Chetan Bhagat’s prescription actually hurts moderate Muslims

Chetan Bhagat’s prescription actually hurts moderate Muslims

In his recent blog titled “It’s not moderate Muslims’ fault” in Times of India, celebrity writer Chetan Bhagat tries defending the indefensible. Though I am an admirer of both his wit and clarity of thought, surprisingly this time I found his comprehension of the subject totally misplaced. I have noticed, in the celebration of being a celebrity, intellectuals sometimes unwittingly or otherwise echo the Left-liberal mainstream media (MSM) and fall into their trap. To untag yourself as a Modi fan boy, one does not need to start practicing the unwritten blasphemy law, preventing criticism of Islam, enforced not by the state, but by our secular preachers.

I seriously considered not writing this piece. Yet, at times, the right to criticize religious bigotry is both necessary and compelling. We have to use it or lose it. This is my voice condemning cowardice, including my own. To begin with, Chetan asks us to understand the point of view of “moderate muslims” and to understand that, asks us to imagine, like we solve algebra problems.

Imagine this. You have grown up respecting a religion and its holy texts. Along with customs and rituals you have also affirmed a lot of positive values – compassion, honesty, humility, love, integrity, generosity. You are a rational, scientific human being but still give religion an important place in your life. After all it teaches you humanity, makes you a better person and keeps you positive. Now imagine a small section of people, who claim to share your religion, spreading hate and violence. They claim to be defending the same religion you love and respect, but their actions do not agree with your conscience at all. This fringe group is a paradox. It upholds something you love, but acts in a manner you despise..

True that it is totally imaginary. But Chetan, even you could not delete the word “despise.”  The whole discussion ends the moment they do despise the actions of what you call a “paradox”. Instead, those who have an audience totally defend such behaviour by saying, “people who indulged in such acts cannot be Muslims, The Quran does not teach that.” And those who have no audience ask: “why bother criticizing religion if it causes so much hassle?” My answer to them and to you is: “look back at history”. Let me take you to some recent developments:

[pullquote]Yet, at times, the right to criticize religious bigotry is both necessary and compelling. We have to use it or lose it.[/pullquote]

Not so long ago politicians and the media alike were hailing the end of Al-Qaeda and the global jihad movement. By the middle of 2011, key ideologues like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki were dead. Arab streets too appeared to have embraced peaceful protest, with popular uprisings unseating seemingly entrenched regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. A new dawn, we were told, was breaking.

Anwar al-Awlaki

And then occurred a series of events within a matter of days and changed that preposterous optimism into a horrifying reality. The terrorist siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, with around 70 plus people dead and at least 80 Christians were killed in a suicide attack outside a church in Peshawar, Pakistan the very next day. A series of suicide attacks in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and in Iraq killed scores of Shias over that weekend. The attacks in Pakistan, Iraq and Kenya could be partly borne of local political issues, but the nexus and network of these terrorists purporting these attacks can’t be missed.

The most concise and concerted resurgence of the global jihad movement is easily traced to the conflict in Syria, which was supposed to be another “flower” blossoming in the Arab Spring. Today ISIS and its Al-Qaeda linked affiliates control large parts of central Syria and a bigger chunk of western Iraq almost touching Baghdad. Moreover, they have attracted foreign fighters from across the world, galvanizing the global jihad movement. Emboldened by the group’s activities in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean), jihadists in regions of South Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and across Africa have been keen to replicate their apparent successes.

The Obama administration has been keen to draw a line under the War on Terror; there is a sense in Washington that fighting international terrorism was a misguided obsession of the Bush administration. British politicians are also reluctant to talk about Islamic terrorist threat. After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, public opinion considers the subject too unfashionable, too confusing. Weariness has descended. But one man, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been consistent with his message to the global diaspora that “terrorism is a global threat”. But then he too avoids mentioning that it is Islamic terrorism which is a global threat.

British, French, and other European citizens are still actively involved in terrorist networks operating in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. Indeed a few Indians too were traced to have participated in the ISIS jihad. An educated man named Mehadi Biswas was smoked out by Indian authorities to be one of the ISIS’s emphatic voice on Twitter. However hard they tried, the Left-Liberal tweeters who came to his defense were jittery. Sample these exhibits from the usual suspects:


This background is essential to decipher what Chetan Bhagat means when he asks “what moderate muslims should do?” and throws another imaginary hypothesis:

If for instance – and God forbid – Hindu radical groups had millions of dollars in funding, there were a dozen-plus countries who were officially Hindu nations, rulers of these nations backed the radicals somewhat and the radicals were not afraid to use extreme violence, what could a modern, liberal educated or in other words ‘moderate Hindu’ do?

Well, chances are the moderate Hindu will stay away from all this, and go about his own life, trying to raise his or her family in peace. It doesn’t mean the moderate Hindu is supporting radical groups, is intrinsically backward or doesn’t care. However, the natural human instinct of self-preservation kicks in and not reacting seems the only way out. 

