Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Gains Ground Among Christians in Kerala?

V.A.M. Ashrof

Manufactured Islamophobia

Kerala, of late, has been witnessing a sort of unanticipated animosity against Muslims from a section of the Christian community. Baseless allegations, parroting the bigot Hindutva fascists, are being raised against Muslims by them, even from the altars of churches; and a planned schism is being created between the two communities. This monograph is prepared in this backdrop and this is a humble effort to analyze the reasons and facts behind this manufactured Islamophobia among this group of Christians in Kerala.

Points of discussion

Main points analyzed in this monograph are: Why is there an increased anti-Muslim tirade among Kerala Christians in the last decade? What is the role played by Christian Zionism in it? How does global Christian Zionism influence Kerala Christians? How does the Syro Malabar Church’s position exacerbate Islamophobia? What is the influence of social media and channels on the issue? Why are upper caste Christians more prone to Islamophobia? How does the interaction of Hindutva Zionist nexus and Christians work in Kerala? At a time when Hindu majoritarianism is extending its tentacles over India, why is it that the Kerala Christian group has chosen to target another fellow minority group, instead of the Hindutva nationalists?

Why is there a growing anti-Muslim rhetoric from ‘upper caste’ Christians?

Among all the various Syrian Christian denominations in Kerala, why is it that the Syrian Catholic church is expressly, and almost exclusively, the proponent of this anti-Islam campaign?

Syrian Christians are traditionally a privileged and landed community, who claim their origin from the proselytization mission of Jesus Christ’s disciple St. Thomas in the first century CE. This is based on a popular myth about their origin that they hail from Brahmins who were proselytized by St. Thomas. This type of claim is an indication of the “superior” status that they seek to utilize to distinguish themselves from their fellow Christians who are mostly from “lower” castes.

Cambridge historian Susan Bayly points out that in the pre-colonial era; Syrian Christians were very much incorporated into the upper caste sections of the caste hierarchy within Kerala society. Although the tectonic changes brought into the social organization of Kerala by the colonialists altered this position, and Syrian Christians switched from being mostly a martial and trading group to one of land-owning agriculturalists, they were still able to retain their traditional privileges.[1]

K.C. Zachariah points out that this community is the largest per household landholder in the state. They also lead other prominent groups in terms of housing. They also do relatively well in terms of access to both government jobs and educational institutions. Citing the Kerala Migration Study (1998) conducted by the Centre for Development Studies, Zachariah concludes that “Syrian Christians are the most advanced community in Kerala with respect to overall socio-economic indices.[2]

Syrian Christians practice stringent endogamy, which is central to preserving hereditary socio-economic capital. This practice is so intensely adhered to that Syrian denominations that are in communion with the Catholic Church still do not enter into matrimonial relationships with their fellow Latin Catholics who are considered “lower” castes. The economic interests of Hindu upper castes are, mostly, shared by Syrian Christians.

In Kerala, some financially sound Syrian Christian families organize annual family meetings, which are attended by prominent priests. The bishop of Niranam Diocese, Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, said that these meetings were organized to “proclaim the artificially cultivated upper-caste identity and lineage” and he would not like to be part of this tradition any more. On April 9, 2021, Mor Coorilos wrote in his Facebook page: “These people believe that their ancestors were Brahmins converted by St. Thomas. They even publish family history books during the get-together. Such baseless upper-caste myths have to be busted. I had attended such events in the past, but not anymore.” Syrian Christians are one of the world’s oldest Christian communities and trace their origin to St. Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. It is believed that St. Thomas visited Kerala during the 1st century CE, and converted members of Brahmin families to Christianity. The Jacobite Church is one of the state’s four main Syrian Christian Churches, with the others being the Syrian Catholic, Orthodox and Marthoma denominations. Mor Coorilos’s comments also revived a long-running debate – whether St. Thomas did indeed come to South India himself. Syrian Christians believe that he did, and that they originated from his efforts at evangelism.[3]

Scholars say that the tendency of some Christians to hark back to their Brahminical lineage indicates that Christianity is not free from the blot of caste. As evidence, they point to the plight of those Dalits who converted to Christianity from Hinduism to escape caste oppression, only to find that things were much the same on the other side. Caste oppression among Christians in Kerala has led to the formation of many churches meant exclusively for Dalits, said historian Dr Sanal Mohan, visiting fellow in Commonwealth Studies at the University of Cambridge.[4]

A prominent Dalit church is the Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha, commonly known as PRDS, founded in 1909 by the Dalit activist and poet Poikayil Yohannan. “PRDS was an early movement against caste oppression,” said Mohan. “The World Evangelical Mission, CMS Anglican Church, Salvation Army are some of the exclusive Dalit churches formed later.”

Mohan said neither the Church nor its members have addressed the problem of caste among Christians in India. He pointed to a casteist taunt made by independent MLA PC George in March against a Dalit Catholic priest who took a stand against George Alenchery, Cardinal of the Syro-Malabar Church, in a row over the controversial sale of church land in Kochi. George, who represented the Christian-dominated Assembly constituency of Poonjar in Idukki district, had called the priest an illegitimate son of a Pulaya (a Dalit community) woman who could not be called a Catholic. “It [the comments] showed the mentality of upper-caste Christians in Kerala,” said Mohan. “What shocked more was that the taunt did not elicit angry reactions from Dalit priests.”[5]

Latin Catholics are Roman Catholics. There are three denominations in Roman Catholic Church of Kerala. They are:

  • Latin Catholic Church – (Latin or Roman Rite)
  • Syro-Malabar Catholic Church – (East Syriac Rite)
  • Malankara Syrian Catholic Church – (West Syriac Rite)

The Latin Church, is also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church. The part of the Catholic Church in the West is called the Latin Church to distinguish itself from Eastern Catholic Churches, which are also under the pope’s primacy. In historical context before the East–West Schism in 1054, the Latin Church is sometimes referred to as the Western Church. The term Latin Catholic refers to followers of the Latin liturgical rites, of which the Roman Rite is predominant. The Latin liturgical rites of the Latin Church are contrasted with the Eastern liturgical rites of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Latin Catholics of Kerala are the Christians who were converted by the Europeans after Vasco Da Gama landed in Kerala, mainly by the Portuguese, or under their patronage. Latin Catholics comprise the second largest Catholic group in Kerala having nine out of 24 dioceses. Leaders of 2 million Latin Catholics in southern Kerala have intensified their fight to be recognized politically. The Latin Catholic community forms 7 percent of the state´s 29 million people. The leaders allege that the community is denied “any covetable office” in the state though they have enough qualified people. The Kerala Latin Catholic Association (KLCA) staged a token fast before the state secretariat on March 25 protesting what they called “government discrimination.”[6]

Church-BJP relationship

It may also be noted that the Cardinals of the Kerala Catholic Church and the top priests of the Orthodox and Malankara Churches had called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2021. Cardinal Alencherry had said after the meeting that the Church has no untouchability against the BJP. “Though the Church had some apprehension in the past against the BJP, it is all history. We do not have any special ties with any of the political parties,” Alencherry had said.[7]

A meeting of Modi and Church leadership was convened on January 19, 2021. In the Kerala state where Muslim and Christian communities have a significant presence, the BJP realizes that the support of at least one of these two communities is inevitable if it is to make any electoral progress in the state. Since the Muslim support is unimaginable for the Hindutva party, it was trying to entice the Christian leadership by exploiting the existing fault lines between the minority communities. Divide and rule was always a part of the Hindutva polity. Priests and laity leaders constantly issue advisories to parents to protect their daughters from falling for such non-existent ‘love jihad’ traps.[8]

The sudden turn of enmity against Muslims is not at all surprising: The Kochi City police had registered a case against Cardinal George Alencherry Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and head of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, and three others in connection with a series of land deals that reportedly resulted in financial loss for the archdiocese, on April 1, 2019. The land deal scandal relates to efforts by the archdiocese to settle a loan of around ₹60 crore by selling three acres under its possession in Kochi.

BJP government might have used this opportunity to pressurize the Cardinal to adopt anti-Muslim slogans so as to gain grounds to the Kerala BJP cadres.

Surprisingly, in tandem with Hindutva elements, Syrian Christian groups campaigned for a boycott of restaurants and shops selling halal food items. The Turkish event of Hagia Sophia was also used for Muslim Otherisation in Kerala. Syrian Christian family WhatsApp groups and social media were crowded with conspiracy theories targeting Muslims. In many of the cases, this communal vitriol is led by Syrian Catholic priests themselves.

Hagia Sophia incident is portrayed as another instance of a global Muslim scheme against Christians, expediently hiding the fact that the 13th-century crusaders were the first to ransack Hagia Sophia. The Orthodox Patriarch had to run for his life while the marauding Catholics converted Hagia Sophia into a Catholic place of worship.  Hagia Sophia, a Greek Church, built in 537, was converted into a mosque in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire. In 1935, the secular Turkish Republic established it as a museum; however, during July 2020, it was re-opened as a mosque. This incident has caused to develop enmity in Christians against Muslims in Kerala. The move was condemned by the global Christian community. Certain global issues have caused deeper negative impressions against Muslims among the Kerala Christian psyche: they are the alleged terrorism occurred in three churches and the conversion of a Hagia Sophia of Turkey into a mosque.

On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in the commercial capital, Colombo, were targeted in a series of coordinated suicide bombings. Nearly 270 people were killed in these incidents. Upper caste Christian media depicted the terrorist activity as a Muslim attack against Christians, rather than any odd actions from derailed terrorists.

It is clear that ‘love jihad’, the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, halal food controversy, attacks on churches, etc. have been used instrumentally to plug the local antagonism towards Muslims into the global discourse, adding much-needed legitimacy to the anti-Muslim social imagination. This also helps in rhetorically translating the antagonism in such popularly recognized ‘common sense’ terms that would look normal and legitimate.

Global Evangelical Movement as Instigator of Anti-Muslim rhetoric in Kerala

In the modern parlance, evangelicalism became a synonym for revivalism, or a fervent expression of Christianity marked by an emphasis on converting outsiders. By the early 1800s, it was “by far the dominant expression of Christianity” in the United States. During the year 1976, the term went viral when Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer won the Democratic primary and then the general election. He became the first U.S President to call himself a “born again” evangelical Christian. More conservative evangelicals who diverged politically from Carter began mobilizing under new organizational banners like the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority—collectively labeled the religious right. These politically active conservative pro-Zionist Christians were well-funded and media savvy, but they were only able to become synonymous with evangelicalism with the help of American pollsters.

