A Tale of Two Partitions: India 1947 and Palestine 1948

by Norman Berdichevsky (March 2009)

A few academics and editorial writers claiming to be scholars and quite a few liberal pundits/observers, have argued that some blame for the recent atrocious acts of terror in Mumbai should be put on India’s Hindus by stressing that the terrorist group of “disaffected Muslims” carrying out the outrage of random murder of civilians was “probably funded from outside India.” They believe as Fareed Zakaria stated in Newsweek, that Indian Hindus “had it coming” because “One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last 10 years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted.” 

This view is not just wrong and short-sighted, it is symptomatic of why India has become a major target for terrorism that enjoys widespread support not only in Pakistan but in the wider Muslim world. Hatred of India stems from a psychological need to link India and Israel as guilty in the “injustice” Muslims believe they have suffered and to deflect blame and muddy the waters by shifting responsibility for the Partition of India in 1947 to the Hindus and conjuring up the vision that the Jews and Zionism did precisely this in Palestine in 1948. Nothing is further from the truth.

In the case of Pakistan, Muslims were responsible for demanding partition and unleashing a civil war, driving millions of people from their homes, destroying the vision of a non-sectarian united India, and creating a new nationality based on religion – precisely the grievances often raised against the Jews and Zionism. Unlike the Jews and their millennial long religious heritage, a national existence for 1,500 years predating Islam, Hebrew language and experiences in the Diaspora to unite them, the new “nation” of Pakistan was forged by welding together disjointed territories, diverse peoples and languages, without any prior existence as a national entity. While the same may be said of India, the vision forged by its nationalist leaders rested on the very diversity of its people imbued with the idea of an all embracing “Mother India” and the democratic and legal foundations of the state inherited from British rule. 

The Muslim demands for a separate state in Pakistan and the area of Bengal (The former Pakistani region of Bangladesh, now an independent state) led to the greatest movement of refugees in the 20th century and three major wars since independence. These demands foster hopes of an eventual secession of Kashmir from India. It was Mahatma Gandhi along with the leadership of the Congress Party (largely Hindu) and precious few Muslim moderates who preached in vain for cooperation between the two communities and an independent, unified and secular state of India.

They were eventually spurned by extremists who could not accept anything less than domination of a part of the country with Muslim majorities to replace British colonialism. This was in keeping with the same line of reasoning that determined the adamant refusal of the Arabs in Palestine to accept the very idea of partition, becoming a minority in a Jewish state or even tolerating a Jewish minority with national rights in a unified Palestine and the implicit threat that Muslims might come under the domination of non-Muslims. In the case of Palestine the idea that the despised Jews might do the same was even more repugnant than that the Hindus would do so in an undivided India.

had for centuries assimilated numerous invaders but marauders carrying the banners of Islam from the West and North brought with them their new aggressive faith. By 711 they reached the mouth of the Indus and due to their greater mobility and the weakening divisions of Hindu caste society, soon gained ascendancy over large parts of the Northwest. For more than seven centuries the growing extent of Muslim rule in India was accompanied by the threat of the sword – “convert or die” and millions of Hindus were slaughtered in what was a war of religious fanaticism that makes the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants in Europe look like the minor squabble of a debating society. Today’s supporters of multiculturalism prefer to overlook this atrocious record of religious extremism and ignore the expansion of Islam and its record of intolerance towards subject peoples.

Efforts by the later enlightened “Mughal” (from the Arabic word for Mongol) rulers of Afghan-Persian and Turkish origin for a brief time (1524-1707) reached a temporary stage of accommodation between the two faiths and their adherents, ending for a time the humiliating second class status of Hindu subjects and the wholesale destruction of Hindu idols and temples. Under Shah Jahan, the summit of Mughall power, the Taj Mahal was constructed but his rule marked a return to demands for manifest Islamic superiority that would not disappear bur grow in intensity under the British “raj.”    

