The so-called radicality of this Conference did nothing but further contribute to the erasure of Indian Muslims and Indian brand of anti-Muslimness. It carried out Hindutva’s goal. Genocide of Muslims is an aesthetic project for Hindutva. Genocide of Muslims is an aesthetic project for this seemingly anti-casteist but clearly and always anti-Muslim left.
By Shaista Aziz Patel
At the conference on Dismantling Global Hindutva and its violence held in September 2021, I had a difficult time scanning the conference program to see where Muslims were as organizers, speakers, and as sites of critical discussion. I could find only a few instances of Muslim presence and not always in ways that would encourage us to actively think about the core place of anti-Muslim violence –as it appears at various intersections of the dominance of Hinduism, caste, gender, and sexuality in the formation of right-wing Hindu nationalism in India and diaspora. This conference claimed to present “multidisciplinary perspectives,” and yet, the reality that most of the speakers and organizers were caste-dominant Hindus really worried me as a caste-oppressed Muslim scholar of Critical Muslim Studies. At this conference, Interdisciplinarity, which is about the critical work of connecting the streets to academia, and also centering the people who are the actual targets of violence, seemed to have been co-opted by South Asian academics in the US who are comfortably situated in terms of caste, class, and citizenship. The organizers and presenters of this conference received several threats from Hindu nationalists in India and diaspora, and I genuinely appreciate the efforts of mostly graduate students and untenured faculty who carried the burden of organizing this conference. However, it was troublesome that the actual subjects targeted by Hindutva forces in India, the Dalits, the Bahujans (lowered-caste people), Indian and Kashmiri Muslims and other religious minorities were displaced from the positionality of those constantly under the threat of death and incarceration in India. These are the people(s) who have been targeted for centuries, for millennia, and regardless of Hindutva in power.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with me and my collaborator Nader Hashemi that will be published soon by the excellent online magazine Qantara.de. The interviewer is Emran Feroz, a journalist based in Germany, founder of the Drone Memorial, a virtual memorial for civilian drone strike victims, and author of a book on drone warfare. The interview revolves around our recent book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East, in which we challenge the new conventional wisdom in Western media and policy circles that attributes the violence engulfing the Middle East today to “ancient hatreds”. We call this sectarian essentialism a new form of Orientalism. In this section of the interview we’re responding to a question about the pervasiveness of this sectarian narrative across the ideological spectrum.
This is hardly surprising, given the anti-Muslim prejudice so pervasive on the right. What is surprising is to find people on the left trafficking in the sectarian narrative. Take the case of Patrick Cockburn, the influential Middle East reporter for The Independent. Cockburn has consistently framed the Syrian conflict in sectarian terms — using language like “sectarian blood-letting” and “demons” — and even criticized others for downplaying sectarianism. He did this from very early on, seeing sectarianism as immanent even during the nonviolent popular demonstrations of 2011, which were notably devoid of sectarian slogans and involved Syrians of multiple religious backgrounds/identities. The Syrian conflict became sectarian, but it didn’t start that way and, contra Cockburn, its sectarianization was by no means inevitable. In his chapter in our book, the anthropologist Paulo Gabriel Hilu Pinto demonstrates how the Assad regime pursued a deliberate strategy of sectarianizing the conflict through the use of sectarian pro-regime militias and the “selective distribution of violence” to punish specific sub-groups of protesters; and by releasing various jihadis from Syria’s prisons, to poison the well and produce a “preferred enemy”. Continue reading “Left-Wing Orientalism: The Curious Case of Patrick Cockburn”