Ripples of Islamophobia: Hindutva’s Global Impact
Md Shohid Ahmed Khandakar
Since the turn of the century, no particular year is deemed as historically significant as 2014 – for reasons which would take no second-guessing. A great deal of Indians, since then, has been made to believe in India’s inevitable “vishwaguru” dream. However hyperbolic the dream might seem, India has indeed left the world behind in two aspects. One is population, obviously. And the other is perpetuating global Islamophobia.
India’s cheap internet accessibility has laid bare its latent Muslim animosity. When the world’s most populous country lets out its Islamophobia as brazenly as it has, the ripple effects of it reach far and wide. While Indian and European Muslims have majorly been the traditional victims of India’s Muslim hatred online, Palestinians are its latest victims. And while Zionists (Lean, Nathan: 2017) – both Christian and Jewish – are the forbearers of the Islamophobia Industry , Hindutvawadis – by dint of their sheer numbers – are the strongest forces of the industry.
India’s Shifting Alliances: From Palestine to Israel Since 2014
Though India’s foreign policy has always been sympathetic of the Palestinian plight, since 2014, its relationship with Israel has gone from strength to strength. Geopolitically, India has leaned towards Israel in the recent past, unlike other Global South countries. India’s absentations in key UN resolutions vis-à-vis Israel and Palestine are an indication of where it stands now – from being the first non-Arab nation to recognize the state of Palestine to being Israel’s largest military equipment buyer. The positional shift is reflected by the reaction of the Hindutvawadis to the atrocities on Palestinians by Israel, first in mid-2021 and now in late 2023. Israel’s gross violation of international law and human rights receives a moral support from India’s Hindutva brigade. The Israeli apartheid is seen as a remnant of western colonialism. And for the world, the Indians’ support for Israel’s actions is particularly disconcerting, considering India’s long battle against colonialism and also apartheid in South Africa. It is against this backdrop the year 2014 marks a generational shift in India’s history as Hindutva became the order of the day. And with each passing day, Hindutva ideologues and the Indian state are taking leaves straight out of the Zionist playbook.
Ideological Parallels between Hindutva and Zionism
The month of Ramadan in 2021 saw right-wing Indians rejoicing, literally, the displacement of Palestinians in West Bank and the indiscriminate bombardment of Gazans. After the Hamas attacks on October 7, 2023, the right-wing Hindus cheered on Israel’s genocide as – much like Zionists – every Palestinian, or more generally Muslim, is a terrorist or his sympathizer. The Muslim world sees the crudest form of anti-Muslim bigotry in Hindutva; a people cheering on the death and misery of another because the latter’s religion is a perceived danger to the former’s existence. Christophe Jaffrelot and Kalrav Joshi (2023) hold that the bonhomie between Zionism and Hindutva is fundamentally ideological; both are ethno-nationalistic in the core. Their ideological forefathers saw Jews and Hindus not as a diverse set of followers of two ancient religions but as races with Hindutva and Zionism as their guiding principles. It requires subordination of all other people so as to maintain its supposed racial superiority. To them, Muslims – despite their inherent diversity and differences – are a nemesis and a looming existential threat. V. D. Savarkar, ironically, praised and approved of Hitler’s policy towards Jews and sought to emulate the same in India – integration of Muslims into the “superior race” was a stated goal of Hindutva ideologues. Extermination makes way if integration fails. A similar argument also finds place in Golwalkar’s “We and Our Nationhood Defined” where he mentions that control or erasure of “foreign invaders” – Muslims and Christians – must be done in order to realize one’s national dreams. He imagined a long period of “unflinching war,” during which the “Hindu Nation” struggled for existence and the protection of its identity against Muslims.
