President Donald Trump has just completed his state visit to India. The president and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, did what all leaders do on such occasions: smile a lot and express effusive praise for each other. What rarely happens is for a guest to express negative comments on foreign soil, ones directed at the host. This would clearly be boorish and “undiplomatic.”
At a rally in a cricket stadium that holds 110,000 people, the president declared, “America loves India. America respects India. And America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people.”
Unfortunately, there is a lot taking place currently in India that eschews a lack of love and respect by some sectors of the population toward others. Riots have broken out in Delhi and elsewhere in which Hindu extremists are targeting Indian Muslims while the police sit idly by, allowing the beatings and killings to proceed unchallenged.
This expression of ethno-nationalist violence, which must be called terrorism, has been part of India for decades. Recall that the hero of Indian independence, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated by a Hindu terrorist in 1948. The threat from these actors has never been far from the forefront.
The issue is complicated by the fact that the political party of which PM Modi is the leader, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is Hindu nationalist at a minimum and extremist at a maximum. The BJP is closely aligned with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is most definitely a hardline, intolerant Hindu extremist organization, and the latter exerts a tremendous influence on the former.
The most recent riots in the capital are over a controversial citizenship law in which India’s Muslims have been excluded (other nationalities/religions were not treated in a similar way). Not surprisingly, this act has led to protests and violent reaction from Hindu nationalists. A particularly unhelpful contribution was a speech by a local politician who told authorities to clear demonstrators or his “people” would. The subsequent outburst of violence has led to 38 deaths as of late February.
Other Hindu extremist campaigns have included the lynching of Muslims accused of killing cows for meat (cows are considered sacred in Hinduism) and the targeting of mixed-faith couples (Hindus accuse Muslims of engaging in what they have termed “love jihad”). Again, authorities appear to be sitting on their hands while the beatings and thrashings continue.
What, if anything, should Mr. Trump have said to his Indian host? As noted, an overt tongue-lashing would have been gauche: this is not how international protocol is done. But at the same time, is remaining mute an option? There may indeed be conversations ongoing in private to which we have no knowledge.
On the other hand, is it OK to stand idly by and allow a majority to hound a minority? India is, of course, not an outlier in this regard. China’s genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province – where the latter are accused of terrorism (and yes, there have been acts of terrorism perpetrated by Uyghur Islamist extremists) – and a very similar campaign by the government of Myanmar against that nation’s Rohingya Muslims are also attracting some – but not enough – condemnation.
What are missing are state leaders who will call these acts, whether carried out by state or non-state actors, terrorist, given the clear link to political, ideological or religious motives. It is unfortunate that we cannot all agree on a universal definition of what terrorism is and is not: perhaps that is asking too much.
Yet we do have bodies that will level those accusations (the UN, other human rights organizations, etc.). Perhaps these have the advantage of not having to manage state-to-state relations. But you would think that one country, particularly a powerful one like the U.S., would have the political and economic levers to take another one to task in the face of these acts.
The current U.S. government is not the only one to remain on the sidelines. Muslim nations have been strangely silent over China’s moves on its native Muslim population, probably over economic fears of being seen as too critical.
There really should be a way to address these human rights violations and tacit support for violent extremism/terrorism and still have bilateral/multilateral relations. The international community cannot stand by as vulnerable people are attacked within national borders, while still recognizing national sovereignty. Or can it?
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