Islamophobia, just like its earlier manifestation of Orientalism, should be assumed as othering discourse – one that creates a blatant dichotomy between “us” and “them,” one that defines the other in terms of what “we” are not. Islamophobia, similar to other discourses such as racism, xenophobia, and extreme nationalism, creates an image of the other that does not correspond to reality, but is socially constructed by a particular group of elites with an adequate level of power and resources necessary to diffuse their marketing to a larger audience. Those promoting Islamophobia, most often, do so with the confidence and conviction that the information they are providing to the public is truthful and objective, lacking awareness of the role played by ethnocentrism, religion, and American foreign policy in shaping their views. Christian Zionists who promote Islamophobia focus heavily on the concept of jihad and conspiracy theories involving a united Muslim empire seeking world domination. Edward Said argues that “all of this can be traced, not to Islam, but to aspects of society in the West and to the media which this idea of “Islam” reflects and serves.”[9]

Islamophobia promoted by Christian dispensationalists (Christian Zionists) today effectively merges centuries-old stereotypes and constructions of Islam and Muslims, what Edward Said called Orientalism, with their own particular interpretations of biblical prophecy, which is facilitated by the stark dualistic worldview created by dispensationalist biblical exegesis. Stephen Sheehi argues that Islamophobia is an ideological formation that has been embedded into the American psyche through imperialism and nationalism.[10] Islamophobia is an ideology which functions similar to racism by formulating a negative image of Islam and Muslims. Chris Allen sees Islamophobia as a multilayered discourse heavily influenced by Europe’s deep tradition of anti-Islam polemics and its strenuous history of interaction with Muslims living along its borders.[11]

Arun Kundnani, specialist in terrorism studies, has observed, in the context of the USA, that, “the extent to which pro-Israel lobby groups have cultivated such an atmosphere [of Islamophobia] has reflected their anxiety that the Muslim-American population is growing, and that the political influence of Muslims in the US might one day reflect their numbers.[12]

Despite a wealth of empirical evidence, from overlapping board memberships among think tanks, to examples of Islamophobic tropes in pro-Israel propaganda, little scholarly attention has been paid to the overlap between Islamophobia and Christian Zionism. This has further triggered the Kerala outlets of evangelical groups to repeat hatred campaigns against Islam.

Shekinah TV and Deepika

Kerala’s Catholic Church launched the TV channel Shekinah TV on April 28, 2019 at Thalikode, Thrissur. The channel beams advertisement-free news, current affairs and entertainment programs which its promoters claim are designed to spread “messages of unity, holiness, hope and knowledge”. Kerala’s Catholic Church has received plenty of bad press since Cardinal Alencherry was accused of corruption and Bishop Franco Mulakkal of rape. Shekinah TV would have given Bishop Mulakkal enough time to respond to the allegations of sexual abuse against him. Through Shekinah TV, the Syro Malabar Church has its own news and entertainment channel to air unbiased news. However, anti-Muslim discourse is regularly made through the Channel. Some of the anti-Muslim tirade of the Shekinah Television can be viewed at[13]

Shekinah TV vastly covered the death of Soumya Santosh who died in a Hamas retaliatory attack on 11 May, 2021. This single incident shows how the media managed to elicit anti-Hamas and pro-Israeli feelings among Keralites. Zionist nation also used this opportunity to “expose” the “killing by an Islamic terrorist organization Hamas.” Pro-Zionist and pro-Hindutva media have used to raise the bogey of “Islamic terrorism.”  Hindutva and Zionists have used this opportunity to mobilize it for political gain to claim the “Hamas terrorism” by ignoring over tenfold merciless killings of innocent Palestinians, of which more than 60 were kids. This victimhood psychology is being widely used both in Zionist and Hindutva rhetoric.

Deepika newspaper has recently turned to be pro-Zionist in its depiction of events of the Middle East; discourse analysis of the 2021 Israeli invasion of Gaza very well illustrates it. Repeated Islamophobic sermons of Sanghi elements and upper caste Christian Media like Deepika newspaper and Shekinah TV have naturally led to pro-Zionist discourse widely in Kerala.

There are so many pro-Zionist voices ringing loud from Keralites: The most prominent of them are: Reena Alex Jerusalem, Christ Generation Sebastian Punnakkal Philip, Jency Binoy Pulinakkuzhiyil and Sebastian Punnakkal Philip, now living in Ireland.

The controversy over scholarships 80:20 ratio

On 28 May 2021 verdict, Kerala High Court quashed a government order allotting 80 percent merit-cum-means scholarships to Muslims of the state, directing the government to “provide merit-cum-means scholarship to members of the notified minority communities within the state equally.” The Kerala High Court passed these directions on a Public Interest Litigation filed by Justine Pallivathukkal, challenging a government order of May 8, 2015 that “reservation among the Muslims and other minority communities will be in the ratio of 80:20 i.e., 80 percent to Muslim Community and 20 percent to Latin Christians and Converted Christians.”

After the Kerala High Court on May 28, 2021, quashed state “Government Orders, sub-classifying the minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship at 80 per cent to Muslim community and 20 per cent to Latin Catholic Christians and Converted Christians,” and saying “it cannot be legally sustained,” Muslims from the southern Indian state have expressed unease at the order. Scholarship to Muslims is provided under the suggestions of Sachar Committee report after studying the socio-economic status of Muslims. The Sachar Committee report identified that Muslims were below SC and STs in backwardness. Paloli Commission was formed in Kerala to implement the suggestions provided in the Sachar Committee report. The scholarships were provided for the welfare of the Muslims in the beginning but it was later split into 80:20 ratios. This provision was extended to the Latin Catholics and other converted Christians by the then VS Achuthanandan led LDF government in Kerala.