Dual Roles: Oppressor and Victim
The brutalization of Muslims is justified for Zionists and Hindutvawadis because of the “threats” they face. Israel receives support from Hindutva circles because, supposedly, “what Israel is facing today, we’ve been facing it for the last 1000 years”. Victimization is writ large on the faces of these ideologies; oppression and victimhood go hand in hand. And in a bid to neutralize the “threat”, discriminatory laws are passed. Both international and Israeli human rights organizations have called Israel an apartheid for its anti-Palestinian laws. India’s anti-Muslim Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, was supported by Zionist groups and also Israel’s then-consul general for South India, Dana Kursh. Attempts at making people stateless are justified as legitimate ways of protecting the rights of the “original inhabitants”. Demolition of houses has been Israel’s modus operandi to drive Palestinians out of their lands. Muslims of India have also had their houses and mosques razed down under the guise of illegal constructions; in fact, demolition of Muslim homes is the Indian state’s newest and harshest tool of marginalization. Oppression and calls to it are celebrated in the most depraved manner. Calls of genocide and extermination often receive official backing. In the aftermath of the October 7th attacks, a number of Israeli ministers have openly expressed views that hint at a genocide in Gaza. However, there is little to no backlash from the Israeli public. Similarly, Hindutva preachers making genocidal hate speeches against Muslims have been often linked to top ministers in the government.
Propaganda Play of Zionism and Hindutva
Israel is known to use propaganda to legitimize its harrowing actions. And Hindutva supporters have religiously resorted to propaganda to paint a picture of their victimhood. India’s right-wing also has been leading in the dissemination of fake news against Palestinians since the October 7th attacks. Propaganda serves as a potent instigator for hate-driven crimes, notably genocide. It operates fundamentally as a persuasive tool, molding perceptions to endorse a particular narrative. The Nazi regime utilized propaganda to indoctrinate ordinary Germans. Employing mediums like written journalism, film, and radio, they strategically manipulated public psyche over time. The Nuremberg trial’s accusations against Hans Fritzsche show how propaganda falsification fueled passions leading to atrocities. Biased educational tools, including racially charged school books, further amplify this incendiary use of media. Nazi Germany perceived media manipulation as ‘public enlightenment,’ establishing a dedicated ministry (Kapoor 2019). Hindutva leaders have often scorned at India’s famed historians for “distorting” history and called for “rewriting” of history. However, these deceptive strategies are meant to exploit subjectivity masked as objectivity, enabling the dissemination of dangerous ideas into everyday beliefs. And today there are scores of Hindus who believe that all Muslims did in India is oppress them in their “own lands”. There is uncanny similarity to the Israeli victimhood complex which, also, holds that they have suffered historical oppression at the hands of Muslims, particularly Arabs. Though there is an element of truth in their claims, it is often exaggerated and stretched too far. And any attempt to debunk the lies are dismissed as distortion of “real” history.
The success of propaganda films like The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story among the Indian masses have underscored the heights of anti-Muslim hatred in the country. And when an Israeli filmmaker called out The Kashmir Files for its unbridled bigotry, so outraged was right-wing India that it forced Israel’s Ambassador to India to apologize, saying that the view expressed is not reflective of Israelis’ perception of the film. The Israeli spy-thriller propaganda series Fauda was remade in India as Tanaav; both had Muslim terrorists plotting against Israel and India respectively.
Antisemitism and Hinduphobia: Weaponizing Phobias to Silence Critics
Pro-Israel advocacy groups conflate Judaism with Zionism, a racist political ideology. And any criticism of the latter is dubbed as hate for the religion and its adherents. Zionists’ false accusations of antisemitism – a form of bigotry and hatred against Jewish people – has resulted in popular anti-Zionist political leaders and activists in losing their positions of influence in western countries; former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn is the most high-profile victim of this weaponization of antisemitism (Winstansley, Asa: 2023). Hindutvawadis have also levelled allegations of “Hinduphobia” against critics of the BJP-government. They employ the accusation of “Hinduphobia” as a shield against criticism of the Hindutva movement or Indian policies, mirroring how “antisemitism” is used to silence critiques of Israeli actions towards Palestinians. Hindutva groups in foreign countries have used the trope of “Hinduphobia” against student-activists and professors. Much like Zionists, they insist that Hindutva is Hinduism; any denouncement of the former is practically a rejection of the existence of the latter (Sravya Tadepalli and Sunita Viswanath 2023).
