The Muslim mentality of defensiveness and reactiveness that is observable in India, where Muslims suffer at the hands of a Hindu-dominated society, is paradoxically the mentality that is found all over the Muslim world, even where Muslims are an overwhelming majority. For this reason, the Muslim experience in India has something to tell us about broader realities.
Muslim religious life in India has been characterized by two tendencies, which are preserved in a delicate balance by the constant tension between them. On the one hand, at the level of ritual, ceremony and a broad range of other quotidian practices, there is a great deal of retention of local features that are quite continuous with many aspects of Hindu life and cultural practice. On the other, there is the scriptural, transcendental and normative element characterized by a deferential gaze that goes beyond the local toward the Arab lands in which classical doctrine originated. The tense balance created by this double movement–of form and root–has persisted in India through the centuries.
In a situation where Muslims' material life as well as self-respect is increasingly threatened by alarming majoritarian tendencies–especially since the accession to power of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party–the absolutist, doctrinal side of the double movement holds out a promise of dignity and autonomy in the name of Islam, especially among the young. The attractions are utterly illusory, of course; they are manifestly undemocratic, they are deeply reactionary on issues of gender and they are phobic in the extreme toward modernity, even a homegrown and non-Western path to modernity. They are "reactionary" in every sense of the term, even when considered as a reaction to feelings of helplessness and defeat, and the seeming lack of viable alternatives to cope with these feelings. Just to give an example: One response to the combination of poverty, lack of career opportunity and the loss of their language, Urdu (which was eliminated as a language of instruction from schools because the national leaders were not able to resist the pressure from the Hindu nationalist elements in their own midst to do this) has been the rise of the phenomenon of the madrassahs, which are religious schools peppered all over the country but especially in north India, very often financed by Saudi Arabian largesse. They offer free education in Urdu and a place for boys from poverty-stricken families to live without cost while they train in strict scriptural doctrine, providing a recruitment ground for future careers in fundamentalist movements. All of it predictably leads to more backlash from Hindu ideologues and in turn to more defensiveness, surfacing in more aggressive reactions among the Muslims.
The only difference between the situation in India and that in the Muslim world is that the reaction in the latter is of course not to Hindus but to the American and Israeli presence and dominance. I will not catalogue the familiar litany of American foreign policy wrongs in the Middle East, not to mention Vietnam, East Timor, Chile and various parts of Latin America. To be highly selective: From the overthrow of a decent and humane leader like Iran's Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 to the detailed support over the years of corrupt, elitist and tyrannical leaders in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and so on, to the cynical arming and training of Muslim extremists in Afghanistan, as well as the longstanding support for Israel's occupation by expansionist settlement of Palestinian territories, America, driven as always by corporate interests, has bred resentment among non-elite sections of the population all over Muslim lands. That all this follows a long history of colonial subjugation and condescension by European powers, even after decolonization, involves all the West as the target of such a reaction. For some years now this resentment has taken on an explicitly religious, Islamist rhetoric–again because Islam seems to provide an ideological peg of dignity and resistance on which to hang these resentments.