Sangh Parivar has been trying to make inroads into the Christian community and cause communal friction in the state. Orthodox Syrian churches are on the same ground with the BJP that “love jihad” is real for a very long time. It is nothing but Hindutva hate propaganda. The church delegates also met Narendra Modi to apprise him about the so-called “love jihad” and minority scholarship before the assembly elections.

Love jihad discourse as a deliberate creation of hatred

“Love jihad” as the Hindutva forces term inter-faith marriages or relationship is a vicious brand of politics which is a ploy to undermine the agency of women and demonize the Muslims. Love Jihad is said to be a drive launched by the Muslims to entice and convert non- Muslim women to Islam through a pretention of love so that their wombs can be used to carry Muslim children and increase their population in areas where Muslim population is scarce. It is further accused that these young men are provided with money by ‘higher organizations’ to buy cars, mobile phones and present expensive gifts to target Hindu and Christian women, so that they can charm and lure them.

Allegations of ‘Love-Jihad’ first started surfacing in 2009, with claims that Muslim organizations were luring Hindu women in Kerala to convert them. Since then, several investigations have been carried out but couldn’t substantiate these allegations. The matter got national attention when the marriage of an inter- faith couple (Hadiya and Shafin Jahan) was annulled by the Hon’ble Kerala High Court stating that a girl of twenty four years was ‘vulnerable and weak’ and could be ‘exploited’ in many ways and it was not ‘normal’ on the part of a woman in her twenties to pursue a different religion. The High Court further held that the girl had no idea as to what she wanted in her life as she was an ordinary girl of ‘moderate intellectual capacity’ who seemed gullible and didn’t have a ‘consistent stand about her life or future.’[14]

Hindutva has conjured this fictional piece to strengthen the narrative that Muslims are a threat to the country by hitting the emotionally sensitive nerve of protecting honour and women of the Hindu community (and now Christian community). In this same case, the Supreme Court later in Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M.[15] condemned the stand taken by the Kerala High Court in curtailing the freedom of choice of marriage and liberty of individuals. Hadiya’s marriage was restored to Shafin Jahan, thereby also rightly restoring the right of Indian women to marry according to their choice against the Indian patriarchal belief system.[16]

‘Love-Jihad’ allegations might attack Muslim men but they also indirectly humiliate Hindu and Christian women, depicting them as incapable of taking their own decisions, which fall into the ‘trap of seduction’ and know nothing of their own good. The fear of the ‘honour of the family’ puts the male members of the family in charge to make sure that the ‘women of their family’ do not become victims of ‘Love-Jihad’. Consequently, men assume authority, put innumerable restrictions on the women and girls of the household to ensure that they do not ‘roam around’ with Muslims. All male-member meetings have been called many a time to prevent women from getting trapped in Love-Jihad and even guidelines have been issued for men of the family to reduce the connection of women with any Muslim men.[17]

These allegations were not corroborated by any factual matrix and only distracted the general public from deeper issues like unemployment, growing fiscal deficit, decreasing GDP, etc. that could highlight the inefficiency of the government. These allegations which drive a wedge among communities have also increased the insecurities regarding the other religion and have made way for intolerance in a secular nation.

We have to realize that the Islamophobic trend of the Syro Malabar Church has been challenged by Catholics themselves. The Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of Catholic Church slammed the church leadership over its stand on Citizenship Amendment Act and Love Jihad. They criticized that the church couldn’t take a clear stand on the CAA. The editorial of the mouthpiece of the bulletin also said that the High Court and the NIA had made it clear that there is nothing called ‘Love Jihad.’[18]

Another prominent Kerala Catholic priest criticized Syro Malabar Church’s stand on ‘love jihad’ and CAA.  Fr. Kuriakose Mundadan’s remarks appeared in his column ‘Varikalkidayil’ (Between the lines) which can be read in the January 22, 2020 issue of Sathyadeepam, a weekly published by the Syro Malabar Church. The priest also points out the lack of evidence in allegations of ‘love jihad’. “Has anyone taken the number of men and women who have converted to Christianity in the name of love?” he asks in the article. The Uttar Pradesh High Court also in 2014 had rejected the allegations of ‘Love Jihad’, Mundadan said and sought to know whether anyone had counted the number of men and women converted to Christianity in the name of love. Maintaining that there is no ‘love jihad’ in Kerala, state police Chief Loknath Behera said not a single case has been reported in the last two years.[19]

According to official figures for the year 2020, the biggest gainer – in terms of new converts – was Hinduism. People who embraced Hinduism constituted 47 percent of religious conversions in Kerala during the one-year period under reference. Of the total 506 people who registered their change of religion with the government, 241 were those who converted from Christianity or Islam to Hinduism. A total of 144 persons adopted Islam whereas Christianity received 119 new believers in the year, shows the data.[20]

As per the rule, people who officially change their religion, including minors, have to advertise it in the gazette. 72% of the new converts to Hinduism were Dalit Christians, mostly Christian Cheramars, Christian Sambavas and Christian Pulayas. It was evident that lack of reservation benefits forced many Dalit Christians to re-embrace Hinduism. Also, 32 people left Islam to join Hinduism. Christianity lost 242 believers to the other two religions and attracted only 119 persons. Islam gained 144 new believers and lost 40 during the period. Buddhism received two new believers who switched from Hinduism. 77% of the new converts to Islam were Hindus and 63% women. It attracted the highest number of persons from Ezhava, Thiyya and Nair communities. 25 persons, including 13 females, switched from Hindu Ezhava to Islam. 17 Thiyya community members including 11 females converted to Islam. 17 persons including 12 females were from the Nair community. Of the 33 persons who crossed over to Islam from Christianity, 9 were Syrian Catholics, who included two women.[21]

How many girls were lured and missing from Kerala on Love Jihad?

