Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Islamic Liberalism and Martha Nussbaum

In a recent article in the Boston Review, Martha Nussbaum discusses Islamic Liberalism and its plight in India. India is one of the few countries where Islamic liberal thought has always had a place in the Gandhi/Nehru tradition and Nussbaum takes as an example that of Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and its present Vice Chancellor Mushirul Hasan. The article, regrettably is not a great example of scholarship - most of it is facile and one dimensional and it's also overly hagiographical about the Vice Chancellor. Prof Hasan is a distinguished academic and a very visible face of liberal Islam who has the dubious distinction of having been at the receiving end of threats and attacks from both the Hindu Right as well as Islamic radicals. However to present him as the large surviving Gandhian in the mold of Maulana Azad or Dr. Zakir Hussain is clearly overstating the case. Moreover, the sub-text of the article, the underlying image, is that of an overall liberal minority of Muslims under threat from a large majority of illiberal right wing intolerant Hindus. I think such a one sided picture helps no one and, like most things in India, the true picture is infinitely more nuanced and complex than what is presented here. It is also unfair to what I believe is a large majority of Indians, Hindus or otherwise who have shown no patience for the Hindutva chaddi brigade's brand of politics.

What is truly appalling though is the abuse, a veritable cascade of opprobrium that is heaped on her and the article by a dedicated band of Hindutva sympathisers. Calling her a racist, a bigot, an idiot and numerous other offensive epithets, asking for her to be fired, this committed group of worthies not only create a cacophony in the comments section but determinedly drown out all voices of reason - of which in any case there are few and far between. Like the many Jewish American advocacy groups that come down like a ton of bricks on any criticism of Israeli policy, real or imagined, it appears that there is a strong committed right wing Hindu advocacy group with a similar agenda with respect to criticism of the Hindu right in India. It would be unfortunate if they were to start playing an active role in the outcome of elections in India through money power.

1 comment:

Abi said...

It would be unfortunate if they were to start playing an active role in the outcome of elections in India through money power.

Is there any evidence to think that they haven't done that already? Why are there such strong Hindutva bodies (such as VHP-A that Sonal Shah famously belonged to) -- if not for fund-raising (aside from lobbying and general hell-raising)?