Us vs. Them

Patrick French, writing about the recent events in Mumbai in an Op-Ed essay for the New York Times opines,

subject of his biography, on-the-record Muslim-hater V.S Naipaul, whose book, Amongst the Believers provides ample confirmation of his vitriol against Islam], that they were not homegrown, and almost certainly originated from Pakistan. Yet the reaction of the world’s news media was to rely on the outmoded idea of Pakistan-India hyphenation—as if a thriving and prosperous democracy of over a billion people must be compared only to an imploded state that is having to be bailed out by the IMF.

Mr. French has been tutored well by the subject of his biography it seems, in assigning blame for the world’s ills on Muslims, and in this case, the Muslims of Pakistan. The title of his Op-Ed essay, “They Hate Us-And India is Us,” is telling in its utter contempt and—dare I say—hatred of Muslims, who are seen as acting (all of them)—out of a misguided and utterly unjustified, inexplicable “rage against us”—the “us” being presumably the civilized world which includes Hindu Indians but no Muslims. While French acknowledges India’s “social and political failings” as in the case of the Kashmir dispute—it nevertheless gets Mr French’s applause for being the “developing world’s most successful experiment in free, plural, large-scale political collaboration.” Really? A large-scale “free” collaboration between India’s 10% business and political elite class and the vast –and growing—majority of underprivileged underclasses including dalits and Muslims?  According to Wikipedia:

Wealth distribution in India is fairly uneven, with the top 10% of income groups earning 33% of the income.[7] Despite significant economic progress, 1/4 of the nation’s population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40/day. Official figures estimate that 27.5%[8] of Indians lived below the national poverty line in 2004-2005.[9] A 2007 report by the state-run National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) found that 25% of Indians, or 236 million people, lived on less than 20 rupees per day[10] with most working in “informal labour sector with no job or social security, living in abject poverty.”[11] The World Bank further estimates that 33% of the global poor now reside in India. Moreover, India also has 828 million people, or 75.6% of the population living below $2 a day, compared to 72.2% for Sub-Saharan Africa.[

Furthermore, Income inequality in India (Gini coefficient: 32.5 in year 1999- 2000)[12] is increasing. In addition, India has a higher rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three (46% in year 2007) than any other country in the world.[6][

As Alexander Cockburn also notes in his Counterpunch Diary of June 10/12, 2005, “10% of Indians are well-off, and 10% are okay.” What about the rest, toiling in the daily and humiliating grind of poverty? That is the question that Mr French conveniently elides in his desire to magnify India’s successes and minimize Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terror on its own soil, as well as being a leading player, willy-nilly, in the U.S’s self-proclaimed War Against Terror—which has unleashed much of the economic, social and religious instability within its own borders. Simon Cameron-Moore, reporting for Reuters from Tang Khatta village in the Bajaur region of North-West Pakistan on Sept 26th 2008 tells us that the army estimates that 1,000 militants were killed by them during that month alone—with 62 Pakistani soldiers killed and 112 wounded in the fighting. It is an important hub for militants, providing access to surrounding Pakistani regions as well as the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, according to Major-General Tariq Khan.

U.S. officials say Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters use the tribal regions as an operating base to launch attacks inside Afghanistan, where Western forces are struggling to stem a growing insurgency.

“This is one area that if you are controlling can create a much greater effect on the entire region,” Khan told a group of reporters on a visit organized by the army.

According to Cameron-Moore, Khan estimated 65 percent of the militant problem would be eliminated if the Islamist militants were defeated in Bajaur.

Now how is it that these efforts by the Pakistani army at the orders of the Pakistani government are simply swept aside in French’s analysis, as they are by most other western reporters in the mainstream press? Or the fact that Pakistani citizens in its major cities have had to endure the terror of suicide bombings like this summer’s blowing-up of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in the wake of Islamist militants’ strikes against their fellow citizens as result of the army’s operations against them in the tribal areas?  Instead, what is stressed by folks of Mr. French’s ilk—and there are many, including the entire Fox News team—is an interpretation that is no less a “conspiracy theory” than its counterpart in Pakistan, which stresses that all ills in that country stem from the U.S. overt and covert interference and absolute power. So, for instance, Mr. French elaborates his theory as if it were incontrovertible fact,

Yet links between the military, the intelligence services and the jihadis have remained intact: Lashkar-i-Taiba is merely one of a number of extremist organizations that continues to function [in Pakistan].

What Mr French is doing here, is what another Indian commentator, a scholar of Islam no less, has done in his recent essay on the Mumbai incident; and that is, to paint all Pakistanis with a broad brush—the brush of the “terrorist” label. In “Terror in the Name of God,” Yoginder Sikand asks,

What makes such terror-driven self-styled Islamist groups thrive in Pakistan? It would appear that the very foundational myth of Pakistan, the so-called ‘two nation theory’ on which the country was founded, is itself conducive to militaristic interpretations of Islam….the ideologues of the Pakistan movement claimed that the Hindus and Muslims of pre-Partition India were two irreconcilable nations that could not live together. On the basis of this specious argument, they demanded a separate state for the Indian Muslims. This is how Pakistan came into being.

Thus, the very basis of the Pakistan movement was the myth of undying hatred and hostility between Hindus and Muslims. This so-called ‘two-nation theory’ remains the official ideology of the state of Pakistan, and is taught to every Pakistani child in school through carefully doctored textbooks. To question the theory, as many Pakistanis privately do, is considered a punishable crime and as akin to sedition. Accordingly, the Pakistani state has, since its inception, seen its survival as being crucially dependent on actively promoting as well as indirectly abetting anti-Indian and anti-Hindu sentiments.

In this view, all of the blame for the Partition now lies with the Muslim ideologues who hated Hindus and thus wanted a separate nation…never mind the historical fact that it was Jinnah, the leader of the Muslims of India who tried up to the bitter end to ensure fair representation for the Muslim minority in a post-independence Hindu-dominated India, and kept getting rebutted on this point by both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi of the Indian National Congress, which is what finally drove him to insist on a separate homeland for Muslims. All that history falls by the wayside in this specious and ultimately racist account of Partition and the recourse to the old two-nation theory as an explanation for “Muslim Pakistan” to want to destabilize “Hindu” India (never mind that India has by far the larger, better-trained army, a more advanced nuclear arsenal, and control of disputed Kashmir and of the River Indus which controls the water-supply of Pakistani rivers leaving it at the mercy of India). Whatever happened to India as “the developing world’s most successful experiment in plural, large-scale political collaboration” if it is seen as a “Hindu” nation with all of the attendant chauvinism that label implies?

For shame, Mr French and Mr Sikand. Sikand, whom I met a few months ago in Islamabad at a conference promoting the strengthening of democracy in South Asia had, at the time, only wonderful and positive things to say about his Pakistani hosts and about the Sufi roots of subcontinental Islam. Now, a few short months later, he is sacrificing all that goodwill and open-minded embrace of the complexity of Pakistani and Muslim history alongside India’s on the altar of an all-too-easy denigration and stereotyping of a Pakistani nation of 160 million people. What sense, I ask you, does it make to sweep them all under one simplistic label—that of Islamic Terrorists? Such dangerous, binaristic  thinking exhibited by the likes of Masters French and Sikand must be unequivocally rejected by the fair-minded, thinking citizens of this global world we share.

FAWZIA AFZAL-KHAN is a Professor in the Department of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey. She can be reached at:






Fawzia Afzal-Khan is University Distinguished Scholar at Montclair State University in NJ. Her latest book is Siren Song:Understanding Pakistan Though it’s Women Singers. She can be reached at: