From the fake news candidate to the fake peace candidate
Yesterday, much of social media across the US and among watchers of American politics was thrown into a collective fit of delusion due to US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard declaring that she intends to secure the candidacy of the Democratic Party in the 2020 US Presidential Election. While Gabbard has painted herself as a peace candidate, recalling her military record in Iraq as a factor influencing her subsequent opposition to the US war in Iraq as well as the US wars in Libya and Syria, these anti-war sentiments in the Arab world obscure an extremist tendency in Gabbard’s politics that have seen her openly embrace the friendship of some of the most outrageously anti-Muslim political and paramilitary movements in Asia.
A trail of saffron blood
The year 2002 remains a watershed in the post-colonial history of India as it was then in Gujarat state that a violent pogrom was instigated against Muslims leaving up to 2,000 dead. Most worrying, the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 was a man called Narendra Modi who is now India’s Prime Minister. Many witnesses to the violence in Gujarat continue to assert that Modi’s state government as well as police and other public authorities intentionally allowed the violence to spiral out of control when clearly it is the duty of any government to quash violence and enforce an orderly rule of law.
It was in 2002, that the the authorities in Washington denied Modi a visa to visit America due to his role in provoking the pogrom in Gujarat. Later it was none other than Tulsi Gabbard who called America’s decision not to welcome Modi to US soil “a great blunder“.
While Donald Trump has been accused of harbouring anti-Muslim sentiments, at best these sentiments (if they exist at all) are visceral rather than cerebral. While Trump has never actively courted support from bodies like America’s racist KKK, Tulsi Gabbard has courted a friendship with India’s RSS, a Hindutva (Hindu supremacist) paramilitary force that is considered by most to be the armed wing of India’s ruling Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP).
Modi’s rise from Gujarati strongman to Indian Prime Minister in many ways coincided Gabbard’s rise to fame as a maverick member of the US Congress. In fact, Gabbard entered national politics in the US in 2012, just two years before Modi rode a wave of hatred to become the Prime Minister of what is called the “world’s largest democracy”. But while India’s constitution guarantees secular law with an explicit prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of religious background, caste and ethnic identity, Modi’s government has effectively torn these pages of India’s constitution off and thrown them atop a giant saffron tinged bonfire.
This has not stopped Gabbard from sharing a very public friendship with Modi, a man who once called the secular opposition Congress party, “a party for Muslims only”. This is the same Modi who openly praises Hindutva’s ideological forefather VD Savarkar. Some of VD Savarkar’s more memorable contributions to the decline of India’s intellectual traditions include his thesis that rape is a justified political tool when used by Hindu men against female Muslims.
It is perhaps no wonder that a man like Modi who once declared VD Savarkar as an individual “worthy of worship” should be presiding over a rape epidemic in which members of his party openly declared their support not for the victims of one of the worst crimes known to humanity, but instead offer their public sympathy to the Hindutva rape gangs. It cannot be emphasised enough that the pro-rape tendencies among far too many BJP politicians and supporters are not isolated incidents but part of a wider trend by the BJP and RSS to systematically dehumanise and threaten Indian Muslims.
It is likewise under Modi’s BJP government that so-called cow vigilante mobs have beaten, lynched and mutilated the bodies of Muslims accused of eating or selling beef. In many cases, the Muslim victims of murder and vicious assault were simply targeted for being Muslims rather than for having anything to do with butchering cows, selling or eating beef.
The contemporary assault on Muslims in India however is not just limited to the mob violence which is clearly sanctioned by elements of the ruling party and their far-right allies. The historic city of Allahabad in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has recently been the site of controversy after the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath decided to unilaterally rename the city Prayagraj. This is a clear attempt to erase the history of the Mughal Empire which incidentally was the pre-1947 independent sovereign entity which came closest to uniting all of what was now India in the early modern period.
One of India’s most internationally famous monuments, the Taj Mahal was built on the orders of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as an Islamic shrine for his wife. While Indian tourism associations promote the Taj Mahal as one of the country’s top destinations, the Archaeological Survey of India have now taken the decision to prohibit Muslim pilgrims from worshipping in the Taj Mahal’s mosque on every day of the week except Friday.
This attempt to de-Islamify one of the world’s most recognisable Islamic shrines is yet another attempt to erase Muslim history and specifically Mughal history from the collective consciousness of modern India.
But beyond the attempts to culturally cleanse Islam from India, it was recently reported that a Uttar Pradesh Assembly member of the ruling BJP just stated that he is ready to bomb minorities who claim that their safety is no longer guaranteed in India.
