the army was given shoot-at-sight orders. Throughout the day soldiers shot dead more than a dozen Kashmiris in the streets of Srinagar. Over the previous two years, the Indian government had unleashed a reign of terror on the people, with massacre upon massacre of unarmed protestors dotting Kashmir’s timeline. Joshi’s Ekta Yatra (Unity March), protected and provided of full support by the Indian government, was an important reminder of the nature of the Indian state and the relationship it sought with the people of Kashmir. The event was designed to put on display the majoritarian character of Indian nationhood, and line up power of the state behind it to send barely coded messages to audiences in India and in Kashmir.
[I]n one scene I wanted to have just a half open door and I wanted to be shown saying namaz once. We couldn’t take that shot. Then we put that bit where I say the prayer: Nasrun minal lahe wah fatahun kareeb (God give me strength to win) [sic] [Victory is Allah’s, and the opening/victory is close] which is my own prayer too. I don’t think we should intellectualise entertainment. See the fun of it.
This is how Shahrukh Khan describes his experience working in the filmChak De! India(Dir: Shimit Amin, 2007). With apologies to King Khan for discarding his proposal to not “intellectualize” films, yet taking due “fun” in it, I argue that it is only in My Name is Khan(Dir: Karan Johar, 2010) that the King finally comes “out” as a Muslim. No “half open door” is needed. This coming out affords particular visceral pleasures to an audience (or at least a large section of it spread across the globe) long resigned to seeing SRK endlessly and persistently marked by the specifically filmic variety of Hinduness practiced in Bollywood: doing various pujas and aartis at different Hindu temples, or adorning his spouses’ hair-parting with sindhoor and smearing his own forehead with tilaks. This performative Hinduization of Shahrukh Khan in Urdu-Hindi cinema is unrelenting precisely due to the dogged presumption of SRK’s Muslimness that is not easily obscured. “In my films I have been going to temples and singing bhajans; no one has questioned that,” (my emphasis) SRK exclaims in the same interview. No one “questions” the diegetic (filmic) Hinduness of SRK; it is expected and mandatory. With the increasing and explicit polarization in India since 1990s, the anxiety around Muslimness is such that it requires perpetual masking: an iterative performance of Hinduness, secular or otherwise. When the mask slips off, the performance is momentarily paused – as when SRK plays a Muslim character in a film and critiqued the anti-Pakistani politics of Indian Premier League (IPL) – Hindutva activists target SRK’s suburban Bombay home, Mannat, with massive demonstrations (See the earlier Part II for more).
Karan Johar falteringly attempts to fashion a cinematic alliance of sorts between African-Americans and South Asians — very unusual in the Bollywood context and more so for Karan Johar, himself — but fails to seize the radical politics embedded. One wishes that the spirit of this song was continuously re-thought, re-energized, re-contextualized, re-translated. A revolution that stops moving, stops “revolving,” is nothing but an aborted one.
In an interesting twist, Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan displaces or translates (one original meaning of “translate” is to bear or carry across from one place to another) the convoluted and complex, determining context from India, with a specific genealogy, on to the US. The post-9/11 circumstances provide some unfortunate resonances, yet much of the untranslated/untranslatable context results in the particular aporias of the filmic text. Even beyond Mandira’s furious and irrational directive to Rizwan Khan, he has to go around saying his name is Khan and “he is not a terrorist” because in that originary terrain of imposed defensiveness there is not much space for a “Muslim name” (besides certain limited spheres), leave alone for “My Name is Khan, and I am an American.” This latter, more “affirmative” alternative to the “apologetic” cinematic version, is proposed by Suad Abdul-Khabeer in her excellent critique of the film.
In no other major civilization do self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run as deep, nor have these tendencies infected as many aspects of their thinking, laws, and policy, as they have in Western Europe and its overseas extensions. These tendencies reached their apogee during the nineteenth century, retreated briefly after World War II, but have been staging a come back since the end of the Cold War.
For several decades now, critics have studied these Western tendencies under the rubric of Eurocentrism, a complex of ideas, attitudes, and policies, which treat Europe — when it is convenient — as a geographical, racial and cultural unity, but places Western Europe and its overseas extensions at the center of world history since 1000 CE.
Unlike the garden variety of ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism emerged as an ideological project — shaped by Europe’s intellectual elites — in the service of Europe’s rising expansionist states, starting in the sixteenth century. It makes sweeping claims of European superiority in all spheres of civilization. In this worldview, only Europeans have created history over the past three thousand years, beginning with the ancient Greeks. In various accounts, this centrality is ascribed to race, culture, religion and geography.