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Opinion

October 30, 2015

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McNationalism

What does the homicidal resurgence of religio-nationalism have in common with the McDonalds fast-food business in India? Answer: both benefit from faith-compliant globalisation and practice discriminatory food politics.
Modi’s India and India’s McDonalds are great beneficiaries of, and admired as ambassadors of, globalisation. Yet, simultaneously, they exploit xenophobic, faith-based nationalism shamelessly and profitably. They both promise liberalisation of economic opportunities and global choice. Yet, opportunistically, both breach and violate the personal, political and culinary rights of choice for beef-eaters and ‘lesser’ Indians.
The Indian people, including minorities, elected the Hinduvta nationalist BJP for its impressive economic and development policies. Many thought the pro-liberalisation core of Modinomics would prove to be a panacea, or at least deflect the BJP’s nationalist-religious bigotry. Modi’s liberalisation and food distribution policies are said to have reduced inflation but the politics of beef are leading to a growth in mob lynching and spurring Hinduvta’s campaign of hate and persecution of minorities and lower castes.
In keeping with India’s democratic spirit, McDonald’s campaign for the “battle of spicy” invites Indian customers to vote their preference between the ‘Indian vs the International’ versions of the spicy burger. Since India doesn’t serve beef burgers in any of its some 250 outlets, the McInternational and McIndian vegetarian/chicken burgers are different only in their quantity of spices.
Both examples prove that it is only marketing that offers the illusion of how globalisation will liberate and expand choices. They are also reminders of how growth in economies can happily follow and coexist with that of hyper nationalist narrow-mindedness, and that religion in India – but also Pakistan – will remain a key driver and fuel in this equation.
While many Pakistanis are outraged

by India’s failure to uphold its avowed secular base, they fool themselves into the myth of comparative advantage for citizens in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. By taunting India over the impotence of its secularism, they ironically endorse it as the appropriate tool and guarantor of protection and rights for minorities. Yet, they would declare any fellow-Pakistani secularist a traitor and kaafir.
In Pakistan, outside of the military establishment, nationalism is outsourced through the usual suspects. It defines the core of all major religious political parties including, the anti-Pakistan, but later post-Partition rehabilitated Jamaat-e-Islami. The intertwining of Islam and nationalism is central to even supposedly non-political, pietist women’s movements like Al-Huda.
More relevant is the pragmatic nationalism of the state’s reserve army, the Jamaatud Dawa, supported through well-known anti-India media personalities. The self-acclaimed – but now post-Saudi muted– Zaid Hamid, the wily Ahmed Quereshi and ignoramus Faisal Qureshi are some of the main tools of the myth-making machine. These lackeys equate Islam and nationalism with anti-Indianness, in a mirror image to the BJP’s methods of defining Indianness through anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan sentiment.
Religio-nationalists in India and Pakistan distort history, defy logic with violence and promote pseudo-science. The difference by way of resistance holds more important lessons. Progressive writers and artists in India have protested the BJP’s endorsement of atrocities against Muslims and others by returning their state awards. However, when Pakistan’s professors and writers with academic experience and research-based knowledge speak out against fake nationalist distortions of history, they are vilified and media-tried by low-level, unqualified, hate-spouting random commentators and deniers, who rely on anecdotes, jingoism and family stories of self-heroism as their sources.
India painstakingly promotes the idea, as subliminally implied in the McDonald’s ad, that it maintains an admirable balance between its own traditions and globalised modernity. Capitalism accommodates nationalisms and religions to its advantage. Friedman thought this was enough to prevent wars between McNations, but didn’t comment or care about how it wouldn’t prevent internal violence, racism and the politics of hate. Western commentators conveniently blame this fallout on ‘culture’, postmodernists on modernity and post-colonialists on colonialism.
But nationalism is a slippery beast to get past. Even though in 1990, Hobsbawm declared that the wise owl of Minerva was circling nationalism, the fact is that nationalism has proven a convenient shackle that keeps us trapped by a false sense of entitlement. What is needed instead is a universal empathy that recognises how the commonality of capitalism, racism and patriarchy oppresses men, women and children alike and offers only unjust and false choices. Flag-waving, T-shirt toting national identities are used to isolate and divide the oppressed, and nationalist rhetoric helps to organise us against other nations’ poor and oppressed.
Food politics in India today is symptomatic of the BJP’s belief in communal-based national belonging – a legacy of the colonial regime that gave India this gift. The most effective symbol and partner in this project is Hinduism. A religious party is not secular just because it engages in economics, delivers development or conducts charitable work. The academic glorification of the democratic engagement of religious political parties has been exposed as a facetious theory. A puritanical agenda and moral expansionism are defining features of religio-politics.
Which is why one cannot understand why Pakistanis are so smug over the shattering of the myth of Shining India. Unlike India, in Pakistan, legally and constitutionally, members of the majority religion qualify for protective status, while non-Muslim vulnerable minorities are excluded from equal status or rights.
While India should be shamed for its criminal failure to uphold the very basis of its constitution, law and secular principles, what moral base should we appeal to when non-Muslims are not given equal rights in Pakistan and the state behaves impotently or even glorifies murderers and jihadists who kill in the name of religion? When Pakistani patriots proudly insist that our identity is defined by how non-Indian and Sunni we are, this is a mirror image of BJP ideology.
Rather than economic sanctions that punish the poor, there is a need for an international cultural boycott of India to protest the BJP’s chauvinism and xenophobia. As mentioned, ‘culture’ is an abstract but crucial marketing tool for India and the international community needs to reject rather than encourage the consumption of such a culture.
There is a critical difference between sovereignty and autonomy. Pakistan’s Islamic label may give us a false sense of sovereignty against India and the west but real autonomy is about achieving policies and goals.
Religious agency depends on, and reinforces, a conservative insular nationalism or violent expansionism. Instead of promoting this, it is far more important to consider the worth of secular autonomy for nations. Rather than dismissing secularism due to its discontents and fragility in these countries, it is critical to regain neutrality over both states’ religious dogmatism and biases.
Both countries need to uphold a commitment, not to elite-serving neoliberal economics but to universal liberal rights – free of male-beneficial cultural and religious bias – for all its citizens equally.
The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: [email protected]

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