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From: Sanjay Kak <kaksanjay <at> gmail.com>
Subject: 'The Islamism bogey in Kashmir' & Mridu Rai
Newsgroups: gmane.culture.india.sarai.reader
Date: Friday 27th August 2010 14:46:39 UTC (over 8 years ago)
With an in-principle approval from the author, I am taking the liberty
of forwarding a Facebook response to Najeeb Mubaraki's recent piece.
Sanjay Kak


Ramblings prompted by Najeeb Mubarki’s “The Islamism bogey in

by Mridu Rai on Friday, August 27, 2010 at 1:31am

This is a response I just had to pour out to the very good piece by
Najeeb Mubarki that Sanjay Kak and others have posted.
(Link: http://www.peerpower.com/et/2108/The-Islamism-bogey-in-Kashmir).
I was going to write a brief comment on Sanjay’s page but it’s grown
too long for me to try Sanjay’s patience with many email notifications
bombarding his inbox. And I’m too lazy to write my thoughts out
prettily for a response in the online magazine but really wanted to
react so I am inflicting a note on some of you. Please feel free to
ignore entirely and not indulge my obsession with this question of
religion and politics.

Mubaraki’s piece struck me as extremely timely given the not benignly
motivated pieces that have been appearing of late in the English
language press (or as my father puts it, the "English-knowing" press)
in India to, as Mubarki puts it, declare the protests in Kashmir
illegitimate; to wit, Praveen Swami’s pseudo-academic and half-baked
pronouncements on the lumpen bourgeoisie of Srinagar being the
unthinking tools of the big, bad “Islamists”. Swami is, of course,
inspired by older fear-mongering scholarship such as that of Sumit
Ganguly and others who saw in the mid 1980s the turning point towards
the “Islamization” of Kashmiri politics. Mainstream India forgets how
much of its own political discourse (and not just that of Nehru), ever
since the late 1930's has valorized the fact of the majority of
Kashmiris being Muslim in order to buttress India's "secular"
identity. It now conveniently wants Kashmiri Muslims, to quote from
the pretty terrific line by Mohammed Ali written in his Comrade in
1912, “to shuffle off [their] individuality and become completely
Hinduized”. In India, of course, to become secular is essentially to
be Hindu.

Having said this, however, and at the risk of sounding like a niggler,
I do have some difficulty with the concluding segments of Mubarki's
article. He reiterates a tendency that I find disturbing, viz that of
relying on some ahistorically drawn understanding of Sufism and Sufi
practice as the effective answer to accusing characterizations of
Islamism (I don’t quite like that term but I suppose he means a
domineering Sunni orthodoxy). I see this also in efforts in the West,
to nudge forward the “good” (almost invariably the Muslim of the
shrine, not the mosque) Muslim in order shove the “bad” one to the
backstage. The Rand Corporation’s project of buttressing the
“moderate” Muslim to silence the “radicals” among them is once
instance of such efforts. A seemingly more benign example was the
recent music concert in NYC sponsored by the Pakistani government and
an organization called the “Pakistani Peace Builders”. Tellingly,
Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, A.H. Haroon, who also
played MC for much of the time, declared that their intent was “to be
at peace with all of America”. Predictably most of the performances
were either in the Sufi tradition or referred to Sufi saints, with the
star act being Abid Parveen (who was fabulous). The trouble with the
Rand Corporation’s efforts, as with the intent behind the Pakistani
Peace Builders’ concert, is that it distorts in vital ways
understandings of the Sufi tradition, at least as I understand it
existed/exists in South Asia.  The Rand corp’s cultivation of sufi
Islam (because for them it is some nebulous version of Sufi
inspiration that “moderate” Muslims adhere to) and to bring it into
the political fold, by teaching them civics and democratic practices,
is at best misguided and at worst ludicrous. First of all, it smacks
of a lack of understanding of the vast and variegated phenomenon being
squished under the rubric “Sufism”. In South Asia, Sufi silsilahs ran
the gamut of religious and political positions from the Chishtiya to
the Naqshbandiya (and many others in between and beyond--I don’t
intend to suggest these in any way as two definitive book-ends), with
the former ostensibly maintaining distance from political power to
representatives of the latter seeking to advise Mughal badshahs. But
there is a tendency, among “liberals”, both Muslim and non-Muslim, in
South Asia and in the West, to only concentrate on the Chistiya or
similar versions of the Sufi tradition as exemplifying a “gentler”
Islam. Shah Walliullah makes them uncomfortable, that is if they even
know of him. In this context, efforts like the Rand Corps’ are
particularly idiotic because if historically the Chishtis, for
instance, derived much of their religious and social eminence
precisely by maintaining their ostensible distance from political
power, to build them into the political nemesis of “radical Islam” is
to destroy that credibility and cachet.