There were three Malayali women who had fled between 2016 and 2018 with their husbands to join ISIS and two were formerly non-Muslims. While some of them had fled with their children, others like Nimisha (Fathima) gave birth during their times with the Da’esh. However, after their husbands were killed, they were among the several thousand fighters and their families who surrendered to the Afghanistan government in 2019. Nimisha, a Dental student hailed from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, had married a Christian youth named Bexin Vincent from Palakkad without informing her mother and the couple had converted to Islam.

Sonia Sebastian, a native of Kasargod, who converted to Islam and now goes by the name Ayisha, married Abdul Rashid Abdulla in 2011. Kasargod-native Abdul Rashid has been named by the NIA as the mastermind behind several Keralites fleeing the country to join ISIS. Sonia and Abdul Rashid had fled in 2016 along with their daughter.[22]

Sonia Sebastian, who converted to Ayesha, was among the 21 men and women from Kerala, led by her husband Abdul Rashid Abdulla, who left India in batches to join the Islamic State in Khorasan Province in Afghanistan. They reportedly crossed over to Afghanistan on foot from Iran. Nimisha and Bexon Vincent had become Fathima and Eesa respectively. They had later joined the Islamic State in Afghanistan.[23]

Merrin Jacob alias Mariyam was married to Bestin Vincent, a resident of Palakkad. Both escaped to Afghanistan in 2016 to live in the IS controlled territory. The couple converted to Islam after their marriage and Vincent assumed the identity of Yahya.

In brief, there are only two Christian young women whom police suspect to have joined ISIS as missing. One of them (Nimisha) was married to a young man who was already a Christian (Bexon Vincent). The two were in love even before they converted.  In addition to these two Christian women, there is also a Hindu girl who is said to have joined ISIS. Totally it come only three non-Muslim women. As alleged, they did not go to Syria, but to Afghanistan. Police suspect they may have joined ISIS in Afghanistan via Telegram. It is based on these odd incidents, communal fascist are orchestrating that thousands of Hindu/Christian women are being trafficked to Syria for sex slavery!  There is not any indication of any Love Jihad.

Why there is a natural affinity between Hindutva and Zionism?

Tying the two countries together now are not only the geopolitical considerations but the ideological affinity between Zionism and Hindutva with Muslims being viewed as common enemies. When on May 17, 2021, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his appreciation of the 25 countries – identifying them by the emojis of their flags – for “resolutely standing with Israel” and its “right to self-defense against terrorist attacks”, India was not one of them. This upset a large section of the Hindutva people in the country that have been zealously batting for Israel in the latter’s conflict with Hamas. “Sir please mention Indian flag too, India supports Israel (sic),” posted one Amit Modi on Twitter.

Santosh Joshi, another Israeli supporter tweeted in the same servile manner: “Sir, add India too, we are family”. There were also viral pictures of naked Indian children ordering their bodies to form a hexagram of the Israeli flag, in an expression of solidarity with the Zionist country. Not only the common people, but even some leaders of the ruling BJP were also at the forefront of the support for Israel, most prominent among them Tejasvi Surya, the national president of BJP Yuva Morcha and a young member of the Indian Parliament from South India. Responding to a tweet of an Israeli citizen talking of exhaustion after “spending hours in bomb shelters”, Surya posted: “We are with you, stay strong Israel.”

The wide public support for Israel has set hashtags such as #IndiaWithIsrael, #ISupportIsrael, #IndiaStandsWithIsrael, and #IsrealUnderFire trending in the country, with tweets and also Facebook posts liked, re-tweeted, or shared thousands of times. For example, Surya’s tweet was liked around 50,000 times.[24]

More than parties in one of the world’s oldest and tragic conflicts, Palestinians are primarily seen as Muslims, so not entitled to any sympathy. They are “terrorists” who deserve to be crushed. The conspicuous narrative in India is not about championing the rights of disposed Palestinians but about Israel’s right to defend itself against “terrorist attacks”. “Shame on those who support terrorists. Israel has a right to defend itself. In The War Against Terrorism, I and My India Stand With Israel. Good going Israel (sic),” tweeted one Aman Tyagi.[25]

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Harijan, 26-11-1938: “My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close.” “My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and in-human to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French. Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home including Palestine not by aggression but by loving service.”[26]

 

History of India-Israel relationship

India maintained a pro-Palestine stand, beginning with Mahatma Gandhi who rejected Zionist ideas of creating a Jew state and believed it is not right on the part of Israel, to impose its might on Palestinian land.[27] After independence, Nehruvian foreign policy-influenced by the ideals of anti-imperialism and support to liberation struggles across the globe meant that India stood with Palestine.

Later, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat shared a personal relation often dubbed as “like brother and sister.”[28]

Traditionally the Congress party, left groups, liberal organizations and leftist intellectuals in India lent their support to Palestine and did not approve Israel expansionism. It was the right-wing groups which made significant efforts in outreach. Former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the first prime minister to receive an Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon, in 2003. In 2006, while he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi visited Tel Aviv. Many believe that Israel as a strong state is a natural ally for the RSS.

