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Multiculturalism, Population Explosion and Political Correctness

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

The recent release of the 2001 census figures in India identifying the growth and population of different religious groups has created a furor.  Self-proclaimed secularists have exclaimed with horror that the Indian census takers have had the gall of estimating the growth of different religious groups, ignoring the fact that such census exercises estimating the growth of various religious groups have been part and parcel of census taking in India since 1871.  Some others have chimed in that it is not the rise in numbers of Muslims that Indians should be worried about but illiteracy, poor education and lack of economic opportunities, which they say are the main cause of higher birth rates.  Yet others have proclaimed that it is the season for Muslim bashing and the census figures will be used to demonize Muslims in India.

Muslim vote banks have been a boon to those politicians whose proclamations of faith in secularism are merely ploys to get elected and to stay on in power.  The UPA government, a hastily assembled group of self-serving secularists, was therefore quick to punish the Census Commissioner J. K. Banthia for not consulting the Union Home Ministry before releasing the data on religious demography. Clueless politicians, including the power behind the Prime Minister’s throne, have made public noises about “statistical errors” knowing not what they are talking about, but knowing fully well that a pliant and pusillanimous media will broadcast their silly perorations.

The Indian sub-continent is home to almost thirty-five percent of the world’s Muslims (Islamipopulation.Com website shows world Muslim population at 1.48 billion and the combined Muslim population of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka as 435 million).  Pakistan and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority Islamic Republics, though the latter claims to be officially a secular nation.  Muslim population is growing in Nepal and Sri Lanka and it should not be too far off when the subcontinent is majority Muslim. 

So, it should not be just the RSS’ concern that Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Sinhalese in the subcontinent may soon meet the fate of the Christians in Lebanon and parts of the Balkans.  That Muslim population growth is not just “natural” but has increased because of both overt and covert support from Muslim fundamentalist leaders and secular vote bank manipulators should be extreme cause for worry to all those interested in the welfare of India.  Sure, there is merit to the claim that illiteracy and backwardness lead to increased population growth.  But we should wonder why themadrasasin India and elsewhere in the subcontinent continue to propagate nothing more than Koranic learning making sure the faithful continue to be backward and poor. 

The growth in Muslim population in India is countered by a decline in minority population in Pakistan and Bangladesh.  In 1941, Hindus and Sikhs jointly constituted 19 percent of present-day Pakistan, but constituted only one percent of the population by 2001.  In 1941, Hindus were 29 percent of present-day Bangladesh, but were only 10 percent in 1991 and must be even less now.

For those who “tut tut” about all this talk of demographic warfare and for those who want to keep their heads buried in the sand, it is important to note that Muslim population growth in most parts of the world is correlated with increased disenchantment with the local governments, increased violence, increased subjugation of women and increased illiteracy and poverty.  The news reports from European countries and North America where there is an influx of Muslims are rather dire and makes for some unflattering reading of the behavior of those who proclaim that their religion stands for “peace”.

Some Muslim leaders, not happy in the new lands they have migrated to, want to bring the worst of Muslim practice into their new homes.  Thus Muslim leaders have advocated Sharia law in Canada.  Ontario has authorized the use of Sharia law in civil arbitrations, if both parties consent.  Property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance matters will come under the purview of Sharia and the arbitrators can be Muslim priests, lawyers, or community activists.  The advocates of Sharia say that their decisions will not stand if it comes into conflict with Canadian civil law.  However, many Muslim moderates and women point out that that because there is no third-party oversight and no duty to report decisions, no outsider will ever know if indeed the decisions run counter to Canadian law.  Proponents of Sharia also say that their decisions can be appealed to the regular courts, but community pressures are sure to blunt the enthusiasm of those subjected to Sharia maltreatment and make them recalcitrant of going public. After all, what is more frightening than being accused of being a bad Muslim or an apostate?