The answer to why India has become a prime target of Islamic extremism is not ambiguous. The roots of the answer go back more than a thousand years.  It is therefore a mistake to look at what happened in Mumbai from the standpoint of the problem over Kashmir or the exact partition lines between India and Pakistan dating from 1947, or the grievances of some Muslims on account of prejudice. The terrorist attacks on India are part of the world-wide movement inspired by Jihad against all unbelievers, and primarily where these infidels hold sway over Muslims.
 The atrocious short-sightedness of Western advocates of multiculturalism and a “one-world” philosophy who have been scornful of American self-defense measures following the attacks of 9/11 will not, as the Negro spiritual so poignantly intones “WILL NOT BE MOVED” by repeated atrocities committed by a plethora of groups, all describing themselves with the Arabic words of JIHAD (holy war and its practitioners, the  “JiHaDists” from the root JiHaD – Holy War, and Fedayeen from the Arabic word for those who commit “self sacrifice” (martyrdom).
The nature of the struggle between the nations, peoples and religious faiths targeted by Islamist fundamentalism as espoused by the myriad of groups with the Fedayeen and Mujahadeen titles is clearer today than ever.

A close look at what has befallen the Hindu minority that remained in Pakistan with the situation of the Arabs (primarily Muslims) in the State of Israel is indeed instructive and revealing. Apologists for Islam in the West instead of looking at what happened to the Hindu minority in Pakistan (a substantial 26% of the total population just prior to partition, then 15% after the bloody events of 1947 and the emergence of an independent Pakistani state divided into two separate regions – West and East (the current Bangladesh), to the reality of today where Hindus are barely a miniscule 2%)  concentrate their gaze on the Muslim minority in India that has more than kept pace with Hindus in birthrates and today constitute 15% of India’s total population. By comparison, Israel’s non-Jewish population has grown from approximately 13% in 1949 following the departure of refugees who fled during the fighting to close to 20% today (in spite of massive Jewish immigration).
These numbers alone should give pause for much thought and reflection.  The Fareed Zakaria view holds up an absolutist standard to democratic societies like the United States, India and Israel where Muslims enjoy more civil and political rights than any non-Muslim element in the population of any state committed to Islam as the state religion and ignores the persistent and religiously inspired deeply held belief that it is intolerable for true believers to submit to the rule of Kaffirs (unbelievers), no matter how tolerant.
How did the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent come to support the idea of a separate state? British rule favored a decentralized approach and did not interfere in anyway with Muslim religious education, religious endowments, the privileges and prestige of the scholars, “Ulama” to transmit the core of Islamic knowledge and tradition. Under British rule, Muslims became aware of the power of this Christian upstart nation and its success in establishing a modern administration, promoting order and civic responsibility that increasingly involved a large section of the Hindu population who eagerly flocked to the new secular state schools based on European knowledge.

Even worse, democratic institutions allegedly meant that Hindus would increasingly hold sway over Muslims and make it more difficult for them to retain their individuality, observe their holidays, use their Perso-Arabic script, and that a Hindu majority might also agitate for Home Rule and eventual independence for the entire country.