Since coming to power in 2014, Narendra Modi made it clear of his outreach plans for Israel. During his visit, Modi chose not to visit Palestinian Authority Headquarters Ramallah which was visited by former Indian dignitaries. However, when Modi met Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in New Delhi in May 2017 he said: “We hope to see the realization of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel. I have reaffirmed our position on this to President Abbas.”[29]

India recognized Israel in 1950 but established full diplomatic relations only in 1992. Since then, the ties between the two nations have grown ever closer. Interestingly, this warmth in the relations has tracked the growth of Hindutva as a dominant ideology in India. And with the rise to power by Narendra Modi, the extreme-right-wing leader and an aggressive champion of Hindutva in 2014, India-Israel relations have further advanced. Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel in July 2017.

The Hindutva Zionist nexus go beyond pre-Independent Indian era. While Savarkar admired Hitler and Mussolini for their fascist views towards the Jews, he still supported the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel. “This was not only in accordance with his theory of nationalism, but he also saw in the Jewish state a bulwark against the Islamic Arabic world,” write Subho Basu and Suranjan Das in their article, “Knowledge for politics: Partisan histories and Communal Mobilization in India and Pakistan.”

Savarkar wrote in the 1920s: “If the Zionists’ dreams are ever realized – if Palestine becomes a Jewish state – it will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends.” In late 1947, Savarkar was very upset when the Indian delegate in the UN General Assembly argued for a binational Arab-Jewish state in Palestine and voted against the proposal to partition Palestine into a larger Jewish state and a smaller Arab state.[30]

Golwalkar (1906-73), who steered the Hindu nationalist movement in post-independence India as the chief of the volunteer organization RSS, wrote in the late 1930s that the Zionist movement exemplified his own “five unities” framing of Indian nationhood: “The Jews had maintained their race, religion, culture and language, and all they wanted was their natural territory to complete their nationality.”[31] Israel was established amidst popular Muslim opposition was further cause for the Hindutva cheer.

Sanghi alliance with Zionist Israel for ulterior motives

It is perplexing that despite Hindutva’s identification as the second major enemy, some of the Christian church elements are travelling along the lines of Hindu nationalism.

Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, had notoriously uttered “Hindus, don’t waste your energy fighting the British. Save your energy to fight our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians, and Communists.”[32]

While deliberating on the ‘Internal Threat’ number two, he says: “Such is the role of Christian gentlemen residing in our land today, out to demolish not only the religious and social fabric of our life but also to establish political domination in various pockets and if possible, all over the land.” He defended racial purity and racist myths: “German Race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindushtan to learn and profit by.”[33]

Golwalkar unabashedly declared Muslims and Christians as belonging to foreign races: “From this standpoint, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation: let us deal, as old nations ought to and do deal, with the foreign races who have chosen to live in our country.”[34]

The anti-Christian terrorism unleashed by Hindu nationalists illustrates their project. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) has released the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) Report Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in 2019.

According to the report, “in 2019, the Christian community in India continued to face incidents of targeted violence and hate crimes. The RLC recorded 366 incidents where Christians have been targeted using violence, intimidation or harassment.”  “Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, and indicted in the recent shooting down of Muslim protesters, maintained its position as the worst offender in the persecution of Christians. Even though compared to the 2018 figures, the state accounts for almost a quarter of all incidents recorded in the nation”, the RLC points out. The report says “the state is led by Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht, also known as Yogi Adityanath, the high priest of the Gorakhnath temple in the state, who is also the founder of the Hindu YuvaVahini, a Hindu youth militia that has been involved in communal violence and in targeting religious minorities”.

Tamil Nadu stands second with 60 incidents. “Its anti-Christian violence is traced to caste supremacist attitudes in villages and their linkages with political elements currently positioning themselves for power in the state which goes for elections soon”.  “Most of the incidents recorded are related to physical violence, threats, harassment and the disruption of church services, by either religious radicals or the police. Targeting congregating Christians on Sundays is now a trend across many states, but especially in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu”, RCL explains.

Additionally, “many Christians have also been falsely accused and detained or arrested on alleged and convenient charges of forced conversion”. During the summer, “the total number of incidents dipped”, because “the Election Commission of India had mobilized large scale police presence in rural areas leading up to the general elections in April and May 2019”. However, “the incidents peaked in November 2019, as congregations increased their prayer/religious activities prior to Christmas, while the anticipated violence during the Christmas season, a reality in previous years, did not take place and was overtaken as it was by the protests around the changes in the citizenship laws”, the report adds. The EFI is worried about the citizenship laws, because “if it is implemented, along with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), can isolate and possibly disenfranchise the minorities, the Muslims in particular.”[35]

 

Zionist Israel and the Catholic Church

Catholics are very late in recognizing Israel. Even now, its support is minimal and issue-based. In 1904, the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl obtained an audience with Pope Pius X in the hope of persuading the pontiff to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The pope’s response was: “Non possumus“-“We cannot.” In 1917, Pius X’s successor, Pope Benedict XV, equally refused to support any concept for a Jewish state. Minerbi writes that when a League of Nations mandate was being proposed for Palestine, the Vatican was disturbed by the prospect of a (Protestant) British mandate over the Holy Land, but a Jewish state was anathema to it.[36]

Vatican opposition to a Jewish homeland stemmed largely from theological doctrines regarding Judaism.[37] It is purely the enmity unleashed by the constant hate campaigns undertaken by upper caste Christian media that has caused the fresh love for Israel and Zionism among Christians.

