All too often the word terrorism is associated with a Muslim, or a group of Muslims, or even a whole organisation of Muslims, who carry out acts of despicable violence against civilians. Paris. Nigeria. Sinai. Pakistan. Somalia. Beirut. The list goes on and on.
It is important to note that there are a great many terrorist acts executed by those who call themselves Muslim and who claim to be acting in the name of Islam, with divine sanction. And there is no question that this particular brand of terrorism is pervasive.
But it is equally important to note that terrorism is not inextricably tied to Islam. Acts of terrorism have been with us for a very long time and have been perpetrated – and justified – by all sorts of ideologies, both secular and religious. And on many occasions, Muslims have been the victims, either at the hands of other Muslims or, on some occasions, at the hands of non-Muslims.
In this vein, there is one simmering conflict that does not get the attention it deserves. This bloodshedding is taking place in the world’s largest democracy, has been going on for a while, and shows worrying signs of getting much worse. I am talking about the rise of violent Hindu nationalism in India.
Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi is a Hindu nationalist whose support is derived in part from that swath of the Indian political spectrum. He has been a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a self-styled patriotic group that has an extremist and violent streak. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat state and was in charge during the Gujarat riots of 2002 when Hindu mobs killed between 1,000 and 2,000 Muslims. Modi was exonerated of any responsibility for the incident, which some have labelled a carefully orchestrated anti-Muslim pogrom.
Since Modi’s election in May 2014, there has been a rise in Hindu nationalism and attempts to impose Hindu values on non-Hindus (NB Hindus constitute the majority of India’s citizens, but there also 180 million Muslims). Acts such as the killing of those who consume beef (cows are considered sacred in Hinduism) are on the rise (see story here). These acts are going largely unchallenged and Prime Minister Modi has been remarkably silent on the incidents.
Historically, to the best of my knowledge, there was an understanding in India that different communities with different faiths and different cultural practices (including diet) were allowed to live their lives peacefully. This wave of intolerant Hindu extremism threatens that modus vivendi. And it appears that we will see more, not less, violence perpetrated by terrorists in India.
Why does this matter? Primarily because the loss of innocent life is always to be condemned, irrespective of the underlying ideological cause. This wave of violence will also contribute to India’s other problems: environmental degradation, population rise and social inequalities (i.e. the caste system). And Hindus killing Muslims will feed the narrative that Islam is under attack and must be defended, leading to tit-for-tat terrorism by Islamist extremist groups.
Prime Minister Modi came to power with hopes of bringing India to an elevated status on the world stage. To do so, he has to come to terms with the violence committed by some of those who helped him attain that power.