The images and videos coming from New Delhi are horrifying. Muslim neighbourhoods in the Indian capital are up in flames; Muslim shops are being firebombed; and Muslims are being beaten and dragged through the streets.
One should always be careful not to push historical analogies too much, but if this is just the beginning, then who knows if this will be India’s Kristallnacht. What is for certain is that Narendra Modi’s India is a fascist state.
We know from history — India’s own, such as the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat in 2001 when Modi was the chief minister of that state, or Nazi Germany's — that this kind of violence against a minority only happens when the local police is neutralized or actively complicit. Mobs know they have the green light when there’s nobody to stop them.
The green light for what has happened was always brightly lit. Modi, now in his second term as Indian prime minister, is a Hindu nationalist whose party and social support base is inspired by European fascism. There is no mincing words: his party wants India to be a Hindu Lebensraum, both in terms of settler colonialism and as a general social and cultural space.
Revoking the special judicial status of Kashmir last year — the only Muslim-majority state in India and one that enjoyed provisions that allowed for some sort of autonomy, chief among them the control of property and land rights for local Kashmiris — was a step towards subjugating Kashmir to centralized Indian rule as well as opening it up to Hindus to buy land there, thereby threatening to reverse the population makeup.
Then came the Supreme Court decision, also last year, to hand over the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya to the plaintiff Hindu party in order to build a temple. The mosque was built in the 18th century by Babur, the founder of the Muslim imperial Mughal dynasty that ruled India until its defeat by British colonialists. Hindu nationalists contest that the mosque was built over the temple of Ram, one of the main Hindu gods. The mosque was demolished by a mob in 1992, and building a temple in its place is a key point in the Hindu nationalist agenda. Like much in religion, there’s no archeological proof to back the Hindu claim, but that’s missing the point, which is Hindutva national and cultural myth building: Babur was the founder of the empire that emasculated Hindus, so we will remove the mosque he built. The Hindu project is to redo history.
And redoing history requires symbolic and physical erasure not just of Muslim history but of Muslims themselves. In comes the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 that redefines citizenship in religious terms to exclude Muslims. It states that Muslim refugees who came from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 2014 cannot be granted Indian citizenship since Muslims are not discriminated against in Muslim-majority countries. This is in step with the upcoming national citizenship registry to document all legal residents of India. Few people in India and the general region have the paperwork to prove their citizenship. But of course, that should not be a problem for those who are not Muslim because the new citizenship act is not for them. Only Muslims who can’t prove their legal identity will qualify as infiltrators under the act.
In preparation for the country-wide implementation of the registry, detention camps are already being built. History is far too replete with examples for us to feign ignorance where this might head. Ideological and physical infrastructure of fascism is being built in the "world’s largest democracy" right before our eyes.
And right before the eyes of Donald Trump, the president of the "world’s oldest democracy." The violence in Delhi comes as Muslims protest the citizenship act during Trump’s visit to India. We should not make any mistake: Delhi burning while Trump meets Modi is emblematic of the danger the world is faced with today.
Right-wing nationalism is strangely international in scope, in alliance and in cross-pollination of ideas. White nationalists would love nothing more than an Indian-style ethnostate in the United States. In this context, nothing is more important than a defeat of Trump in the next U.S. election — by Bernie Sanders. We need an American foreign policy that does not sit cozy with fascists. India deserves widespread international condemnation, if not threats of sanctions, for what it is doing to its Muslim minority. This is not a time to sit silent.
It is hard to see what can make India stop, or where it will stop. Delhi has long been one of the symbols of Muslims' contribution to India, without which India would not be what it is. To see Muslims being attacked in that city is a civilizational tragedy and loss. It is a time of mourning.