What if Tebow were Muslim: Indian Edition

Tim Tebow is an American football player who made news because he knelt and prayed before a game. He was made fun of by night show hosts and other liberal media outlets tried to point out the Christianizing of sports. We have a very different set of values than the US. We believe in live and let live. If an Indian player makes a public display of his faith, very likely it would be talked about in a respectful way.

[quote style=”1″] what if Tim Tebow were Muslim? He’s not. So maybe it doesn’t matter. There is no way to separate the man and the religion. Some people praise him for it, others recoil. When this happens, avid defenders of Tebow invoke freedom of religion. But as Tebowmania makes its way into politics, sports, religion and the everyday life of the mainstream United States, it is important to think about how we approach religion in this country. How we approach religious freedom in this country. Do we accept freedom of religion, any religion? Or do we accept freedom of Christianity? Salon [/quote]

Tim Tebow is an American football player who made news because he knelt and prayed before a game. He was made fun of by night show hosts and other liberal media outlets tried to point out the Christianizing of sports. Christian preachers across the US spoke in glowing terms about Tebow’s faith, and fundamentalists like Pat Robertson used the incident to blast the anti-christian bias in the liberal media.

Everyone agrees, though, that if it were a muslim player who knelt to pray in the US, it would be the conservatives who would speak derisively and liberals would just wait for a conservative to say something racist and then harp on about the anti-minority Bias.

The most important take away for me, however, was that for Americans, the right to make fun of people’s convictions was as important as having those convictions. And that the media believed that derisive/satirical humor was a great way to deal with public displays of religion..

Free speech, religion and secularism have been in the public debate in India of late. What began as a reaction to the stringent and draconian IT Bill later spilled into the realm of politics and religion with Kapil Sibal’s recent posturing over content that “hurts sentiments”.

We have a very different set of values than the US. We believe in live and let live. If an Indian player makes a public display of his faith, very likely it would be talked about in a respectful way. The commentators would say something like “and here is Tim praying before he begins, and lets hope his prayers are heard because his team needs all the help it can”.  Sure,there would be religious extremists of every kind to condemn it, but for the common Indian, used to seeing religious icons in government offices, public transport and even schools, it would just be something to respect about the person.

But the audibility of extremists is increasing.

One measure by which I make this assertion is observing the successful vilification of the word “secularism”.  This, was achieved/is being achieved by a propaganda techniques called  Name Calling. Repeatedly using a word in a negative context or with a negative connotation leads to devaluation of the word or the idea, makes people wary of it, and can lead to complete destruction of its meaning. Since no propaganda technique is used in isolation, combined with cherry picking data (related to card stacking) about how the congress has mis-used secularism in India ( it has) to garner muslim votes, the very desire for secularism is being challenged and subverted. Which (coincidence? ) is what the Hindu supremacists desire, a return to the “Indian” way of dealing with minorities (of which Subramanian Swamy gave a great explanation of).

If an Indian muslim player were to kneel in prayer, to most of this country it would mean nothing special, it definitely wont get him called names by mainstream media, nor would there be any one of significance speaking of it. There would, however, be muslim preachers who will use this as a message of  fervor,  and many more who would make comments about ” that secular player” doing “secular things”.

Here is the interesting thing,  Not everyone understands or even sees the damage that is intended or the religious prejudice behind the usage. What is most saddening is that many of them have deeply secular values and latch on to this bandwagon because :

  • The power of Assertion (another propaganda technique) keep saying something over and over, it will seem like the truth.
  • They know nothing about Muslims, other than the cherry picked data about violence, oppression etc. Most Indians grow up in areas where people of other faiths are not common. In spite of my having grown up and lived in 4 states in India, i have all of One Muslim friend. the rest are Christians and Hindus. My knowledge of the Muslim world comes from stories handed down in the family (mostly how we are better than “them”), the news papers and now, the internet. A casual glimpse through various sites that talk about Indian muslims will tell you that the majority of information out there is written either by conservative/fundamentalist muslims, or Hindus. The voice of the progressive, secularism loving Muslim is buried under a lot of noise.
  • Desire to be part of the “cool kids” ie. the  bandwagon effect . I‘ve been hearing about a Hindu resurgence for the last 10 years. I have no facts to show if it really is happening, or what it means, but in spite of that, i believe it. In fact, most people do, and once a critical mass of people believe in something, it becomes easier to accept more without evidence and easier to recruit minds.
  • Disgust for Congress’ behavior.  This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It does not take too much digging to realize that right from the beginning, secularism was used first as a protectionist strategy and later as a vote banking technique by the Congress at the center (individual states show a different picture). With the exposing of how deep and wide corruption runs in India, and with the growing discontent with it, everyone who hates the “rule” of Congress is left with little choice.
  • The linking of nationalism with anti-secularism. Religion touting political parties have always also linked nationalism with Hinduism, and so with the expected rise in patriotism (money coming in, lack of progress, increasing corruption etc.), there is an inadvertant clubbing of the secularism-bashing with nationalism.

One thing that contributes to the bowdlerization of Secularism is the way the liberal voices in India handle the conservative ones- with a patronizing, disdainful tone. We think that these “fringe” elements will never have any effect on “intelligent” Indians and that “most Indians” would not believe such crap. perhaps its time we wake up and smell the rotting roses.

The end effect is that instead of developing a moral sense to look for real secularism and promoting it, we are moving into times when a religious alternative to secularism (which, clearly is an evil thing, right?) is being introduced.

So today, if Tim Tebow were a Muslim in India, the majority would cheer him, a small group would beatify him, but here would be more people and louder voices that call him a  sikular Indian   than ever before. These voices continue to rise aided by the concurrent  increase in volume of the muslim fundamentalist, and hastened by government policies that care only about gaming the system for maximum profit.

Is that in itself a bad thing? How did we become a secular nation? Do we have alternatives to western ideas of secularism? What is this secularism anyway and is it any good?

These questions will be part 2. thank you for reading.