India, France and Secularism – The New York Times

Interesting comparison between Indian and French secularism by Sylvie Kauffmann:

Hindu fundamentalists have a more radical view of beef consumption and the slaughtering of cows. Some states, like Maharashtra, have banned the sale of beef, and calls for a national beef ban are growing. The fact that Muslims and Christians are traditional beef eaters is not an obstacle. The B.J.P.’s Tarun Vijay, expressing a more stringent interpretation of secularism on the opinion website Daily 0, sees “beef eating as a challenge to India, its public display as an act of bravado,” adding, “It is a political act that has nothing to do with culinary practice or religion.”

In both countries Muslim minorities complain about discrimination — and with reason. But while many French Muslims, who make up about 7.5 percent of the population, feel targeted by “laïcité,” Indian Muslims see secularism as their best protection. One important difference is that radicalization is an almost nonexistent phenomenon in Indian Islam, while it is a dangerous (but limited) trend among European Muslims. Only 30 Indian citizens are known to have joined the Islamic State so far, out of 176 million Muslims; in France, the number of home-grown jihadists is close to 2,000, out of 4 to 5 million. So while in France, fundamentalism comes from the Muslim minority, in India it comes from the Hindu majority.

India has been home to Muslims since the 8th century; Mughals ruled most of India and Pakistan 400 years ago. In contrast, Islam’s implantation in Europe is only a few decades old; France’s law on laïcité predates their arrival. Today, as minorities, Muslims feel vulnerable. In France, the January terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket deepened the malaise, as many Muslims stayed away from the #JeSuisCharlie movement. When 4 million French people took to the streets in support of freedom of expression right after the attacks, they assumed that French Muslims would make a point to be part of this show of unity. Only a small number did. For many of those who did not show up, laïcité has gone too far. Allowing cartoonists to make fun of religious figures, including their Prophet, may be a French tradition; it is not their idea of secularism.

In India, the threat against secularism goes even deeper, down to the values dear to its founding fathers, Gandhi and Nehru. “This is an India which is crying out for a Mahatma who puts compassion and tolerance above all else,” wrote the well-known journalist Rajdeep Sardesai after the recent attacks. An India that could rally behind #JeSuisIkhlaq.

Source: India, France and Secularism – The New York Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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