How 9/11 spawned an anti-Muslim playbook being weaponised in India and China

How 9/11 spawned an anti-Muslim playbook being weaponised in India and China
Comment: The post-9/11 discourse is a favourite tactic for 'justifying' the Islamophobic policies of governments around the world, writes Mobashra Tazamal.
7 min read
05 Mar, 2020
Indians hold a funeral for Bhure Ali, killed during Delhi's anti-Muslim violence this month [Getty]
Framing Muslims as the "other" has been a prevalent theme in western discourse for centuries. From the crusades to colonialism, the western lens has depicted and constructed Muslims as everything the "West" is not, and in the process has cast them as violent, uncivilized, and foreign.  

The rhetoric from the White House following the deadly attacks on 11 September 2001 elevated these tropes, as the most powerful country in the world instrumentalised the idea of the Muslim "other" to justify endless wars.

The language built on centuries of orientalist thought was crystalised in the months and years following 9/11. It defined the Muslim "other" as inherently violent and uniquely tied to terrorism. This vocabulary has informed the actions of authoritarian leaders and political parties around the globe.

Today, the language of defining Muslims as "extremists," with an ideological predisposition to terrorism is used by the authorities of the two most populous countries in the world: India and China. The dangers of this cannot be underscored enough.

China understood the benefits of incorporating US-led "war on terror" language, and in 2014 Beijing launched its own "People's war on terror" against the "Three Evils of separatism, extremism, and terrorism" in Xinjiang.

Re-framing their narrative against the Uighur Muslims - a Turkic ethnic group who've long faced repression at the hands of the government - as one that is tied to the western-led campaign against terrorism, has helped Beijing evade any criticism and carry out their ruthless measures with impunity.

It defined the Muslim 'other' as inherently violent and uniquely tied to terrorism

The CCP's actions towards the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang escalated in 2017 when reports of concentration camps in the region came to light. At least a million Uighur and other Turkic Muslims had been detained in the camps, referred to by the authorities as "re-education camps," "vocational training centers," and even "hospitals," for the sole purpose of eradicating their faith and cultural identities.

The Chinese Foreign Minister justified the camps using counter-terror terminology developed by the United States, stating, "The efforts are completely in line with the direction the international community has taken to combat terrorism... If we can take care of prevention, then it will be impossible for terrorism to spread and take root."

Other authorities have argued that Uighur Muslims are suffering from an "
ideological illness." For Beijing, the "illness" is the Uighur culture and Islamic identity. Harmless Expressions of Muslim identity such as going to the mosque, having a Muslim name, having a Quran in the house, having a long beard, saying As-Salam Alaikum, using Islamic terminology, fasting during Ramadan, etc. have all landed individuals in camps.

Those who've been spared detainment live under a police state equipped with the latest and most intrusive forms of surveillance. The situation in Xinjiang has been described by Dr Adrian Zenz as a mass social re-engineering programme and referred to by many, as cultural genocide. 

There has been little international action to condemn China for its ruthless campaign, and next door in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party have taken note.

Read more: Democracy languishes in Modi's anti-Muslim India

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has increasingly drawn on the same post-9/11 securitised and racist rhetoric when speaking about the country's Muslims, which make up 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion.

They seek to re-frame Indian Muslims, as 
argued by Jagat Sohail and Apoorv Avram, as not only "terrorists" but also "illegal immigrants," a dual shift in "ideological alignment over the figure of the Muslim, one determined by the US, and the other by Europe." In India, the Muslim "other" is oppositional and a detriment to the Hindu nation that the BJP seeks to create.

Modi's India longs for an India that never existed. The country has a secular constitution and is considered one of the most multi-ethnic and multi-religious nations in the world.

By latching onto the Islamophobic rhetoric of constructing Muslims as a threat, as 
foreigners, infiltrators, and even "termites," the BJP is manufacturing a new India, one built on Hindu nationalism resulting in millions being left at risk for mass violence, detainment, and/or deportations.

In recent months, the ruling party has implemented a number of exclusionary and anti-Muslim policies such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in its quest to create a Hindu nation. The policies are built on the narrative of the Muslim "other", as it deems Indian Muslims as foreigners. 

The party's actions have emboldened the Hindu right, leading to cow lynchings and widespread accusations of "love jihad," an Islamised slur used on social media "to inflame dark fears that Muslim men who woo Hindu women might be trying to convert them to Islam."

The same Washington Post 
article noted that the "use of the term has spread on social media" with the rise of the BJP. This coupled with discriminatory legislation and anti-Muslim rhetoric at the hands of politicians has created palpable fear among the country's Muslim population.

In an effort to delegitimise criticism, the ruling party has deployed the 'Muslim-terrorist' narrative

In an effort to delegitimise criticism, the ruling party has deployed the "Muslim-terrorist" narrative. When one of India's best known investigative journalists, who is also Muslim, Rana Ayyub, rightfully noted that the BJP chapter in Karnataka's rhetoric sought to reduce Muslims to second class citizens, the chapter's profile responded by calling Ayyub a "jihadi". 

This is yet another 
Islamized slur used to equate Ayyub to terrorism, and invalidate her criticism. Such anti-Muslim language has been widespread among the party, as members have denounced the anti-CAA protests that have sprung up across the country as "hotbeds of Muslims extremism."

A Union Minister went so far as to 
claim the months-long women-led sit-in in Shaheen Bagh was a breeding ground for suicide bombers.

It's not just the Hindu far-right that has latched onto this securitised language, media and social networks have also played a part in turning this rhetoric mainstream. After a short clip of a speech delivered by Sharjeel Imam, a leading voice against the CAA went viral, opinion pieces were published in an effort to defame him, calling him a "radical Islamist," and a "mastermind" of the Shaheen Bagh protest.

Words such as "radical," "extremist," "terrorist," "jihadi" are all part of the counter-terror lexicon, a branch of politicised security that was brought to the forefront following 9/11.

The discourse has almost exclusively been applied to Islam and Muslims, leading to the publically held belief that Islam and Muslims are uniquely tied to terrorism. This rhetoric is often employed by state authorities to 
delegitimise politically active Muslims, in turn, marking them as a threat.

Authorities use these arguments to violate the human rights of Muslims by rationalising their actions as necessary against the "violent Muslim other".

In China's case, the authorities aim to depict the Uighur Muslims' struggle against a colonising power and decades of disenfranchisement as an "extremist" activity. In India, Modi passed discriminatory legislation in the quest to create a Hindu nation.

When faced with opposition, the party uses words such as "radical," "extremist" and "infiltrators" to delegitimise these voices.

The post-9/11 discourse is a favourite and effective tactic of governments around the world. From Communist China to the world's largest democracy in India, the Islamophobic narrative elevated and mainstreamed by the United States is being used to clamp down on the rights of hundreds of millions of people with impunity.

In condemning  - as it should - the actions of Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, the United States and its western  counterparts will have to do some serious 

It would mean the West facing up to the fact that it provided the 
ammunition - in the form of words and narratives - to leaders around the world who use it to justify state violence against Muslims worldwide.

Mobashra Tazamal is a researcher on Islamophobia at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.

Follow her on Twitter:@mobbiemobes

Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.