Many of the advocates of Sharia are from fundamentalist Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.  These promoters of Sharia in Canada, it is reported, have created the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice, which has already chosen arbitrators who have undergone training in Sharia and Canadian civil law. The driving force behind the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice is a lawyer and scholar named Syed Mumtaz Ali, a Pakistani Canadian who is quoted as saying that “to be a good Muslim” all Muslims must use these Sharia courts.  Interestingly, Ali got his education in Hyderabad, India and then immigrated to Pakistan on his way to Canada.

Recently we have had other controversies: in Hamtramck, Michigan the City Council approved the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast on loudspeakers five times a day in Arabic. This has outraged many of the city’s non-Muslim residents.  The calls to worship last about two minutes and are aired five times a day. Some citizens of the town have said that they are offended by words that profess Muhammad as the messenger of God and that Muhammad denies Jesus as the son of God.  What the residents of Hamtramck are just now realizing is what Indians have experienced for centuries and where religious conflict can be triggered by a procession of Hindus going past a mosque or by a muezzin’s call at the time of eveningaartiat a local Hindu temple.

Liberals and politically correct multiculturalists see no problem in the growth of Muslim populations worldwide, nor do they see any problem in the jostling for cultural space in areas where new Muslim immigrants are settling down.  It is part of a global dynamic that will sort itself out, if only we are patient, they say.  But we forget that those of us who have moved elsewhere have done so to prosper from the system in place in the societies we have moved to.  Sure, we immigrants need to create our own cultural spaces, grow from enclaves to communities and become part of the citizenry of the new states we have moved to.  But that does not mean we should be able to undermine the basic features of the society we have moved into: we cannot try and convert a secular state into a religious state, nor should we try to collapse the wall between religion and state as constructed, for example, here in the United States.  Using democratic means to undermine constitutional democracies should send jitters down our spine.  However, the support by liberals to such dangerous enterprises as the promotion of Sharia law in Canada and the blasting of calls to prayer five times a day, is what makes someone like V. S. Naipaul exclaim in frustration that multiculturalism is “absurd”.     

The supporters of multiculturalism and the votaries of a new global system, where the borders of nations are open and the shapes of societies are fluid, include the United Nations.  For example, the UNDP Human Development Report 2004 entitled “Cultural liberty in today’s diverse world, ” attempts to define the parameters of a healthy democracy (see Swapan Dasgupta, Rediff on the Net, July 26, 2004).  Dasgupta points out that, “At the core of the HDR is something called ‘politics of recognition’ which involves ‘recognition of the distinctive perspectives of ethnic, racial and sexual minorities, as well as of gender difference.’  Contesting traditional notions of nationhood, it calls upon societies to ‘embrace multiple identities’ and multiple citizenship norms.  Advocating a strange commodity called ‘consociational democracies, ’ the report prescribes electoral reforms, flexible federalism, multiple legal systems, linguistic diversity, affirmative action and active measures to fight cultural domination”.  The natural consequence of such arguments is that the Indian state should allow Muslims to go fight in Chechnya, that Hindu-Americans in America can owe allegiance first to India and only then to the United States, or that Christians in India are ruled by the Vatican on matters of birth control and procreation.  This would also mean that Muslim in the US can divorce through “talaq” and that a uniform civil code in India is not necessary.

Advocates of this new “consociational democracy” are merely partisan advocates in the sense that they neither have the interest in nor the power to change societies where change is indeed needed: for example in the theocratic and authoritarian states of the Middle East, or the fundamentalist Islamic nations in the “Organization of the Islamic Conference”.  The advice from the pontificators at the United Nations is for societies that are already democratic and open: like the American and European democracies and countries like India.  Thus, whether they intend to or not, their advocacy of such consociational societies would lead to the undermining of open societies and in strengthening fundamentalist and authoritarian ones.  It is the same mindset in India that seeks to suppress debate about the increased growth in Muslim population and the declining trends in other groups.  It is the same mindset that blames the violence in the Middle East on Israel and the United States and which ignores the throat-slitting horrors perpetrated by citizens of fundamentalist societies.

Originally published on September 21, 2004.

 
     
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