The same happens with millions of moderate Muslims, who get disturbed by acts of terror as much as others do. They love their religion and so they cocoon themselves from such heinous acts by forming their own relationship with God.

This is a false symmetry and denial of the highest order. It is also a celebrity example of how the unwritten law of blasphemy is practiced. I live in the Middle East and have Muslim friends and colleagues whom I interact for the better part of the day. They are nice guys. And they respond exactly like Chetan Bhagat the moment there is any incident in the name of Islam by fundamentalists/terrorists: “These guys cannot be Muslims”. Another daily routine of self or unconscious censorship.

While mainstream media is consistent in its willful censorship, more people need to be complaining about the fact of dangerous global censorship. The dishonesty and cowardice of the mainstream media  and the world’s governments in honestly addressing this critical issue of identifying Islamic terrorism as Islamic will spell doom for the free world. Today Islamic terrorism continues relatively unabated, with shocking appeasement of all kinds from the free world. Most dangerous of all, agencies like the U.N. are virtually controlled by Islamic countries that are forcing an agenda of censorship of anything relating to Islam, including criticism of the abysmal treatment of women and non-Muslims.

The censorship has gotten so bad that news and government agencies bend over backwards not to bring Islam into the picture, even if the perpetrator of a terrorist act has admitted to acting in the name of Islam. If we do not start being brutally honest in identifying the sources of terror, we will never defeat it. Fighting some obtuse “war on terror” without getting to the root is doomed to fail.

Principally, all such laws restricting criticism of any religion should be rejected immediately. If we wish to be absolutely fair, all terrorism and violence done in the name of any religion should be identified as such. That would include Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

It appears that Chetan Bhagat has not read the Bhagavad Gita. In whatever way one wishes to interpret, the famous saying of the Gita that there is such a thing as a virtuous war which must be fought to defend dharma against evil cannot be seen as justifying violence. Chetan Bhagat surely has not read the Holy Quran either. The fact that it is the Quranic teachings which are the root of much of the world’s terror. Here are some excerpts:

“This Book is not to be doubted…. As for the unbelievers, it is the same whether or not you forewarn them; they will not have faith. God has set a seal upon their hearts and ears; their sight is dimmed and grievous punishment awaits them.”  Pg. 1-2.

“He that chooses a religion over Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the world to come he will be one of the lost.” -Pg. 60.

“Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love the aggressors. Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage….” – Pg. 28.

“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.” Pg. 83.

Source: (The Koran: With a Parallel Arabic Text, Penguin Classics, 1991)

As we might guess, these are some of the Islamic teachings that continues to drive Islamic terror. Wouldn’t these teachings constitute hate speech under the laws being tossed up all over the place in order to protect Islam? We need to acknowledge that such double standards will ultimately harm Muslims the most. Insulating a religion from criticism, surrounding it with an electric fence called “respect”  keeps it stunted at its most infantile and fundamentalist stage. The smart, questioning and instinctively moral Muslims—that is, the majority, learn to be silent, or are shunned. What would Christianity be like today if Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell et al had all been pulped?

[pullquote]The censorship has gotten so bad that news and government agencies bend over backwards not to bring Islam into the picture, even if the perpetrator of a terrorist act has admitted to acting in the name of Islam.[/pullquote]

Ask enough tough questions and faith is inevitably pushed farther and farther back into the misty realm of metaphor – where it is less likely to inspire people to kill and die for it. But skeptical Muslims and other thinking people who support them are being prevented from following this path. Muslims in India are secure enough to deal with some tough questions. It is condescending to treat Muslims like excitable children who cannot cope with the probing, mocking treatment we hand out to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.


It is perfectly consistent to protect Muslims from bigotry while challenging the bigotries and absurdities within their holy texts. There is now a pincer movement trying to silence critical discussion of Islam. On one side, the fanatics threaten to kill you and on the other, critics call you Islamophobic, a term used to stifle any criticism of Islam.

Ignoring the threat of domestic radicalization and international terrorism won’t make it go away. Our politicians must address it, loud and clear but they will also need the support of these “moderate Muslims”. In my opinion, it is their fault too, if they don’t kill their cowardice and understand that merely opposing ISIS is not enough. If they are truly moderate Muslims, they need to oppose the idea of a religious state of any kind, oppose apostasy/blasphemy laws, oppose legally entrenched inequality, and extend support to true democracy, support freedom of speech, thought and belief, the rule of one law for all and support universal human rights.

It is time, we threw the political correctness in the garbage bin, where it actually belongs and call a spade a spade.

Unfortunately, Chetan Bhagat falls in the class of those who wish to insulate Islam from criticism using the bogey of moderate Muslims. He needs to stick to writing fiction.