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Mumbai 29 November 2008

Posted by Todd in Democracy, Inequality & Stratification, Islam, Modernity and Modernism, Multiculturalism, War & Terrorism.

Note: I am no expert in Indian history or politics, so this is just a casual reaction from an outside observer. I would love to hear from readers who are better informed or have deeper analyses to offer.

There is a lot of really good commentary floating around the interwebs about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, this past week, and I have been trying to sort out all the intricacies of what happened. The social scientist in me (and my base personality) goes quickly to trying to understand such an event, the structures, attitudes, and practices that would lead us to such a show of violence. Unfortunately, much of the early analysis drew facile parallels with Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalism(s), but I really don’t think that works. Although global Islam is (loosely) connected, it seems that this Indian event is much more deeply tied to a particularly Indian inter-communal conflict, one that has been brewing and boiling over for decades, if not centuries. Whereas terrorism born of Saudi malcontents is anchored in an anti-modernity and anti-Americanism, that is, a long post-colonial history, it seems that the Mumbai violence, while certainly connected to British imperialism, has as much to do with internal inequalities. It looks to be a domestic terrorism only loosely (perhaps even ideologically) connected to global interactions. Although Pakistan and India are separate countries, which makes it look like an “international” affair, I think that the partition of Pakistan from India in the late 1940s is evidence of internal divisions within the subcontinent more than of an international conflict. 

To me, then, the terrorism in Mumbai looks far more like a failure of pluralism, or more pointedly, a failure of plural democracy. One of the key weaknesses at the origins of the modern state of India, which Ghandi warned of, was the imagination of India as hindu, and all others as Others. The national imagination of the Indian state wove into it the pre-existing communal conflicts between Indian muslims and Indian hindus, and really hasn’t ever allowed for a true and equal pluralism to develop. See “India’s Muslims in Crisis” by Aryn Baker for a brief primer on the status of Muslims in India.

Unfortunately, the global Ummah is made up, partially now, of a culture of terrorism, where injustices (perceived or real) are dealt with through direct violence against anyone perceived as benefiting from or participating in the oppression of muslims. It is perhaps far beyond this now, but maybe not: Is there no Ghandi for Indian Muslims? Are there no other ways for Indians to demand their full equality within the modern Indian state without resorting to violence of this kind? Or am I just naive and idealistic?



1. Thomas George - 29 November 2008

About me – I am Indian,Christian by faith.

Disclosure-I am preparing for a very competitive exam with very limited seats.

I am sick and tired of hearing how Muslims are treated badly and unequally.We have something similar to affirmative action here in India-backward communities have 50 % reservations and Muslims do benefit from these.These reservations are not just confined to top educational institutions but also for Government jobs.So just because he is born Muslim he can sail through life -easy admission through college and then he lands a cushy Government job.And some idiot politicians want to extent this to the private sector as well.

So if things are so rosy why is the Muslim community having problems ?
1.defective school education
Reading the TIME article provides a clue.Many Muslims are not able to take advantage of the opportunities offered because of their defective school education.Many Muslims attend Deoband style Madrasahs which do not equip them for higher education.Whose fault is that ? But that said increasingly Muslims are changing to modern schooling.

2.Missionary nature of the religion
Islam (I hate this aspect about Christianity as well) wants everyone to convert to Islam and refuses to let people be.Christians get into trouble because they try (and succeed) in converting people.I am against conversion.Religion is a personal choice.Until this aspect is relegated to the sidelines there would be problems.

3.The Brotherhood
When I joined graduate school,all I cared about was girls and food.I never bothered about religion or politics.But the hostel I stayed in had a Muslim Brotherhood.The basic premise was we are Muslims and we are therefore brothers.This collective based on religion was very divisive.It was then we (non muslims) began to recognize the importance of religion.I am a doctor and I have patients address me as Doctor Thomas etc whereas with Muslim colleagues they would immediately smile broadly on knowing they are muslims and would start to address them as Bhai(brother).

I used this anecdote to illustrate a point – as long as this feeling of Universal Muslim Brotherhood is retained there is going to be resentment and fear.

The key is to go the route of the Aligarh University and give up on the Deoband model.

2. rishisb - 7 May 2010

Todd, this isn’t about a failure of pluralism in India. Pluralism is in India has been existing for a long time now. Despite the grim predictions of multiple partitions by many wester commentators, India remains a unified nation. Pakistan quite clearly does not. Sixty years on, the differences between the two nations have only grown wider when it comes to governance and policies

Ours is a culture of diversity and tolerance. Pakistan’s is clearly not, by virtue of it proclaiming itself as an purely Islamic state and all the news of violence that we witness each day. (This is of course not to say that there are no internal conflicts or religious politics at play in India).