Just this week, the BJP passed a law in the lower house of India’s parliament granting an amnesty to undocumented civilians in India unless they are Muslims. By contrast, while Donald Trump has temporarily banned travel to the US for citizens of a handful of majority Muslim countries (which also have in some cases substantial Christian minorities), Modi’s government has effectively rendered four million Muslims in Assam State as stateless individuals, in spite of the fact that most have known nothing by India as their home for most if not all of their lives. For a member of the American party that is supposed to be pro-migrant, Tulsi Gabbard has no problem supporting the BJP leader whose party seeks to deprive basic human rights to genuine Muslim refugees and their progeny.
With friend’s like Modi…
These are just some of the systematic, top-down anti-Muslim discriminatory measures pursued by the BJP, RSS and supporters of both. At this juncture, before turning back to Gabbard, one must make it clear that under Trump, the US has extended its Bush and Obama era pivot towards India and that Trumps specifically has spoken highly of Modi. On the other hand, the two cannot be described as friends, as Trump has openly insulted Modi. From Trump’s demeanour and record, it is clear that he sees India as a strategic tool in his attempts to provoke China, but little more.
By contrast, Gabbard has gone out of her way to court Modi’s friendship and that of his BJP colleagues and in the process has helped Hindutva extremists to whitewash their war against Islam. Gabbard has gone out of her way to promote the normalisation of Modi in the US, thus playing an important part in his public revival since being unwelcome in America in 2002. Beyond this, Gabbard is on record defending India’s violence against the demonstrators of Kashmir who since 1947 have been denied their UN recognised right to exercise self-determination. Gabbard’s unflinching support for the occupiers of Kashmir has shown no signs of slowing down in spite of 2018 being the deadliest year for Kashmiris for a decade.
Trump as a friend of Muslims?
While Trump, like many far more mild US politicians has jumped on the anti-Islamic bandwagon in terms of his rhetoric, Trump is ultimately a pragmatist who uses the rhetoric of extremism in order to garner attention. By contrast, Tulsi Gabbard wraps her support for Hindutva extremism in a veil of a pleasant, moderate sounding exterior that betrays an attitude towards Muslims that is clearly ideological motivated, calculated and dangerous.
Whilst Barack Obama could be accused of betraying his heritage (he had Muslim family members) by waging wars on Muslim majority nations and while one wouldn’t be surprised if George W. Bush knew nothing about the Muslim majority nations he bombed, Gabbard is far more dangerous a character because she actually knows what she is doing, knows who her friends are and is confident in advancing a pro-BJP agenda.
Beyond this, while Donald Trump was never photographed with Vladimir Putin prior to becoming president, Gabbard has been photographed with Modi on multiple occasions.
While some in the United States are waking up to Gabbard’s rhetoric of peace being out of step with her support for an extremist Hindutva government, for far too many, Gabbard’s calculated promotion of Hindtuva fits in with a United States that has been collectively brainwashed into thinking that somehow Islamic extremism is unique among the world’s fanatical religious movements. This is why it is all the more important to show ordinary Americans that while there is little direct evidence of Donald Trump conspiring with Vladimir Putin, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that Gabbard and Narendra Modi have a close if not too close public friendship that bears the same amount of scrutiny as do Trump’s alleged ties with Moscow.
Likewise, while Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” was little more than a travel ban against countries with which the US has long had dubious relations at best, Gabbard supports a political movement in India that has made life for many of India’s 172 million Muslims, little short of a living hell and in some cases something even worse.
For those still in the dark about the realities of Gabbard, one should remember that while Hinduism is a spiritual practice, Hindutva is a violent, extremist political movement. Therefore, criticisms of Gabbard have everything to do with her Hindutva and nothing to do with her Hinduism. Ironically, as Modi’s once electorally monolithic BJP is now facing a serious challenge from opposition groups led by the secular Congress party, one is now faced with the irony of Indians rejecting Hindutva politics just as Americans may be sleepwalking their way into promoting the most pro-Hindutva individual in the history of the US Congress as a potential future leader of the United States.
In a country like the US where it is still easy to win votes by offering a simplistic view of Islam based on the post-9/11 mass hysteria which still hasn’t fully evaporated from US political discourse, while Gabbard may be a long shot to win the White House, her anti-Islamic posturing could make her a surprisingly effective candidate.
Should Gabbard win the Democratic nomination for 2020, it has to be said that President Donald Trump with his big mouth and pragmatic streak would be a far sounder choice for Muslims and supporters of peace than a woman who hides her extremism behind a manipulative veil of moderation.