Christian Zionism as a catalyst  

Similar to 19th century travelers, American Christian Zionist leaders connect Islam categorically with violence. American Christian Zionist leader Hagee announces, “Islam not only condones violence; it commands it. A tree is known by its fruit, and the fruit produced by Islam is fourteen hundred years of violence and bloodshed around the world.”[38]

In order to support such an allegation, Hagee remarks that the Qur’an requires the amputation of a hand or foot of someone who resists Islam, saying, “In America, cutting off someone’s hand or feet because he would not accept your religion is unthinkable – but the Islamic Bible commands it.”[39] Hagee declares that “Islamic terrorists are not fanatics – but devout followers of Muhammad who are following his example and doing what their Islamic Bible teaches them to do.”[40]

Mirroring this belief, Shoebat maintains that Islamic terrorists “are indeed behaving in an Islamic way. They are behaving like Mohammed and his successors. While it is often said that the terrorists have hijacked Islam, in reality the so-called moderate Muslims are trying to change the true teachings of Islam.”[41]

Missler states, “The intractable goal of Islam is the subjugation of the entire world. It intrepidly aspires to the forceful elimination of all non-Muslims.”[42] Hagee goes on “If Islam does not defeat Israel, Muhammad and the Quran were wrong – and that’s absolutely unthinkable. Therefore, they must defeat Israel. … If Israel survives, then Islamic theology is not true.”[43] “America is at the crossroads! Will we believe and obey the Word of God concerning Israel, or will we continue to equivocate and sympathize with Israel’s enemies?”[44]

The evangelical proponents of Kerala are also a part of the vilification campaigns against Islam and Muslims.

Resolving the issue of Christian-Muslim conflicts

History illustrates that Prophet Mohammad allowing non-Muslims to offer their prayers in the mosque. We have to keep in mind that each religion has multiple sub-sects and multiple philosophies associated with each. What is real in the religions is the love and compassion for fellow human beings based on the unity of God and brotherhood of human beings. Some aspects of religions are just a cover for lust for political power. Some will approve Jihad, others will defend Crusades and yet another will uphold Dharm Yudh for ulterior motives while all three words have positive meanings. We should not consider any religious group as monolithic and no injustice could be used as a justification for another injustice. There are so many sects and sub-sects in every religious tradition.

Pope Francis recognizes that we live under dark clouds in a world where the borders between nations and between faiths are often sources of conflict. His encouragement of positive relations between Christianity and Islam is surely needed in a time when France has banned Muslim girls from wearing the hijab in school, and when President Trump has outlawed migration to the United States from a number of Muslim-majority countries. The Pope’s interaction with the grand imam of Al-Azhar and the model of Francis of Assisi’s interaction with Sultan Malik al-Kamil are signs of hope. They show how commitment to one’s own tradition and faith can lead to respect for people who are different, provided tradition and faith are interpreted rightly.

“Fratelli tutti” (meaning “All Brothers”) is the third encyclical of Pope Francis. It was signed on 3 October 2020.  Fratelli tutti says: “we, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies” and “We Christians ask that, in those countries where we are a minority, we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority.” Francis considers inter-religious dialogue as a way to bring “friendship, peace and harmony”, adding that without “openness to the Father of all”, fraternity cannot be achieved. He adds that the foundation of modern totalitarianism is the “denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person” and that violence “has no basis in religious convictions, but rather in their deformities.”[45] The Pope also urges people to “be Good Samaritans who bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment.”[46]

Rejoinder to Christian Zionists of Kerala

At the height of Islam’s intellectual power, Muslim theologians were so pluralistic and inspiring; people like Ibn Arabi and Rumi are cherished in the West. Modern scholars have put at the disposal of modern hate groups and terrorists a very suitable narrative that these groups have effectively employed to anchor and spread the discourse about an inevitable clash of civilizations. The result is exacerbating of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments in the West, as well as “Westophobia” in the Muslim world. Recent Gaza invasion of Israel (May 2021) had proven that global Christian public opinion and media have been changing in favor of the oppressed Palestinian people.

Violence against Christians is a regular event in India as has been depicted above. These included the destruction of two and a half dozen small churches in the Dangs district of Gujarat and the burning alive of Australian leprosy worker Graham Stuart Staines and his sons Timothy and Philip in January 1999 in Orissa by Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh. Unless and until the Sanghi agenda changes, Christian connivance with RSS power centers is morally wrong. This will also be a deceit against other minorities. Cooperation with the powers of evil, violence is contrary to the values taught by Jesus Christ.

Kerala has a 26% of Muslim population, mainly concentrated in the Malabar region. Malappuram district, once considered the most educationally backward in Kerala, has in the last ten years seen a significant positive educational change. This has created envy among competing upper caste Christian communities. This is also part of the reason why anti-Muslim discourse is waging high among Kerala Christians.

Empathy is the foundational value in understanding oppressive incursions. Understand the plight of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees that were driven out from their homes, more than 200,000 of whom left before May 1948 or before any of the more organized neighboring Arab armies came in.  Some Christians, in tune with Christian Zionist ideology, began justifying what happened as a part of God’s plan. Christian Zionism is grounded in an interpretation of the Bible that supports the ingathering of all Jews to Israel and their exclusive claim to the whole land of Palestine based on God’s gift of the land to Abraham and the Jewish people as the “chosen people.”

