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If Narendra Modi’s ‘new India’ had not become a place in which Muslims have been increasingly treated as lesser citizens than Hindus, we might today have been able to see clearly the difference between Islam and political Islam.
We might have been able to see that behind the ‘hijab’ protests lies something more sinister. Karnataka’s BJP government has handled the protests so foolishly that the entire conversation has become about whether Muslim girls should be deprived of an education simply because they insist on wearing their ‘religious symbol’. All of last week the conversations on social media were about why Muslim girls should be prevented from going to school and college in Islamic veils if Sikh boys can wear turbans and Hindu girls can wear symbols identified with their religion.
As someone who has taken a clear stand against hijab, my timeline on Twitter filled up all week with abusive tweets that basically said that I hate Islam and Muslims. This is stupid and untrue. What is true is that I see political Islam as a serious threat. In the decades that I have covered events in the Kashmir Valley, I have seen closely the ugliness that happens when political Islam begins to spread. One consequence was the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from the Valley, but there have been others. The movement that Kashmiri separatist groups began in the name of ‘azaadi’ is today a movement that seeks to turn Kashmir into a place that is governed under the rules of the Shariat. Something similar has been happening in our southern states for a while now, and it must be stopped. It is important to see the ‘demand’ for the ‘right’ for young girls to wear the hijab in classrooms with some perspective.

It is true that Modi’s India is a country in which Muslims have been targeted more openly than ever before and this targeting has been shameful. Nobody in their right mind would defend the murderous activities of cow vigilantes or the ridiculous laws against ‘love jihad’ or the stupidity of the goons in saffron scarves who showed up outside the gates of schools and colleges in Karnataka.
This does not mean that we should forget what happened in that long ago time when an earlier form of political Islam caused the breaking up of India. It happens that I am currently reading Nehru: The Debates that Defined India by Tripurdaman Singh and Adeel Hussain. In this book is an exchange of letters between Nehru and Jinnah that took place in 1938. In this correspondence Jinnah lists the ‘demands’ that the Muslim League put forward to ensure that Muslims would remain equal to Hindus after the British Raj ended.
The demands include the right to slaughter cows, the right to a separate personal law and the guarantee of political positions along with the right to separate electorates. As someone who saw himself as the sole leader of India’s Muslim community, Jinnah also demanded that Vande Mataram be given up and that the Tricolour flag be changed or that the flag of the Muslim League be given equal importance. There were other demands, and despite Nehru having assured Jinnah that Muslims would have the same position as Hindus, Partition happened 10 years later.
Now let me explain why I connect those long ago ‘demands’ with the aggressive and, in my view, utterly regressive demand we hear today across India for Muslim girls to be allowed to go to schools and colleges in hijab. I connect the two because I notice the same combination of aggressive religiosity and aggrieved victimhood. If Muslims in Modi’s India are feeling victimised, how is it that they can summon up so much aggression when it comes to their demands?
What saddens me is to see this aggression wasted on hijab. If this same aggression had been brought into play when that Dharam Sansad in Haridwar suggested that the final solution to our Muslim problem was genocide, I would have been at the forefront of the protests. When Muslim women sat in protest against the discriminatory changes in the citizenship law, I was on their side. But, it is hard to support the demand for hijab in classrooms because not only is this a very retrograde idea it is also one that has the backing of jihadist outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI). The PFI became involved in jihadi terrorism long before Modi became Prime Minister.

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It is sad that Modi’s tenure has been so tainted by its open discrimination against Islam and Muslims that he does not have the moral authority to say that Muslim rights are as secure as they have ever been but jihadist Islam will not be allowed. Those who have studied radical Islam agree that one of the first signs of its spread can be detected in a change in attire. This is why there is much more going on in the hijab protests than is immediately obvious. It is not a simple matter of allowing Muslim girls to get an education even if they insist on entering classrooms in veils. If this were not true, there is no explanation for why the hijab protests have spread so quickly across India. If only our Prime Minister had the moral authority to say that Islam is as safe as ever but that Islamism will be crushed.
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Tavleen SinghTavleen SinghTavleen SinghTavleen Singh, a leading Columnist associated with The Indian Express…. read more

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