Two weeks back President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed the “convergence between” Modi’s “vision for a new India” and Trump’s “vision for making America great again”, agreeing in particular that the two countries are afflicted by “the evils of terrorism”, and that they are “determined to destroy terrorist organisations and the radical ideology that drives them”.
The leaders’ talk of “strategic cooperation” should worry Americans who are already concerned about the measures Trump has so far proposed to this end, such as travel bans from Muslim-majority countries, and a Muslim registry.
In May the Modi government proposed a nation-wide ban on cow slaughter in deference to extremist Hindu “cow protectors”, despite the fact that Muslims and Christians, and quite a few Hindus and Sikhs besides, might choose to eat beef.
Since then India has seen seven lynchings of Muslims on the pretext of beef eating or cow slaughter.
One of the bloodiest was the June 22 lynching of fifteen year-old Junaid Khan and his teenage friends as they were heading home on a suburban train from some Delhi Eid shopping.
“Beef-eater!”, “Anti-national!”, “Mullah!”, the twenty-odd assailants taunted the boys as they began slapping them around before stabbing them repeatedly and throwing Junaid onto the platform where he bled to death.
India has seen a dozen lynchings of Muslims since the BJP came to power in 2014. Yet the BJP-led government has been silent about them. The Trump regime has also been reticent about condemning the rising tide of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US (260 since 2015).
It may be argued that it is not the central government’s business to condemn every crime because crimes are committed by criminals and dealing with criminals is the business of law enforcement. Yet in both cases, the crimes are being committed under the tent of governments whose obsession with radical Islamic terrorism is complemented by refusals of opportunities to recognise Muslims as valued members of society.
During this past Ramadan, for example, President Trump ended a decades-old White House tradition of hosting an iftar dinner at the White House, just as, for the first time in modern Indian history, no-one from the governing party showed up to Indian President Mukherjee’s iftar.
While such symbolic gestures do not cause the criminals’ hate crimes, they (along with policy proposals like travel bans, the registry, and the ban on cow slaughter) are taken by criminals, vigilantes, and bullies as a sign that Muslims are a suitable target of their aggression because Muslims are in the wrong to start with and, qua Muslim, hold no interest for those in office.
In India, criminalising what Muslims might ordinarily eat—and what they must, for fear of their lives, give up or at least deny eating—doesn’t just license criminals to attack Muslims.
On June 22, no-one on Junaid Khan’s crowded train stood up for the boys (or if anyone did, it was quickly forgotten and no-one came forward to tell that story); worse, the officials at Asavati railway station where Junaid bled to death say they didn’t see anything, even though one eyewitness at the station attests to a crowd of 200-plus gathering around the incident (but he too denies seeing the incident itself).
Their silence, echoing the government’s, signals that doing nothing when the crime you’re witnessing is against Muslims is prudent.
The power—and danger—of citizens’ standing up for increasingly victimised Muslims was seen on May 27 when Jeremy Joseph Christian accosted two girls, one Black and one in hijab, on a US commuter train.
Christian too went on a stabbing spree, but the people he stabbed were not the girls but two non-Muslim men who had risen up in their defense. In the wake of the stabbing, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler swiftly condemned the attack and honored the men who’d been stabbed as heroes. Trump eventually echoed this judgment.
Perhaps it was impossible for decent Indians to stand up to the dozens or hundreds of anti-Muslim thugs in the recent lynchings—doing so may have seemed to be folly rather than heroism—but on June 28, thousands of Indian citizens across the country demonstrated against the lynchings under the banner “Not in my name”.
A day later, on June 28, Modi condemned lynchings in the name of reverence for the cow. Perhaps his government will now be shamed into rolling back its proposed beef ban in recognition of India’s many diverse ways of life.
And perhaps the day is not far when American citizens are also too fearful to stand up for a Muslim against a criminal, vigilante, or bully.