The Christian Zionist belief that the emergence and success of the modern state of Israel is a welcome harbinger of eschatological prophecies that culminate in the Second Coming of Christ, the Rapture and Armageddon, in which true Christians will be saved and two/thirds of all who don’t believe will be condemned to eternal damnation. Such Christians must realize that in the summer of 2006, heads of local churches issued the “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” rejecting the tenets of this movement: “We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation. We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world. We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemning the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations! God created all people equally, in God’s image, and we are equally deserving of the same rights, dignity and respect.”

“The prophets – and indeed, Decalogue – are filled with demands that we live with justice. Christian Zionism completely ignores the reality of the injustice occurring in Palestine/Israel, or it goes to extreme permutations to try to disprove it. Christian Zionism completely marginalizes Palestinian Christians and ignores any justice issues about land ownership of those who were displaced from their land by the creation of the modern Israel. It identifies God’s blessings solely through the Jewish people while ignoring and alienating the Palestinian Christians – and Muslims – and the underlying issues of justice and oppression which are so blatantly commonplace for them. This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God.”[47]

 

[1] Susan Bayly, Saints, Goddesses and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700-1900, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p.270

[2] K. C. Zachariah, The Syrian Christians of Kerala: Demographic and Socioeconomic Transition in the Twentieth Century, New Delhi Orient Longman 2006, p.197

[3] https://scroll.in/article/876000/is-the-caste-system-deep-rooted-among-christians-in-india-a-kerala-bishop-stirs-up-a-hornets-nest

[4] https://countercurrents.org/2018/04/impact-of-hindu-caste-divisions-on-other-religions/

[5] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/fir-against-cardinal-alencherry-in-land-deal-case/article23163439.ece

[6] https://www.ucanews.com/story-archive/?post_name=/1992/05/28/kerala-latin-catholics-intensify-struggle-for-social-justice&post_id=41350

[7] https://thewire.in/politics/kerala-bjp-church-relationship-improves-but-will-it-impact-the-assembly-elections

[8] https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/amidst-criticisms-kerala-catholic-churches-read-out-love-jihad-circular-sunday-mass-116403

[9] Edward W. Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 1997, p.44

[10] Stephen Sheehi, Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign against Muslims, Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2011, p.31

[11] Chris Allen, Islamophobia, Burlington: Ashgate, 2010, p.190, p.134

[12] A. Kundnani, The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror, London: Verso, 2014, p.274

[13] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmH83EV_UC4

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHtYUfPnQci6GoUpPlWfrOg

[14] Asokan K.M. v. Shafin Jahan, (2017) 2 KLJ 974

[15] https://www.jstor.org/stable/25663907?seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents

[16] Charu Gupta, “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions” 44 Economic and Political Weekly 14 (2009)

[17] Charu Gupta, “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions” 44 Economic and Political Weekly 14 (2009)

[18] https://tv.mathrubhumi.com/en/news/kerala/sd-1.37107

[19] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kozhikode/no-love-jihad-case-in-last-2-years-behera/articleshow/73339751.cms

[20] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2021/apr/02/at-47-hinduism-biggest-gainer-in-religious-conversion-in-kerala-2284660.html

[21] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2021/apr/02/at-47-hinduism-biggest-gainer-in-religious-conversion-in-kerala-2284660.html

[22] https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/video-justifications-women-who-left-kerala-join-isis-their-families-120317

[23] https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2020/03/16/kerala-women-who-joined-islamic-state-in-afghanistan-wants-to-return-home.html

[24] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/18/bjp-expresses-solidarity-with-israel-as-gaza-bombing-continues

[25] https://thewire.in/rights/india-israel-palestine-gaza-nationalism

[26] MK Gandhi, The Jews In Palestine, Harijan, 26-11-1938

[27] http://www.twf.org/News/Y2001/0815-GandhiZionism.html

[28] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/ties-india-palestine-eroded-170310081650556.html

[29] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-hopes-for-sovereign-independent-palestine-co-existing-with-israel-modi/story-EffTAb34iWDciK8Gc7qUtN.html

[30] https://scroll.in/article/913310/from-savarkar-to-modi-what-explains-hindu-nationalists-admiration-for-israel

[31] https://theconversation.com/why-indias-hindu-nationalists-worship-israels-nation-state-model-111450

[32] Golwalkar, M.S., “Bunch of Thoughts”, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, 1996, p.255

[33] Golwalkar, MS, “We Or Our Nationhood Defined”, Bharat Publications: Nagpur, 1939, pp. 34-35

[34] Golwalkar, MS, “We Or Our Nationhood Defined”, Bharat Publications: Nagpur, 1939, pp. 47-48

[35] https://files.constantcontact.com/cf0c2406701/39572a15-e7f8-4755-bc75-f0e9ea09e787.pdf

[36] The Vatican and Zionism: Conflict in the Holy Land, 1895–1925, Sergio I. Minerbi, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990

[37] Anthony J. Kenny. Catholics, Jews, and the State of Israel, New York: Pergamon Press, 1993, p.1

[38] John Hagee, In Defense of Israel, Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine.: 2007, p.68

[39] John Hagee, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006, p.32

[40] John Hagee, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006, p.33

[41] Walid Shoebat, Joel Richardson, God’s War on Terror: Islam, Prophecy, and the Bible, 2nd Edition. Newton, PA: Top Executive Media, 2010, p.137

[42] Missler Chuck, Prophecy 20/20: Bringing the Future into Focus through the Lens of Scripture. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006, p.147

[43] John Hagee, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006, p.35

[44] John Hagee, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006, p.193

[45] https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html

[46] https://rssb.org/essay153.html

[47] https://www.globalministries.org/the_jerusalem_declaration_on_chr/

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