In 2021, scholars from more than 53 universities organized “Dismantling Global Hindutva” (DGH), an online conference examining the impact of Hindu nationalism. A month prior to the event, right-wing Hindus started sending death threats that led some scholars to withdraw. Groups like Hindu American Foundation and others mobilized supporters to flood universities with emails denouncing the event as “Hinduphobic”. These groups, linked to the RSS in India, are known for opposing anti-caste discrimination laws, calling them “Hinduphobic”. The pro-Hindutva diaspora groups mirror Israel’s strong lobby in USA and UK. If anything, these Hindutva groups seek to be as strong as the Israeli lobby to influence American and British politics and ward off any criticism of India (Essa, Aza: 2023).
In the UK, Bob Blackman – the anti-Muslim MP for Harrow East – has garnered over £20,200 from groups directly associated with Hindutva organizations (Ahmed 2022). In 2017, while serving as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus, Blackman organized a Parliament event for Tapan Ghosh, a staunch Hindu nationalist associated with the National Council of Hindu Temples. Ghosh, known for stirring religious tensions in India, has openly endorsed the Rohingya Muslim genocide, labelled all Muslims as “jihadis,” and supported the compulsory birth control of Muslims. Unsurprisingly, Blackman is linked with Henry Jackson Society – an anti-Muslim think-thank who put out a report claiming that the 2022 Leicester Riots was a work of Muslims solely, thereby completely absolving the Hindutva elements of any blame.
Hindutva’s Embrace of Zionism: A Dangerous Alliance
Global politics is a tangled web where ideologies, alliances, and criticisms converge but none like India and Israel. A peek behind the curtain reveals a drama of overlapping beliefs. Hindutva, the driving force of India’s ruling party, weaves its ties with Israel not just on strategic grounds, but with an unsettling nod to the anti-Muslim sentiments within its folds. It is a partnership marked by more than just diplomatic niceties. This has been an attempt to unmask the uncomfortable support from Hindutva quarters for Israel’s actions against Palestinians, hinting at a deeper layer of bigotry. If Indian Muslims have suffered as a result of widespread anti-Muslim sentiments in India, Palestinians have met this juggernaut of hatred from afar. And if Israel operates with the kind of impunity that it does in committing grave crimes, India’s Hindutva looks up to it and hopes to emulate Israel in every possible manner.
Azad Essa: ” Israel-Palestine war: Why Hindu nationalists are backing Israel against Hamas”, The Middle East Eye, October 9, 2023.
Aisha Gani: “This Far-Right Anti-Muslim Extremist Was in Parliament at an Event Addressed by Amber Rudd,” BuzzFeed, October 25, 2017.
Ahmed, Nafeez: “Conservative MP Blaming ‘Islamist Extremists’ for Leicester Violence Funded by Organisations Tied to Hindutva Militants”, Byline Times, September 27, 2022.
Essa, Azad (2023): Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel, London: Pluto Press
Christophe Jaffrelot and Kalrav Joshi: “From Savarkar to Golwalkar, why Hindutva admires Zionism”, The Indian Express, December 7, 2023.
Kapoor, Radhika (2019) “Propaganda and Genocide: Setting Standards for Responsibility,” Socio-Legal Review, Vol. 15, Issue. 1, Article 5, pp 73-80.
Lean, Nathan (2017) The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Hatred for Muslims, pp 140-163, Edited by Jack G. Shaheen, Pluto Press, London.
Sravya Tadepalli and Sunita Viswanath: “‘Hinduphobia’: How the Language of Social Justice Works to Serve Hindu Nationalism in the US Diaspora”, The India Forum, 1 December, 2023.
Winstanley, Asa (2023): Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn, New York City: OR Books.