Vol. XLIII No. 12 March 24, 2019

Islamophobia and Right Wing Extremism

Archana Prasad

THE Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand on March 15, 2019 killed 50 Muslim worshippers, seven of whom were Indians, which attracted immediate united condemnation from the entire nation. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised for her mature response to the attack. Not only did she promise swift action, but she also asserted that New Zealand was attacked because it stood for “diversity, kindness and compassion” and said she would renew efforts to counter right wing extremists whose politics had led to the targeting of Muslim worshippers. 
The swift response by the New Zealand government, has however not been matched by its Indian counterpart, even though the Modi government made customary noises about shock and sadness at the attack. In cautiously worded statement the Indian government “condemned terrorism in all its manifestations” but had a deafening silence on the question of the targeting of the Muslim worshippers. This silence must also be seen in the context of the preceding Pulwama attack where the government was quick to use it for its own political ends, but took almost one week to even acknowledge that Kashmiri Muslims were being targeted by right wing Hindutva extremists in the wake of these acts. This makes it clear that the attitude of the union government does not treat “all forms of terrorism” by the same yardstick.  
The implicit support for right wing non-Muslim extremism by the government is however not unique under the present circumstances. It is part of a larger trend of the resurgence of the radical right which is being ideologically supported by many governments across the world. The anti-migrant attitude of the USA and UK is also reflective of the rise of far right politics. As some statistics on attacks on minorities show, there has been a rise in targeted attacks on the Muslims by 65 per cent in Britain in the last one year. About 7,175 hate crimes were reported in 2017 in the USA of which about 18 per cent were religious in their character, the Arab and Muslim Americans being the main targets. In Canada, the hate crimes against Muslims, Jews and blacks have gone up by 47 per cent over the last one year. The European Islamophobia Report 2017 revealed 81 attacks against mosques and 908 crimes against German Muslims. The Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, 2017 expressed a much more generic systemic violence where Muslims were discriminated at the workplace, on the job, at public places and faced physical assault. The survey shows that 27 per cent Muslims in Europe faced some sort of harassment and at least 47 per cent of these had been targeted more than six times and 2 per cent had faced physical assault. The harassment was also gendered in character with 31 per cent of the Muslim women who wore head scarfs facing inappropriate comments and staring in public spaces. A large proportion of these women identified the perpetrators to be from ethnic groups other than their own and also reported that the police handled their complaints quite unsatisfactorily. Such regular targeting of Muslims has increased the insecurities amongst ethnic religious minorities and is tied to the fear that incoming refugees or migrants will threaten livelihood opportunities of the youth in their own countries.
This insecurity also has an intimate connection between the consolidation of neo-liberalism and the rise of the far right. The uneven development and growing inequities resulting from the concentration of wealth under neo-liberal regimes have found their expression in populist politics that takes the form of strident exclusive cultural nationalism. More often than not, the national bourgeois are the biggest beneficiaries of this politics, and its economic policies are based on disciplining the workforce. For example in Hungary, the ascendency of Viktor Orban’s regime was accompanied by an advocacy of ‘illiberal democracy’ which was fundamentally against a rights based approach to social welfare, and taking fundamental political liberties for granted. The economic policy promoted by this regime stressed on the duty to work and wanted to punish ‘welfare scroungers’. In Poland, the advent of Jaroslaw Kaczynski regime openly backed the right wing anti-refugee stance and promoted racist and xenophobic stereotypes. This politics was embedded in the growth of an unbridled market regime and the economic crisis that ensued as a result of them. Anti-migrant rhetoric is typical of the right wing populism as it exploits the sentiment of the unemployed educated youth. As the European Islamophobia Report 2017 shows, almost all the perpetrators of crimes are white young men and the violence was racially and ethnically motivated.
The discussion above only provides a snapshot of the trends in anti-Muslim targeting across the globe. While India also faces similar instances of targeting, the anti-minority, and more specifically, the anti-Muslim rhetoric is even far more virulent, especially in the wake of the upcoming elections. The strident cultural nationalism of the Sangh Parivar has found its expression in the policies of the government, the most blatant of which has been the lapsed Citizenship Bill. The right wing election campaign is largely centred on being patriotic, which in terms of the BJP means being ‘pro-Hindu’. The political regime has not only supported but also rewarded anti-Muslim rhetoric and activities. Prime Minister Modi, who presided over the 2002 Gujarat massacre of Muslims is a good example of this, and his elevation to the union government has led to the acquittal of most accused in ‘saffron terror cases’. This explicit government manipulation of law enforcing agencies to benefit the accused of the majority community has increased the feeling of insecurity, as well as Islamophobia in the country. Though, such a phobia is not new, and can be traced to the days of partition itself, its penetration into the daily lives of the Muslims has reached new proportions. All democratic forces are facing a challenge to address the growing alienation as well as addressing the current insecurity of the minorities. A first step towards this can take place if all unite to defeat the BJP government in elections 2019.