Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) will teach a new course on counter-terrorism from the 2021-22 academic session and it has caused consternation in some circles. The new course at India’s eminent institution will teach that “Jihadi terrorism” is the only form of “fundamentalist-religious terrorism”, according to an Indian Express report. The course will also teach that the Communist regimes in the erstwhile Soviet Union and China were the “predominant state-sponsors of terrorism” that influenced “radical Islamic states”.
Both premises of the course crumble upon close scrutiny and the inclusion of the course without any scruples speaks volumes about the ruling dispensation’s grip on the academic institutions in the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have a long history of treating Indian Muslims as aliens to the land who can only claim to be worthy citizens if they disavow their faith and become Hindus.
Furthermore, the BJP’s disavowal of the Leftist ideology is also a matter of policy, with its distaste for the so-called Nehruvian socialism, very apparent in wholesale selling of the state assets since it came to power in 2014. The government’s effort has now gone into overdrive. The recently announced “monetisation” push will see further sale of national assets much to the delight of the capitalist class.
The institutionalisation of an anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic narrative that was previously only heard in hushed conversations or bigoted WhatsApp groups is a further erosion of safe space for the Muslim minority, which has been reeling under majoritarian bias since Independence, and has now seen direct physical attacks on myriad pretexts. Muslims have been lynched—and filmed while being attacked—for selling bangles, collecting scraps or simply for existing, to say nothing of the mass killings every few years.
Now the bias is being institutionalised in the shape of an ignoble course at the country’s preeminent liberal institution.
Putting fundamentalism in perspective
In his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani delineates the origins of fundamentalism as arising from Protestant circles in the 1920s United States. He terms religious fundamentalism as a countercultural, not a political movement, and goes on to call it a “response to an enforced secular modernity” as opposed to a throwback to pre-modern culture—as it is typically understood.
Mamdani writes, “The problem with using ‘fundamentalism’ as a religious phenomenon to describe all such movements is that it tends to equate movements forged in radically different historical and political contexts, and obscures their doctrinal differences, including the place of violence in religious doctrine.” He then goes on to question the nobility of equating every political movement which speaks the language of religion as potentially terrorist.
Such nuance is the primary casualty of the bigoted JNU course. Truth is its second casualty. Even if we take every act of violence committed by a Muslim as an expression of “Jihadi terrorism”, the first premise of the JNU course—that fundamentalist terrorism is exclusively Islamic—couldn’t be more ahistorical.
While Mamdani places the origin of Christian fundamentalism in 1920s America, fundamentalism of the Jewish settlers manifested itself in bombings at market squares and buses in Mandate Palestine for the sole purpose of terrorising the native population so they would vacate the land that became Israel in 1948.
In a celebrated talk titled, Terrorism: Theirs and Ours, late political scientist Eqbal Ahmad, places the roots of Jewish terrorism well before the Palestinian retaliation in the absence of any other outlet for the expression of their grievances. Eqbal says: “By 1942, the Holocaust was occurring, and a certain liberal sympathy with the Jewish people had built up in the Western world. At that point, the terrorists of Palestine, who were Zionists, suddenly started to be described, by 1944-45, as 'freedom fighters.'
“At least two Israeli Prime Ministers, including Menachem Begin, have actually, you can find in the books and posters with their pictures, saying 'Terrorists, Reward This Much.' The highest reward I have noted so far was 100,000 British pounds on the head of Menachem Begin, the terrorist.”
The second Israeli prime minister with a wanted poster against his name was Yitzhak Shamir.
But a dim reading of history is par for the course of a regime that derives most of its political mileage from vilification of Muslims. In the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests in late 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated publicly that “violent protesters could be identified by their clothes”, while then-BJP chief and current Union home minister Amit Shah openly labelled Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh as “termites” in April 2019.
Now, every other day, there is either a politician or even a constitutional authority equating any mishap in the country with the Taliban in Afghanistan with the sole intention of linking Indian Muslims with their co-religionists now ruling in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the government has no qualms in dealing with the regime it openly emits bile against on its home turf.
Indeed, it’s the same regime that squirms at the mere mention of saffron terror, despite having a saffron-clad terror accused as a Member of Parliament; and a member of its parent organisation killing Gandhi back in 1948.
The state that backs terrorists
The second premise of the JNU course is risible in its absurdity. Professor Ahmad in his aforementioned talk mentioned that jihad had become rather redundant as an international phenomenon for at least four centuries before the Ronald Reagan administration revived its ghost for the purpose of dealing a blow to the Soviet Union. It ended up creating the Taliban as well as Al Qaida.
“[In] Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had disappeared in the last four hundred years, for all practical purposes,” says Ahmad. “It was revived suddenly with American help in the1980s. When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, Zia ul Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan, saw an opportunity and launched a jihad there against godless communism.
“The US saw a God-sent opportunity to mobilize one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the Evil Empire. Money started pouring in. CIA agents starting going all over the Muslim world recruiting people to fight in the great jihad. [Osama] Bin Laden was one of the early prize recruits. He was not only an Arab. He was also a Saudi. He was not only a Saudi. He was also a multimillionaire, willing to put his own money into the matter. Bin Laden went around recruiting people for the jihad against communism.”
American intervention in Afghanistan and funding radicals is just one example. Its history of funding murderous mercenaries is rather long and encompasses the entire expanse of the globe—ranging from South Vietnam in the East to the Contras of Nicaragua in the West and numerous other homicidal regimes in between over one pretext or another.
In contrast, the list of Soviet Union- or Chinese-backed terror or direct intervention in other countries is quite barren.
Illiberalism in vogue
While Indian Muslims across the country are reeling under a spate of almost continuous violence, the state is showing its complicity in letting the perpetrators go scot-free. In fact, filming of the violent act has become a ticket to political success which can come in the form of being garlanded by a former minister or an induction into the ruling party.
Now the teaching of blatant Islamophobia in India’s eminent liberal institution will only see further entrenchment of bigotry and perhaps a more sophisticated defence of violence against minorities from the students graduating from such ill-advised and devious courses which are meant to indoctrinate.
Indeed, such faulty education is a sheer waste of taxpayers' money which will go in training some of the country’s better minds in entirely the wrong things.