Protecting the Vulnerable: Failures of the Liberal Order and the Potential for an Umma-Centered Global Imaginary


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Since August 2019, the Indian government has advanced its settler-colonial project in Indian-occupied Kashmir through momentous legal changes and a complete clampdown on all forms of protest and dissent. Kashmiris believe that the recent changes to residency and land rights, which have opened the floodgates of Indian citizens and corporations to reside, work, and buy property in Kashmir, will result in a shift of the demographics of the Muslim-majority region to a Hindu-majority. This will entail the dispossession of Kashmiri Muslims from their land, homes, and employment, and as many fear, an ethnic cleansing, given the heavily militarized conditions in which this will occur. These developments occur in the context of a seven-decades long occupation, where the Indian government, with the complicity of the international community, has denied the people of the region their right to self-determination, upheld the largest military presence in the world, and committed large scale human rights violations and war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, preemptive detention, torture, rape, fake encounters, home demolitions, and more.

With the exception of Pakistan, which is a party to the dispute and is committed to the right of Kashmiri self-determination, the response of the broader international community, and specifically Muslim-majority countries, has been negligent to this continued assault. In the prevailing geopolitical order, India is perceived as an economic powerhouse, an important market for trade, a trusted democratic ally, or a bulwark to other regional powers—namely China. Most Muslim-majority countries, despite the lip service they provide to Kashmir from time to time, enjoy good relations with India, even under the Hindu supremacist government of Narendra Modi.

The concept of solidarity or coming to the defense of a beleaguered Muslim community simply does not exist given the prevailing ways in which Muslim nation-states (as with other nation-states) operate: through strategic calculations of economic and political incentives and disincentives. This is why we have incidents whereby the UAE government awards Modi in the midst of the Kashmir lockdown, or when the Pakistani prime minister (in addition to the leaders of many other Muslim-majority countries), fully indebted to China, expresses his lack of knowledge of what is happening to the Uighurs. These moments should not be seen as an indictment on the concept of the global umma, but rather a consequence of the prevailing, deeply flawed, international order.

This order, consisting of nation-states interested in their own self-preservation as well as the logics of neoliberal capital, has failed the people of Kashmir, as it has failed the people of other occupied, colonized, or oppressed regions around the world, including the Palestinians, Uighurs, Yemenis, Afghans, Rohingya, and more. Not only has this order remained silent in the face of oppression, but it has also actively abetted such violence through arms and defense deals, trade agreements, and mechanisms of soft power. Moreover, institutions that exist to limit the excesses of the nation-state system, or restrict state violence and mass atrocities against vulnerable communities, such as the United Nations, or mechanisms such as “international law”, are either powerless or only used against global entities that challenge the prevailing imperial and neoliberal order. These institutions uphold Euro-American imperial imperatives at the expense of the welfare of billions of people around the world.

Yet, despite the limitations of the current world order, beleaguered communities across the Muslim world still make their appeals to centers of global power, whether that be in the US, the UK, or Europe. In the case of some groups, such as the Uighurs—who have been woefully ignored by Muslim-majority countries as well as leftists who, in their anti-imperial positioning, refuse to engage with the imperialisms emanating from other parts of the world (including Russia, China, and to a certain extent, India)—this entails working through the centers of empire in order to draw attention to their plight. At the same time, their involvement in such spaces is used to further Western imperial objectives. Kashmiris, knowing that the global umma has either betrayed them or turned a blind eye, also often appeal to the moral authority of the United Nations or other international institutions to do more, but because India is protected by world powers, these appeals have come to no avail.

It is in this abject state of affairs where our attention must be drawn to a reconfiguration of the current international order: one in which human dignity, harmony, and justice are centered before profit and national interest. I believe this should be the foundation for an umma-centered global imaginary. I draw from Dr. Ovamir Anjum’s strident depiction of the current world order in his essay, “Who Wants the Caliphate?,” where he argues:

“Today, as the failure of this state-building becomes ever more spectacular, neoliberal economics and the global environmental collapse claim more victims, and the world system inches toward deglobalization and nativism, the idea of the caliphate as the only civilizational alternative that can safeguard the interests of the most vulnerable becomes stronger among Muslims globally.”

What would this umma-centered global imaginary look like? What would be its contours? How would it protect the most vulnerable communities amongst us? How would it respond to ongoing political, social, economic, and ecological crises in the Muslim world and beyond? What civilizational alternative would it provide to the liberal, secular, imperial world order? What would it take for us to get there? I hope all of these questions, and more, can be addressed through the Ummatics Colloquium. These questions are not, in my opinion, simply abstract discussions of the past or theory, but rather, discussions that have real, material—life and death—consequences for the most vulnerable amongst us.

As these important questions begin to be addressed through this Colloquium, it’s important to flag two important points. One, I wish to reiterate that this imaginary can co-exist with other transnational movements for justice, and should not simply be seen as one that is exclusive to Muslims. The Prophetic call, and indeed, an umma-centered imaginary, is meant as a mercy for all of humanity. How this is ensured will be one of the challenges to consider.

Finally, those who have been pushing to think of alternative political futures have also been engaging with the question of decolonization. How can we bring together conversations around decolonization with conversations around an umma-centered imaginary? How would the two converge, and how would they be different? More importantly, how would an umma-centered polity desist from creating new forms of inequality or injustice?

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