As among Muslims in Palestine, those in India felt their mosques and religious leaders were increasingly endangered by new ideas and innovations from a different civilization. They began to rally around new leaders who promised to respond to the challenge and advocate change and progress, “The more worldly progress we make, the more glory Islam gains” was the slogan of Saiyid Ahmad Khan who, in 1877 helped found the college at Aligarh, a “Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College” which offered Western learning to young Muslims anxious to compete in Indian society.” The paradoxical result of this “modern trend” was to convince many of them that they should have nothing to do with Hindu dominated modern Indian nationalism and the all embracing idea of “Mother India.”
 He encouraged his students to develop a close relationship with the British colonial government in order to prevent the colonial power from showing any favorable treatment towards the Hindu majority. In Palestine, the Arabs successfully pressed the British to renege on the Balfour Declaration promised to the Jewish minority. The charge frequently hurled at Zionism is that the Jewish dependence on the British Mandate authorities signified European imperialism and colonialism, yet the origins of community separatism in India can be traced back to the Muslim religious inspired refusal to accept the idea of modern nationhood and reliance instead on frustrating the concept of a common homeland with Hindus, even if it meant cooperation with the British.
Nevertheless, much Left wing opinion across the world today blindly refuses to acknowledge the anti-colonial nature of the struggle waged by the Haganah and Jewish underground movements and instead celebrates Muslim intransigence, separatism, religious bigotry in India and Palestine because it is fashionable to celebrate the eternal claim to victimhood by Muslims since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Many graduates of such institutions as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge, play cricket, and hold Victorian tea parties and although they were far divorced from the uneducated Muslim majority, they laid down the foundation for Muslim separatism and eventual partition. No matter how worldly, “westernized, sophisticated, even “secular” they were and initially rejected the sharia as any basis for a modern state, they respected the idea of the Muslims as an Ummah – a Nation apart and unable to accept less than a position of primacy and domination over others. The same motivation prevented any accommodation or bi-national compromise or two-state solution in 1948 in Palestine.
 The All-India Muslim League was founded in 1906 and demanded separate electorates and “reserved seats” for Muslims in local government. It reluctantly allied itself with the Indian National Congress in 1916. Its strength progressively declined among voters and by 1937 won no more than one fifth of the seats reserved for Muslims. However the prospect of a British defeat in World War II and then the imminent departure of the colonial power led to a major reversal of voter sympathy and under the leadership of Muhammad Al Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, the League won more than 90% of Muslim votes in the communal elections of 1946 on the basis of the idea of creating a separate Muslim state on the subcontinent. The utter artificial nature of the new state can be found in its very name – an acronym for Punjab  Afghania, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan.
Iqbal and Jinnah were the last of their kind however. Their followers believed it was morally wrong to accept the idea that the new state had to be “dependent” on “corrupt” and “godless laws”, or that it was enough to have expelled the Western colonialists. They believed that a Muslim state had to be endowed with power to assert its religious heritage and enforce the sharia.

Those Hindus who chose to remain in what became Pakistani territory after partition or had no opportunity to flee, were promised protection by the Government of Pakistan. However. in practice, Hindus have found it very difficult to live in Pakistan, where they have been subject to worse than second class citizenship and a constant level of crime and harassment. The Pakistani constitution and legal system openly discriminates against Hindus. During periods of tension and intermittent warfare between India and Pakistan, Hindus have been killed and expelled in large numbers. By contrast, Muslims in India have reached the highest positions of authority and prestige.
 Four of them have been chosen as President of India, Zakir Hussein (1967-69), Muhammad Hideyatullah (1969), who was also Chief Justice, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (1974-77) and A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (2002-2007) , a brilliant engineer who also won India’s highest civilian honor and became known as “The People’s President.” Kalam’s example is especially an anthema to Muslim extremists. He was the son of a devout Muslim but who paid little attention to the formal dictates of Islam and instead rendered devoted service to his homeland – India above narrow confessional identity.   In 1965, a law “The Enemy Property Act” incited the Paksitani Muslim majority and legitimized confiscation of Hindu property. During 1970-71, massacres were perpetrated upon Hindus by the Pakistani army. In fact, large scale massacres were committed by the Pakistani army against Muslim Bengalis in the East in order to prevent secession. The situation is potentially no better in the West where a considerable number of Baluchis are deprived and discriminated against by the central government. Nothing better illustrates the total artificial creation of Pakistan based solely on religion – the same issue trumped up against Zionism by its many detractors. Estimates of the number of Hindu civilians killed as a result of the events around the separation of East Pakistan and its achievement of independence as Bangladesh are between 2 and 3 million. Millions of Hindu women were raped and kidnapped in this period. It was one of the largest massacres in recent history, and one, like the Iran-Iraq War, that dragged on for 8 years (1980-1988) almost totally ignored by the media in the West. Nothing remotely similar has occurred to Israel’s Arab minority whose standard of living, literacy and wellbeing exceeds that of any Arab country’s population. This is not to say that as a minority in such a tension fraught region, their situation is enviable. There are legitimate grievances but they simply pale before the abysmal situation of Pakistan’s Hindus.  

