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On the Orientalist Savarna Perception of equating SIO with ABVP

On the Orientalist Savarna Perception of equating SIO with ABVP

waseem rs


Waseem RS

 On the Orientalist Savarna Perception of equating SIO with ABVP, of twining SIO with the ghost of Global Islam and the Politics of Social Justice in JNU

waseem rsThere is no novelty in the charge of equating SIO and ABVP as the two sides of the same religious ideology. As a Muslim student activist, who works with SIO and other like minded religious minority organization in this campus, let me clarify some of the issues. I don’t believe in the possibility of any dialogue with the Savarna left/right forces in this campus but I hope my explanation will help to clear ambiguities in this space and add to the growth of the new political imaginations of the oppressed in JNU – that have already gained momentum with the victory of BAPSA.

SIO- JNU in its election pamphlet and subsequent social media debates clearly stated that their support is for politics of social justice and it includes the fight against injustices of caste, community, capitalism, gender and sexuality from an intersectional/entangled perspective. Also I have raised the problem of various strands of elitism (elitism I consider as a political stand) within the Muslim community, pointing to the problematic social position of my friend Umar Khalid and the paradox in forming an organization like BASO*. I believe in extending this criticism to any Muslim organizations/formation – including SIO branches in other contexts- and ready to take the task ( and a risk!) of fighting it both inside and outside the organization but without necessarily yielding to the narcissistic fantasy of savarna/Brahminic public sphere and political organization – especially those Savarnised (left, feminist, LGBT and right) group at JNU. I am ready to listen and engage with any criticism from a Bahujan political point of view ( especially on caste, sexuality and feminism) around the problem of Islamic/Muslim political praxis in India. This is my duty as an Islamic activist and in my knowledge, it concurs with the Islamic politics imagined by contemporary Muslim scholar-activists such as Hamid Dabashi, Houria Bouteldja, Farid Esack, and Salman Sayyid etc.

What about the history of SIO as a social movement? Autonomous Muslim student spaces in India are significant. I value those spaces as long as they allow internal difference within the movements as a part of the political praxis. Let me explain the problem of social movements. All social movements emerge by delivering certain founding narratives. Islamic movements also have developed certain founding narratives. But many of these founding narratives are historically situated and can be rejected. SIO is not an exception to this general aspect of any social movement and there is no point in defending all the policies and programs of a social movement of a particular circumstance. However, I refuse to denounce the historical legacy of Islam and I read the possibilities from historical Islam with available tools in the rich debates within contemporary Islam. There is no point in surrendering to the hate campaign of savarna left and their ignorance about Islamic thought and politics. Islamophobia is not only with the right wing parties, it is well inherent in the practices of the savarna left in India.

However, let me look at the charge around the ghost of global Islamism in JNU election. A section of the left organizations equate SIO – JNU with militant movements that range from IS (Islamic State) to Taliban. My argument is that social movements within the umbrella of Islamism consist of multiple ranges and spectrums of Islamic articulations from different Muslim societies. There is a considerable difference between Islamic society of North America(ISNA) and Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan, as well as between the SIO of Sri Lanka and the Islami Jamiat Tulaba of Pakistan. How we read Islamic movements in a particular context, is important while understanding and developing a political criticism about these movements. There are differences even within one single movement as it evolves and many Islamic movements are platforms of debates on the representation for Islam in contemporary context. These are well documented observations by independent researchers on Islamic politics.

Brahminic/Islamophobic left politics cannot perceive this heterogeneity and their arguments falls within the frame of imperialist/orientalist approach on Islamic politics. I am not going to the details of this debate and there are thousands of academic sources to educate yourself. Why is it that, your reading techniques are less nuanced when it comes to Islamic and Islamicate life world? Why are you suddenly shifting to reified social analysis when it comes to Muslim social movements? Do you ever consider the fact that as a reader your position is also important in shaping your reading ‘object’? However, let me ask : Do you think that the forces of Gulag or Stalinist communism or Cultural revolution of Mao or many varieties of left wing totalitarianism is an ideal example to describe SFI or AISA or BASO in JNU? Do you think that all the left movements are the same in all contexts? What about equating imperialist feminist movements in US or savarna feminism with genuine grass root feminist movements in other contexts? What about LGBT movements that legitimize Donald Trump or pink wash Israel or Brahminic in orientation in India and equating the same with other LGBT movements in different context? If you don’t do this type of universal comparison in the case of other social movements, why are you doing this on Islamic movements ? If you are not familiar with the problem of these questions, start from a 1978 text on Islam and Orientalism written by Edward Said. There is a methodological Orientalism in your reading of SIO. This methodological Orientalism comes with a cost. The UAPA victims of Kerala and the Muslims of West Bengal – including the jail sentence of Abdul Nasar Maudani – is the byproduct of your methodological Orientalism and epistemic Islamophobia.

Second is that the equation of the SIO and ABVP is a form of religious tyranny. First of all, let me clarify a basic assumption. All religions are equal in all contexts is a hegemonic universal/secular premise on religion. This premise is challenged by many good scholarship on secularism and religion. My argument is that different religions develop and evolve in different social and political contexts. To equate an Islamic movement that works in India – under a tyrannical Hindu majoritarian rule – with a well organized /fascist/totalitarian party is an incorrect political position or rather a distorted one and it is also an ahistorical argument on both secularism and religion in India. It is a misplaced comparison and a profound example of victim blaming. There are varieties of subtext to this argument and that you can educate yourself later.

My second argument is rather weak, that is you were taking support from SIO – both as a movement and through some cadres – for more than a decade in this campus. One can argue that this really shows your intellectual and political bankruptcy . I don’t blame you for being weak in political principles and I also don’t believe in hyper revolutionary masculine politics that is entrenched in the imagination of JNU. I suggest a new spiritual politics that is more open to the fallibility of human action and that is self reflexive.

In my reading, there are elements of totalitarianism in the eschatological narrative in most of the twentieth century ideologies such as Marxism, Islamism and Maoism and the social visions of secularism and nationalism. There is a need to challenge the totalitarian vision of not only Maududism but also in Stalinism, Kemalism and Maoism and read these scholars/movements historically in our context. However, when you come with a double standard in your criticism by neglecting your investment in the modern form of totalitarianism, the actual aim is clear, it is to suppress the assertive political voices of the Muslims in the campus by demonizing SIO or equating Maududi with Modi. No way to surrender to this weak argument. You can sell this weak argument to your fellow House Muslims in JNU (courtesy to Malcolm X).

This is a challenging time for Muslim community in India and the marginalized in general. The rise of Modi into power actually has made the visibility of Islam in everyday life and institutional spaces very difficult and impossible. I also believe that the responsibility of a Muslim student in JNU is not to be silent on any question on their existence as Muslims in India and at the same time there is no need to defend the oppressive cultures in the name of Islam whether it is in our domestic life or in our political life. The actual challenge for me is to live out my Islam fully and especially by following the message of justice in Islam in the context of JNU. For me, Islam is an evolving praxis for a greater justice in this world and other world.

* Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organisation – Facebook page here



Waseem RS is a Phd Candidate at the Centre For Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.