India's bludgeoning of Kashmir is a new low for global anti-Muslim violence

India's bludgeoning of Kashmir is a new low for global anti-Muslim violence
Comment: India's treatment of Kashmiris shows that the global practice of Muslim repression has now reached new heights, writes Kevin Schwartz.
5 min read
05 Sep, 2019
India moved to strip the region of its special status on August 5 [Getty]
As India continues to silence, oppress and infringe upon the human rights of Kashmiris, through startling methods of violence and under the cover of media blackout, the global practice of Muslim repression has now reached new heights.

Alongside China, which has imprisoned perhaps more than 1 million Uighur and other Muslims in its "re-education camps," the world can now bear witness that its two most populous countries - comprising more than a third of the global population - have made the subjugation and repression of Muslims a cruel element of their ongoing nation-building projects.

Add to this the unspeakable crimes and forced migration committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar two years ago and the manner Muslims and Islam have increasingly become a proxy for western democracies to debate and frame issues around national culture across Europe.

The evident conclusion: the 'othering' of Muslims has become a global epidemic gripping a range of countries in search of defining the limits of national belonging to serve their own agendas.

This is not the first time a global trend has emerged that places the issue of Muslim belonging - or more accurately, exculsion - at the intersection of debates around culture, politics, and security.

Colonial powers, such as the British and Dutch long harboured fears of an international
Muslim conspiracy that could inflict chaos on their territorial possessions and manipulate their populace in presumably nefarious ways.

The US-led global "War on Terror" has long been recognised as a template for other countries to surveil and circumscribe the presence, activities and movements of Muslims in their own territories and abroad. Its language became a potent rhetorical tool for regimes to terrorise their Muslim populations.

The US-led global 'War on Terror' has long been recognised as a template for other countries to surveil and circumscribe the presence of Muslims

Initially, these strategies, laden with conspiratorial and xenophobic thinking as they are, were mostly understood via a singular cultural (western imperial) or security (global terrorist networks) lens through which to view Muslims' presence in the world.

These constructions portray Muslims as dangerous precisely because of their ability to connect with colleagues scattered across the globe in pursuit of a supposedly diabolical agenda. In this view, the danger of "Muslimness" primarily has been seen as an external threat. Territories with Muslims who could be made to avoid, or be immunised from this larger community, were seen to be more secure.

Today's variation of the drive to dehumanise and 'other' Muslims, as exhibited in places like India, China and elsewhere, primarily pertains to how Muslims must be excluded, incorporated, or "re-programmed" to better to conform to the internal confines of a nation's sense of territory, culture, or belonging.

If the imperial and global terror paradigms largely sought to ensure Muslims remain disconnected from their co-religionists abroad, then the current trend is to ensure they are conscripted into nationalist visions at home and, if not, then to be potentially prohibited from entering, remaining, or forcibly removed.

It has less to do with Muslims' inclusion in a community outside of a territory, and more to do with their exclusion within it. This type of thinking is focused less on the Muslims over there, and more on the Muslims over here.

In places where majoritarian religious cultures put Muslims in the minority, the manipulation of cultural nationalism and political populism serve to determine the limits of Muslim national belonging.  

Hindu, Confucian, Christian and Buddhist majority societies, the world's largest democracy, largest authoritarian state, and western "liberal" democracies all play off this vulnerability to fulfill their own agenda.

The judicial and extrajudicial tools used and justifications, if offered at all, are equally diverse: Couched in the complexities of a country's individual political system, immigration history, and national culture; extending to and beyond the limits of what each country's legal system will allow, and segments of the population either enthusiastically support or silently deem this to be tolerable.

The range of actions reflect that broad spectrum, including
manipulative citizenship registries in Assam, targeted immigration laws in the US, forced cultural assimilation legislation in Denmark, burqa bans across Europe, and most disturbingly, mass imprisonment in China and state-sponsored violence in Kashmir.

Hard-line nationalist movements are appearing across the globe to crack down on "territorial anomalies" and border ambiguities and push out "anyone who can be plausibly denied citizenship", not just Muslims.

As Joshua Keating has recently pointed out in 
Slate "national governments all over the world are drawing hard lines... [and] when hard-line nationalists take power, such ambiguity in borderlines is no longer tolerated."

The Rakhine state in Burma, Kashmir and Assam territories in India, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China are all border lands representing such territorial complexities and are home to large groups of people deemed ill-fitted for the majoritarian national cultures where they find themselves.

But it is more than just a cruel coincidence of fate that the preponderance of individuals found in these places are Muslim, whose presence and rights are being questioned and violated for not fitting visions of religious nationalism or ethnic chauvinism. 

The evident conclusion: the 'othering' of Muslims has become a global epidemic

Recent laws curtailing Muslims' right to free expression, like Quebec's "secularism law" banning the wearing of religious symbols by civil servants in the workplace, may theoretically apply to all religions, not just Islam.

But to believe the Quebec law was not initiated by a desire to prevent Muslim women from wearing a headscarf in the workplace belies the fact that how Muslim women choose to dress has 
long been the target of political parties in the Canadian province.

The ongoing violence against Muslims in Kashmir represents an extreme example of a nation engineering its ethno-religious makeup, and falls on the spectrum of a larger global trend of countries calling into question "Muslim belonging" deeply racist, nationalistic ways.

These policies, apparently tolerable to their own political systems and populace, and pursued through either legal or extra-legal means, are what make the silence around what is happening Kashmir all the more predictable, but no less deafening.

Kevin L. Schwartz is a Research Fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. He holds a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

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.