The terror attack on mumbai however were just a blatant and brazen attempt at hurting the Indian economy and spreading fear. India may have its failings but this violence has been committed against India and not by India. Ideologically, these are two * very * different countries and the proclivity toward mentioning them in one sentence or their geographical proximity does not aid that fact.

Sections of Pakistan are undoubtedly a world wide migraine.

3. Todd - 7 May 2010

I would distinguish between having a culturally diverse population (which India has had for centuries) and having a pluralistic society. A pluralistic society is one in which cultural differences are tolerated. While I agree that there have been threads of toleration throughout Indian history, I would disagree that India has a fully functioning pluralism today, at least not in places like Gujarat. The inter-communal conflicts are real and have flared into violence and mass murder several times over the past few decades. While it may be argued that such intercommunal conflict is a product of postcolonial social and economic tensions, I would be careful not to dismiss them too easily.

I understand the nationalistic tendency for Indians to compare themselves to Pakistan (where there are deep, anti-democratic strands of Islam at play). But I would urge Indians to pay close attention to themselves and judge their own behavior by the standards of the Indian constitution and the Indian cultural tradition of intercommunal peace and tolerance. The goal (in my point of view) would be for India to move toward a perfecting of tolerance, especially between Hindu and Muslim, in order to create an ever-improved democracy (the largest one on the planet). The danger of comparing with Pakistan is that it risks obsolving India from its own problems.

Europe has had an analogous problem vis-a-vis the United States. Europeans see Americans as racist and xenophobic, and they see themselves as enlightened, liberal, tolerant. This serves problematically to blind Europeans of their own severe problems of racism and ethnocentrism.

Whereas India is a functioning Democracy, Pakistan is a crippled, barely functioning state at all (let alone democracy) with massive internal religious and economic strife. Let India, then, cease building its identity contra Pakistan, and instead build its identity through reaching toward a particularly Indian/Hindi/Dravidian/Indo-Muslim version of Democracy.

4. Alcyon - 26 February 2011

Hi Todd, just a quick note with a request to get your spelling of “Gandhi” right. (It’s NOT “Ghandi”.) I’m starting to think that this is an area fit for research as to why it’s so hard for so many, otherwise knowledgeable, people to put the ‘h’ in the right place 🙂 I have noticed too, in some rare cases, that some people seem to insist on spelling it the wrong way even after being pointed out. Another area for research, I suppose 🙂

Todd - 7 March 2011


You need a lesson in polite social interaction.

What you should have typed. “Hi Todd. You have misspelled Gandhi in your piece. The ‘h’ comes after the ‘d.'”

The rest of your passive-aggressive sarcasm is juvenile and beside the point and unwelcome here.

5. Odd - 7 March 2011

Internal inequalities ?

The Gini coefficient which measures income inequality is higher in the US than in Europe or India. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality

“The United States is the country with the highest inequality level and poverty rate in the OECD countries..”

By your “internal inequality” argument, the US should be seeing more internal conflicts than India.

Since that is not what is happening, your argument appears inadequate and the conclusions questionable.

Todd - 7 March 2011

You need to read more carefully. I am not making an argument from economic or class differential, but an argument about inter-communal conflict and differential access to social capital based on anti-muslim oppression which has killed thousands since partition in India. As I said very clearly several times in the post, I see this as a failure of pluralism, not of distribution.

I also think distribution inequality is a major problem around the globe, but that’s a whole other conversation.

6. Odd - 8 March 2011

I’m afraid you need to write AND read more carefully, and also perhaps learn a bit of logic and ethics.

“has as much to do with internal inequalities.”
That’s a full stop without qualification.

The link above indicates the US has one of the lowest *social mobility* in the developed world, not just distribution inequality.

How are terrorists from a well-known terrorist organization, recognized by US, UK, India and Pakistan, that are financed, trained and arrive by ship from abroad any indication of failure of internal pluralism of the target country ?

You are tacitly justifying an act of external terror that killed a couple hundred Indian people.
An apology would not be out of place.

Exactly what you are proposing as a solution to your perceived lack of pluralism is unclear when you do not first propose a reasonable solution for improving social mobility that are applicable globally.

India already has equal education, affirmative action, free speech and practice of religion that are providing for a population much larger than the US, despite the handicaps inherited since colonialism and partition.

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