General Zia ul-Haq led a military coup and came to power in Pakistan in 1977 and almost immediately made Islamic Law the basis for legislation and worked to further exclude and marginalize Hindus. Between 1989 and 1992 over 300 Hindu temples were destroyed causing homelessness and destitution among many Hindus and provoking a new exodus to India.


The growth of Islamic fervor has been an outcome of the repeated failures of both Pakistan and the Palestinians to create a real sense of nationhood beyond religious identity in opposition to the surrounding Hindus and Jews. Proof of this is the utter passivity of the Palestinian element in the population of the Kingdom of Jordan to agitate for self-rule from 1949 to 1967. In Pakistan the result of the separation of “East Pakistan” was a foregone conclusion. Nothing but religion “unified” Bengalis from Punjabis or Baluchis. In the Palestinian territories, a steady stream of Christian emigration has further emboldened Islamic fundamentalism.


Hamas in Palestine and General Zia ul-Haq’s rule in Pakistan followed the same pattern. As in Qaddafi’s Libya and under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the same measures were employed in Pakistan, non-Muslims were forbidden from playing any meaningful role in the state, amputation, hanging and flogging were proscribed punishments for crimes such as drinking alcohol and adultery (for women) schools teaching in English were either closed or required to switch to Urdu, mandatory prayer observance was required from all state employees, scrupulous adherence to Ramadan fasting, bank interest was abolished, etc. These measures produced only minor and sporadic outcries from the organized political Left in Europe or the United States.  


In spite of these traumas, about 2.5 million Hindus continue to live in Pakistan, spread over much of the country with a majority in the Sindh Province where they are subject to continual threats against their security and property. No international forum devoted to “human rights” or elementary civil rights, no debate in the U.N., or special documentary program on major television network in the United States has been devoted to this matter. Communal rioting in India in 2002-03 between Hindus and Muslims in the state of Gujarat led to more than a thousand deaths and almost 150,000 refugees who fled their homes to live among their own coreligionists. These events stemmed from a terrorist bombing of a train of Hindu pilgrims. Innocent people from both communitites became victims but the Indian government did its best to avoid recriminations and provided aid to those injured and displaced.


By contrast, Hindus in Pakistan have to live a very low profile existence, and must  put up with frequent insults to their honor and dignity, with no legal safeguards. In both India and Israel, Muslims are found in almost all walks of life apart from the top security apparatus and have won distinguished cultural awards as writers, artists, film directors and musicians.


India and Pakistan have fought three bloody wars (1947-48, 1965, and 1999) and threats have been issued by both states promising “nuclear retaliation” (1990, 2001-2) yet the media coverage treats such dire events as “flare-ups.” The number of killed in the wars and immense dislocation of populations dwarfs the Israeli-Arab conflict. Pakistan, like the “Arab World”, cannot be appeased. For Muslims, the issue is the same. No promise of peace is perceived as equally beneficial to their side for it feels it is the eternally aggrieved party and must seek either  “redress” in the form of a major territorial adjustment or will continue to threaten more conflict.


Like in Palestine, Muslims were a majority in Kashmir in 1947. The monarch however was a Hindu and feared that Sunni Muslim rule would deprive not only Hindus but all other minorities (Buddhists, Shi’ites) of their elementary civil rights. He also believed (correctly) that the Pakistanis would resort to invasion in order to forestall any loss of Kashmiri territory to India. The end of fighting found India in possession of approximately two-thirds of Kashmiri territory. Pakistan’s claim was that it was the putative homeland of all Muslims in the sub-continent no matter how distant and different in language and culture outlying areas. Like Kashmir, Bangladesh or Baluchistan were from the central area of Pakistan’s core region – the Punjab (stretching from Karachi to Lahore) and what used to be called the United Provinces (the region extending across Allahabad, Lucknow, Agra and Delhi) during the British “raj.”  