More importantly for me, at least in the way certain segments of
Western thinking (true also of many in South Asia) understands Sufism,
what appeals about it to them is some strange idea that those who
favour the Sufi path are somehow less “seriously” (using the word in
the way young Americans do) Muslim—having an “easier” commitment to
Islam, a less rigorous one, a more “liberal” attitude to faith, in
other words, perhaps “secular” Muslims or, even more absurdly, less
“believing” Muslims. In other words, the Muslim immersed in the Sufi
tradition is a “good” Muslim because he/she is also a “bad” Muslim.
I sounding insane? I think people who need to be jolted out of such
ignorant conceptions should read Prof. Ishaq Khan’s excellent
discussion of the Rishi tradition in Kashmir (Kashmir’s Transition to
Islam: the Role of Muslim Rishis). I remember reading it with dismay
and outrage at first (it was also a radical departure from his
previous writings that focused on the “syncretistic” traditions of
South Asian Islam that so many other Indian historians also favoured.
Indeed, that historical and ideological shift in Prof. Khan is
interesting in itself and worthy of study – the shift coincides, to my
mind, with developments post-1989 in the valley, particularly the
treatment of and attitudes towards Kashmiri Muslims, but that’s
another subject altogether). So I remember reading his book with some
shock and outrage but it requires some hard work to get rid of
preconceived notions. Prof. Khan makes a powerful point when he warns
against thinking of the Rishi saints of Kashmir as anything but Muslim
(not some Hindu-Muslim hybrid figures).

I suspect you already know where I’m going with Mubarki’s piece—I am
uncomfortable with this sort of privileging of the Sufi over other
strands of Islam. Not that I believe he’s working along the lines I
mentioned above, viz. a good Muslim being a bad Muslim, but I find, no
matter what Mubarki’s intent, it tends in the same direction. His use
of the word “hardcore” to describe “Taliban-style-extremism” that
condemns hints at some of the preceding, although he may not have
intended it thus. So does his assertion that the resort to
Islam-inspired slogans is cultural rather than religious. It has
echoes of the squeamishness towards religion that most
secular-nationalist historians in India have felt, which has led them
in the process to abandon Religion to manipulation by right wing
nut-jobs. Romila Thapar et. al’s (and please know that I have enormous
respect for the scholarship of Thapar et. al., I only find their
insistent “secularism” and all that it implies, unhelpful) – their
defence of summarily vilified, mostly Muslim actors, in history is the
rather weak argument that their actions were inspired by politics not
religion. These views are deployed especially in defence of Mahmud of
Ghazna and Aurangzeb, but also others. But this leaves such historians
with nothing to say when the BJP destroys Babur’s mosque; after all,
its motives were also primarily political and only disguised as

I find this need in Mubarki to highlight so prominently the Sufi
strand of Kashmiri Islam particularly surprising because he, himself,
very usefully points out that Sufism and the Islam of the mosque were
and are not mutually exclusive. But his piece betrays the same
propensity to pitch Sufism as the nicer side of Islam (To quote him,
“The religiosity of the Muslims reflected in equal, if not more,
measure in the countless Sufi shrines as in mosques” – note “if not
more”). His eagerness to “rescue” Kashmir’s Islamic tradition, also
leads him to make some egregious pronouncements based on no particular
evidence and, for a historian particularly, deeply flawed for
suggesting “inevitability”: “Real, hardcore, Taliban
Mubarki says, “simply, is alien to, and untransplantable on, the
Kashmiri DNA, as it were.” Invoking the Taliban, also, makes it so
much more difficult for me to disagree with his statement without
sounding like a Hindutva-vadi moron who is arguing that Kashmir’s
Muslims are in fact prone to such talibanization. But the point is
that even Taliban-style-extremism is not beyond context and history
and it’s just plain wrong to put it out there like those terracotta
mask fetishes painted over with monstrous faces that people hang
outside new homes or houses-in-progress to ward off the evil eye.

In any case, Mubarki’s, admittedly well-meaning piece leaves those
among Kashmiris who believe (Believe]—not just culturally or pretend
to do so for political reasons—and those among them who might practice
strands of Islam that do not take them to the Sufi shrine but only to
the mosque, and those who (God forbid!!!) might even deny Sufi
traditions or, worse still (now we must shriek in horror), endorse a
Sheikh Walliullah, or even worse, a Sheikh Ahmad Sarhindi-type or,
horror of all horrors, those who might not-disagree-with all of Abdul
Wahab’s ideas (I can hear screams in my head, by now)— it leaves those
sorts of Muslims standing out in the wilderness, as potential
“victims” to be manipulated at will by the “bad” Muslims or, more
damagingly still, sees them lurking suspiciously as the ever-present
portents of Islam in Kashmir going “bad”. And, as we know from the
post 1947 history of Kashmir, and as Mubarki very importantly tells us
in his piece, the Indian nation-state likes to have such an arsenal of
illegitimate figures around as useful demons to be put forward when
the need arises. As I see it, Mubarki’s piece--probably
unwittingly--aids in creating such shadow figures. His is still not a
line of argument that will “rescue” (unfair characterization of his
intent, I’m sure) Kashmiri Muslims from efforts at delegitimizing
their movement. To my mind, it has still not managed to both
acknowledge the importance of religion and also tell us why the
“Islamic viewpoint on things in Kashmir” is only one strand among
many. It relies far too much on the insistence that the Islamic
viewpoint “is far from being the dominant one”. And it certainly still
leaves the Kashmiri Muslim for whom Islam might be the dominant
influence in his/her life liable to be consigned to the heap of the
“Islamists”, “fundoo”, “kattar Mussalmans” whose functioning is
“indisputably,” to some minds, illegitimate. Please note that I am not
disputing in the least bit the importance of the Sufi tradition in
Kashmiri Islam, nor am I suggesting a defense of any “hardcore”(to
re-employ Mubarki’s infelicitous word) style of Islam, but I do
believe it is important to point out flaws in such discursive
positions, especially as they do not do the political service they
think they do.

[Again, please feel free to not read this note. If you do, please
forgive errors – don’t have the time to edit and didn’t find it
necessary to do so for an informal heart-pouring with friends]
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