The Danger of ‘Islamic Terrorism’ Course in JNU – An Open Letter to the President of India

Dear Ram Nath Kovind Ji,


Within a few weeks I have to submit my PhD thesis at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Given that the deadline for my submission is at hand, I should have spent all my energies on my thesis rather than writing this letter to you. But I couldn’t help doing this. Through this letter, I would like to bring to your notice a very serious issue that has recently come up in JNU. Since you are the Visitor of this University, I think I should bring this matter to your notice. You are requested to make an urgent intervention.

As the media reports suggest, the Academic Council (AC) of JNU, held on May 18, 2018, took a decision to open a new course called ‘Islamic Terrorism’. It is learnt that the AC meeting approved in principle a new course called ‘Islamic Terrorism’. This course will be one among other courses offered by the proposed centre to be known as Centre for National Security Studies (CNSS). However, some people say that ‘Islamic Terrorism’ is not a new course but it is a theme of a paper on national security that includes other themes like ‘Naxalism’,

‘Insurgency’, ‘Demographic changes’ etc. Dear Sir, much confusion still persists and we are still waiting for the JNU administration to come out with all relevant facts and clarify its stand on these highly controversial issues. But the apprehension among us is growing that the current JNU administration appears adamant to change the character of JNU and push several hawkish agendas ahead.

Through this letter, I request you to order a proper inquiry into the whole issue. If the JNU administration has decided to offer a new course (or sub-theme) called ‘Islamic Terrorism’, it should be withheld because it goes against the very idea of JNU and its stated aim of ‘social justice’, ‘secularism’, ‘democratic way of life’, ‘international understanding and scientific approach to the problems of society’ enshrined in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Act 1966.

Dear Sir, the apologists and the masterminds of the course are not ready to accept that nothing can be more unfortunate and self-defeating than to open a course called ‘Islamic Terrorism’. Speaking to the media, one such apologist shamelessly defended the move, saying that the course would be called ‘Islamist Terrorism’, not ‘Islamic Terrorism’. By creating such a distinction, the apologist was pretending that she/he was not against Islam or Muslims. However, she/he did not realise that her/his binary between ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’ reminds many of a similar binary created by the former USA president George W. Bush post-9/11.  He similarly differentiated ‘good’ Muslims from ‘bad’ Muslims.

To my best of knowledge, no university in the world, which is based on secular and progressive ideas, has ever offered a course like ‘Islamic Terrorism’, ‘Christian Terrorism’, ‘Jews Terrorism’, ‘Sikh Terrorism’ ‘Buddhist Terrorism’ or ‘Hindu Terrorism’. If this is so, why is JNU going to set such a bad precedence? Needless to say, terrorism cannot be linked to any religion or social group.Those who often raise the bogey of terrorism never define what terrorism is.

So far, the world community has not reached an ‘acceptable-to-all’ definition of terrorism. History tells us that the image of a terrorist is consistently constructed and re-constructed. Who will deny the fact that construction of the image of terrorists is a political act, mediated through the power? For example, many of our freedom fighters were perceived by the colonial British government as ‘terrorists’. In the post-colonial India too, several individuals and social and religious groups were demonized as ‘terrorists’. Is it not a fact that a particular religious group was demonized as ‘terrorists’ in the 1970s and the 1980s but the American discourse of ‘War on Terror’ at the end of the twentieth century brought another religious group as new ‘terrorists’? The new terrorists in the post-9/11were portrayed as a threat to ‘peace’, ‘modernity’, ‘human rights’, ‘gender rights’ and ‘democracy’ all across the world.

Islamophobic forces never realise that they have uncritically internalized the ‘clash of civilization’ discourse. They never look at the question of violence beyond ‘cultural’ logic. Their deep-seated prejudice is that the Islamic/ Muslim world is trapped in a ‘pre-modern’ world, gripped by ‘religious fanaticism’ and ‘superstition’, posing a serious threat to ‘modern values’. They Islamophobic forces often do a textual reading of Islam/Muslims.They are least interested in approaching Islamic/Muslim society from political economy point of view. They are not willing to consider that Islamic/Muslim society is also shaped by the forces beyond Islam and its holy scriptures  that include colonialism and capitalism. The Islamophobic forces are reluctant to consider colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism as factors in contributing or generating violence in society.

Their roots in ‘cultural explanation’ never allow them to raise some cardinal questions like these. Who benefits most from terror discourse? If the so-called terrorists are not sold modern weapons by the advanced countries, can they become so lethal? If modern means of communication is controlled by the advanced countries, how do the so-called terrorists get access to it? Is not peace bad for the arms-manufacturing companies mostly located in the first World? Why are the acts of ‘terrorism’ only confined to the non-state actors? Is not the state also involved in act of terrorism? Is not the scale of the state terrorism often much bigger than that of non-state actors because the state has much more resources and power at its disposal?

Instead of interrogating these questions, the Islamophobic forces blame Islam for all the wrongs. But history tells us that Islam plays a great role in the field of knowledge, science and production.Contrary to the charges against Islam for being ‘anti-modern’, the historical reality is that the western renaissance owes a lot to Islam.

The India history also affirms the same fact.Islam brought about many positive changes in this society, contributing to every walk of life from knowledge to production, from art and culture to architecture and music. Egalitarian ideas of Islam also confronted the caste society and gave much relief to Dalits and lower castes. The Historian Sulaiman Nadvi (1884–1953)—who was associated with the establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia-has shown that before the coming of Islam, education was denied to the lower castes but things began to change under the egalitarian influence of Islam. History also tells us that the country’s relations with Muslim/Islamic countries have always been friendly. Even today, lakhs of Indians work in Muslim countries and send huge remittance back home, boosting Indian economy. Needless to say, the country’s energy security is very much dependent on these Muslim countries.

Moreover, it is also an exaggeration that the national security is being ‘threatened’ by Islamic forces.Such a view is informed by statist and hawkish notion of security.I, instead, consider human approach to security as more relevant.If government does not live up to the expectation of people, no government, howsoever mighty it may be, can ensure and maintain the country’s security.

Given all of this, I make an urgent appeal to you as the Visitor of JNU to look into the matter. If such a course called ‘Islamic Terrorism’ is introduced, it may help some people and a few organisations gain some personal benefits, but ultimately it will create religious tension in our society and bring a bad name to our country outside.

Abhay Kumar is a doctoral scholar at Centre for Historical Studies, JNU




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