Many Kashmiris were suspicious and resentful of the outcome of hostilities in 1948 and felt that their rightful place was within Pakistan but the past 60 years have demonstrated that they have much to be thankful for. Although Indian rule was helped by manipulating elections to run the province during the first two decades of Indian rule leading to an insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, the widespread aid provided by Pakistan to the rebels in the form of sanctuary, weapons and training was followed by augmenting direct sponsorship to outside Muslim religious extremist groups such as the now infamous Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammad). Their bloodthirstiness, greed and use of blackmail to help win over Muslim opinion in the central valley area of Kashmir turned the local population against them.


This trend continued through the 1990s. Kashmiris of all affiliations including devout Muslims realized that their best hope for a tranquil and secure future lay within India’s multicultural democracy.  Elections in 1996 and 2002 also demonstrated a dramatic improvement in the fairness of the Indian authorities and were judged by international observers to be free and fair. The 1999 war was launched by Pakistan’s naked aggression to infiltrate troops disguised as local tribesmen across the de-facto line of control in Kashmir. International criticism of Pakistan and the intervention of President Clinton helped install a new cease-fire.


On December 3, 2001 the two principal terrorist groups attacked the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi while both houses of the legislature were in session – a new record in Pakistani and general Muslim contempt for democracy. Even more heinous have been three bomb attacks at train stations and on passenger trains killing many hundreds of innocent civilians including Pakistani Muslims on their way home from visits in India. The worst occurred  in July 2006 resulting in more than 200 killed. Responsibility for this atrocious act of gruesome mass murder lay with Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Like Israel, India has received only half-hearted pious mumblings of sympathy from world leaders and Left-wing opinion determined not to offend Muslim sensibilities and risk retaliation.


In a taped recording, Al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, has taunted India over the “humiliation” caused by the Mumbai massacre and threatened “many more such attacks” by sending suicide bombers from “all over the Muslim world” if India dares to retaliate against Pakistan. As if this was not enough, as this issue went “to press,” the Pakistani government concluded an agreement with the Taliban to effectively give them control of the Swat tribal region and complete freedom to install their 7th century code of morality and justice.


The most diplomatic pressure exercised by the United States has so far prevented warfare from beginning again and secured a formal lip-service condemnation of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad and their being listed as “outlaw” groups by the Pakistani government in what must now be regarded as a purely ineffectual and hypocritical act of lip service.


More than ever before, local Kashmiris have come to realize that a militaristic Pakistan contemptuous of human rights and its support of terrorist groups, cannot replace the benefits they enjoy in India. Their position is in some respects similar to Israel’s Arabs but they are much less reluctant to speak out about the dangers they would face if “liberated” by their fellow Muslims. Even the prospect of an independent or “autonomous Kashmir” no longer has any appeal as it too would probably be easier to coerce by Pakistan. The assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto by al-Qaeda linked terrorists (or other religiously inspired fanatics) and the recent Mumbai massacres with their random killing of civilians have only added more weight to the real fears that the rights Muslims enjoy in India would be under threat by inclusion in a Pakistan under Sharia law.


Both the partition of the Indian subcontinent and Palestine were unavoidable for the same reason – Muslim intransigence and the divine notion that the land they occupied, won by conquest, bloodshed and forced conversion had become part of the Dar-al-Islam – the Camp of Subjection and must not be allowed to revert to its former and rightful rulers who constituted the Dar-al-Harb, the Camp of War that must be fought. The truth of the 1947 partition is that the Muslims in India demanded it because they were unwilling to accept any kind of minority status. Had they accepted it, it is quite likely that today they would enjoy full equality in a secular democratic state without the fatalities, destruction, bloodshed and displacement of millions. There would be no “cancer” of perennial threat of war between two nuclear powers over the issue of Kashmir.


The truth of the 1948 partition in Palestine is that the Muslims rejected it totally and any possibility of living in peace alongside a tiny Jewish state. Instead they aided in the invasion of the country by the regular armies of six Arab states plunging their homeland into war and ending as defeated refugees. Had they accepted it, the great majority of Palestinian Arabs would today be enjoying the rights of their own independent homeland without the bloodshed of the last sixty years and a minority of them would be citizens of a much more secure, serene and tolerant Israel, untroubled by the threat of constant renewed warfare and terrorism.

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