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America: Why Indians are Succeeding But Not Indian Muslims ?

Friday November 12, 2010 08:42:54 PM, Kaleem Kawaja

Muslim staffers at Capitol Hill offering Friday prayers at the prayer hall inside the Capitol Building


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In the recent elections in US another Indian-American, Nikki Haley, formerly Nikki Randhawa, daughter of Sikh immigrants from India made history when she was elected to the coveted position of governor of the state of South Carolina on Republican ticket. She was in a neck and neck hot race against a White American in the deeply conservative and racist state of South Carolina. But she prevailed over her White american rival. Nikki Haley is the first ever colored woman to get elected to rule any state in the United States of America. Her struggle against racist bigotry came to the surface when in the election campaign she was publicly accused of adultery. However, one looks at it this is a truly remarakble achievement by an an Indian-American in his/her adopted homeland where her parents with the difficult and foreign name Randhawa arrived from India and settled down in the super conservative state of South Carloina, the headquartrer of the bigoted racists in America.

Just two years ago, another bright Indian-American, Bobby Jindal was elected governor on Republican ticket in the deeply segregationist state of Louisiana that is the headquarters of Ku Klux Klan for several decades. Jindal too struggled against the White supremacists and was targeted with epithets calling him Brown Boy. Prior to becoming governor of Louisiana Jindal was elected a Congressman from Louisiana.

These successes of Indian-Americans are in the most difficult arena in America, namely that of national American politics and getting elected to public office where one needs the support of a large number of non-Asian Americans. Also both of these high level successes of Indian-Americans have occurred in racist southern states not liberal northern or western states. In most other fields eg faculties of prestigious ivy league universities, top American corporations, businessmen with their own busimness, Wallstreet financing houses, national TV channels like CNN, prestigious government agencies etal, a large number of Indians have already made their mark reaching top positions.

However, almost all of these successful Indian-Americans are non-Muslim. That brings up the obvious question; Why are Indian-Americans successful but Indian-American-Muslims are not? After all, all of us come from the same middleclass Indian stock. Most Muslim-Indian immigrants to US have had social upbringing and education in India very similar to that of non-Muslims. Even though Muslims are only 10% of Indian-Americans yet their share of succeses is so small that it is hard to write about. This is not an easy question to answer but let us make an effort.

If we sample the various e-mail lists of Indian-American Muslims and if that is a window on the minds of educated Indian-American- Muslims, then that gives us a sad clue. A lot of people on these lists seem preoccupied with the following: Complaining against the world and saying that the world is against them; Going to the other extreme and decrying every element of Muslimness as a barrier against progress and must be shed in order to make progress; indulging in self-congratulation or mutual congratulation for insiginificant and miniscule happenings; talking extensively about the centuries old past and the golry of the ancient past; seeing everything about Indian Muslims through the lens of the Urduwala Muslims and their ethos that has been in decline for a long time; bringing in Islam into most discussions and idolizing maulanas extensively. It is rare to find people on Indian-Muslim lists who are willing to analyze situations, listen to the analyses of others and try to see through it; rather than try to browbeat those with whom they disagree.

In contrast when you participate in an e-mail list of non-Muslim Indian-Americans you find a very different perspective. People take positions and often discussion becomes heated and fiesty, but the perspective most often is one of analysis and trying to see the point of view of others and then agree or disagree. Yes you do find nuts and bigots on those forums too.

Now look at the Indian-Muslim organizations in America. In most events they organize you find only Muslims and at that mostly Urduwala Muslims. If one finds any Hindu-Indians there, they are usually those who are not from the mainstream of Indian organizations, where one finds a lot of non-north Indian Hindus. The speakers who these organizations invite are rarely from mainstream Indian-American organizations. It appears that we Indian Muslims are willing to accept only those Hindus in our fold who agree 100% with us and our grievances and our Urduwala culture. We fail to understand that we are not living in the north India of 1857, when Muslim and Urduwala culture was the mainstream in north India.

Another problem I notice with several who write opinions is that they pooh pooh diversity on the part of Indian Muslims in America. They rarely admire the successes of Hindu or Christian Indian-Americans and think that these are the result of them having adapted the "immoral lifestyles and behaviour patterns of White Americans". Without even looking into the factors that have helped non-Muslim Indian Americans succeed, they assume that: firstly, the American social life is 100% debauch; and secondly, to interface with White Americans one has to drink liquor, dance and lie half-naked on the beach.

Please do not misuderstand me. I am not asking any Indian Muslim to celebrate Diwali or holi or attend kirtans in temples or read Gita or Ramayana, or say that Hinduism is as good as Islam. Far from that, I believe that Muslims should observe the Islam of Quran as faithfully as they can. But attending a Diwali Mela or non-religious fun events in Holi or Christmas are another matter. Regrettably some Indian Muslims misunderstand diversity with adapting a "everything goes" lifestyle that may include accepting same sex-marriages and the fringe gay-lesbian culture in America as normal.

I was very surprised that almost no Indian-Muslim forum or organization or news-forum congratulated either Nikki Haley or Bobby Jindal on their bright achievements. Their succeses were not even acknowledged while at the same time much print space was devoted to the not- so- good doings of some obscure Muslims in some remote corner of earth.

In fact when I applauded the successes of Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal in America in some forums I was told promptly that there is no reason for Indian Muslims to feel happy here. Why should the successes of non-Muslim Indians not be a source of joy for Indian Muslims?: What about our Indian-ness? If we can not assimilate among Indians how will we assimilate among Americans, in our adopted homeland? And hence what are the prospects for our community's success in America?

Secondly, some people opined that the successes of both of these folks were because they converted to Christianity. In a country where 90% people are Christians, where is the shortage of chritians to run for public office, and where is the need to have more people become Christians? Surely Nikki and Bobby have something else going for them that made White Americans cross the color barrier prejudice and elect them for the high position of governor. I regret to say that in this respect the judgements of these Indian Muslims are identical to those of BJP oriented Hindu-Americans who also decried the successes of Nikki and Bobby and called them not worth mentioning.

It is worth noting that in the last few elections in America, better thaan 90% Indian-American Muslims voted for the Democratic party; while Indian-Americans divided themselves among the Democratic and Republican parties, while a majority voted for the Democrats.

What it finally comes down to is the limited and tunnel vision, unwillingness to look at non-Muslim Indians and Americans without preconceived notions of a large segment of educated Indian Muslims who are living in America for more than a quarter century and many of whom are also American citizens. And their ongoing mindset that their welfare does not require them to interface closely with people other than Muslims. For them events like the successes of Nikki Haley and Bobby Jondal are very irrelevant because they have no such aspirations. Their level of contentment is nothing more than middleclass physical existence, and they see nothing of value in intergfacing with non-Muslim Indians and Americans. Or they are so smug and think that Americans and Indian-Americans should accept them on their terms, with their cloaks of Desi Muslim (or Urduwala Muslim) intact.


The writer is a community activist in Washington DC.(




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