Why secular liberals are wrong about Nizamuddin – analysis
As the magnitude of the damage to public health caused by the Tablighi Jamaat meeting, and its consequences, arises in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi, there are some things we can clarify.
One of them is that the attempts of the Hindu communists to try to turn this into a Hindu-Muslim problem are negligible. It is shameful that television channels allow terms such as bio-jihad to be used or that guests suggest that those who visited the Markaz Nizamuddin came out to poison the Hindus.
In fact, the vast majority of those infected were Muslims. So, far from being a jihad against Hindus, this is an act that, at least until now, has put more Muslim lives at risk.
The second thing we can be sure of is that various authorities are not innocent. There appears to have been laxity in granting visas. Delhi police, which have a station located next to the Markaz, were unable to clean up the building. Police have released a video of an officer talking to Markaz leaders and asking them to leave the complex. So not only were the police aware of the situation, but they did not act even after Jamaat leaders ignored his warning.
The police video also contains clear references to Delhi Administration officials, suggesting that even the state government did not act.
This may not be the best time to fix the guilt, but there is certainly a lot of guilt.
Equally, it is so clear that Jamaat leaders behaved with extreme irresponsibility, using religion to encourage people to stay inside the building and ignore health warnings. The videos and audio tapes that have now been discovered show Jamaat clerics saying things like “Yes, there is a virus. But 70,000 angels are with me and if they cannot save me, who will? This is the time for more meetings of this type “. A voice is heard, believed to be that of Maulana Saad, who says: “This is a plan to end friendship between Muslims, to distance them from each other.”
These are not secretly recorded videos as part of any sting. Jamaat actually put them on his YouTube channel and warned people that social estrangement was an elaborate conspiracy against Muslims.
At a time when millions of Indians are making sacrifices to fight the coronavirus, this type of behavior is not only criminal, but is about attempted murder.
All this seems quite clear. So why is there a problem?
Well, because of what seems like an knee jerk reaction from sections of the secular establishment.
I cannot believe that a sensible person, Hindu or Muslim, secular or communal, could approve of the primitive fundamentalism of Jamaat, an orthodox group that would take Islam several centuries ago to fulfill its objectives.
And yet, such is the nature of our political dialogue that many secular liberals believe they must respond vigorously to everything the Hindu communists say. So if Hindutva extremists and trolls are using terms like jihad and are using the incident to attack all Muslims, then the answer must be to find some way to defend the Jamaat.
And so we have had the sad and pathetic sight of several people who should know better by trying every trick in the book to find excuses for Jamaat.
All Wednesday, we hear excuses. There was, first of all, the constant blame of the authorities. “Why didn’t the police break up the meeting?” “The IB watched the Markaz: why did it allow foreigners who had attended to travel through India?” And so.
There are valid questions, but they in no way diminish the horror of what the Jammat did.
An assassin is no less responsible for his actions because an inept police force was unable to capture him in time.
Pointing out the mistakes of others to suggest that Jamaat is only one of many guilty parties is like saying that the Holocaust was only partly the fault of Adolf Hitler because the global community could have stopped him earlier, but he did not.
When their explanations are not sustained, some secularists then switch to a tactic that is often associated with their right-wing ideological opponents: what a bureaucrat is.
Okay, they say, if this was wrong, then why was it okay for parliament to stay in session even when social distancing was the norm? What about Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s victory celebrations in Bhopal when lawmakers embraced despite the risk of coronavirus infection? Why was it okay for Yogi Adityanath to refuse to cancel Ram Navmi celebrations until the end? Or even, what about the exodus of migrants after the confinement where there was no physical distance?
There are two responses to whataboutery.
The first is that not only were all these things wrong, but they were heavily criticized and condemned at the time by many people, including those members of the secular establishment who are now using them to offer tactical cover to Jamaat.
The second answer is that it doesn’t matter what else has happened. You cannot explain the Delhi riots in 2020 by saying that the 1984 riots were worse. All riots are bad and must be condemned. So what if lawmakers embrace at Shivraj Chauhan’s victory celebrations? How does it make Jamaat’s behavior less criminal?
The problem with instinctive secularism is that it can sometimes make excuses for the indefensible. We believe that we are defending the Muslim community from attacks by fans.
In fact, we are damaging Indian secularism.
Every time secularists take a position totally contrary to morality or even common sense, we damage India’s liberal idea. Yes, the communalists will play the Hindu-Muslim game. But we should never fall into the trap of doing the same.
We must condemn shameful and criminal behavior wherever we see it. Once we start defending people just because they belong to a particular religion, we are no better than religious fanatics on the other side.
It makes no sense to say, as some now claim, that the incident had nothing to do with religion. This was a religious gathering. And the reasons for the congregation’s behavior were explicitly religious: They were told that 70,000 angels would protect them.
Secularism does not mean that you run in defense of all Muslims, no matter what he or she has done. It means that you fight all religious fanatics and their primitive mindset that ignores science and promotes the religious mumbo-jumbo.
The problem with the Jamaat gathering is not just that it endangered so many people’s lives. It was that he did it in the name of religion. In the process, it strengthened Hindu communist propaganda that Muslims are fundamentalists who do not consider themselves subject to Indian law.
Of course, this is complete nonsense. The average Muslim is as sensitive and patriotic as the average Hindu. Many influential Muslims have condemned Jamaat.
But when secularists feel compelled to find excuses for Muslim fanatics, they obscure this reality. If India wants to move forward, then we should all unite to fight the fans, regardless of whether they are Hindus or Muslims.
Find excuses for one or the other and the battle is already lost.
The opinions expressed are personal.