Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
In the wake of the military coup attempt in Turkey, some prominent Indian Muslim scholars have publicly expressed overwhelming support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In a letter dated July 17, 2016, (two days after the coup attempt in Turkey) renowned Islamic cleric Maulana Salman Hussaini Nadvi emphatically endorsed Erdogan and lambasted the alleged mastermind of the putsch, Fethullah Gulen (a Turkish Islamic scholar based in the US).
He even used some derogatory words for Gulen in the letter and accused him of cooperating with the "American and Israeli lobby". He expressed regret at the success of the coup led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi against the government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt.
The Shahi Imam of Delhi's iconic Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, also spoke very highly of the Turkish leader in the Friday sermon on July 22 after having a meeting with the Turkish ambassador to India. He too derided Gulen in equally strong words.
While it is absolutely fine for anyone to back a democratically-elected president of a country in the face of an attempt to oust him/her through undemocratic means, these scholars can hardly be said to be supporting Erdogan on this ground.
There are at least three underlying factors that determine their stand on this issue - support for political Islam, longing for the lost Ottoman Caliphate and a great appetite for conspiracy theories among Muslims in India.
Almost all the leaders in West Asia with a strongman Islamist image who engage in polemics with the West - quintessentially political Islamists - enjoy popular and near unconditional support of the Indian Muslim community.
There is little doubt that both Erdogan and Morsi are prominent figures representing political Islam, and it is one of the reasons why Maulana Nadvi's letter condemning the coup attempt against Erdogan in Turkey also makes reference to the coup against Morsi in Egypt.
Furthermore, the popularity of the erstwhile Ottoman Caliphate among Muslims in India remains high. It is seen as the last powerful authority which represented the global Muslim community, the loss of which has left Muslims in despair all across the world.
Given that Erdogan has been relentlessly trying to revive the Ottoman past in Turkey and has considerably succeeded in doing it, adds to the reasons for Muslims in India to appreciate and admire him.
Fully aware of this fact, the Turkish envoy in India is apparently trying to capitalise on this.
Following the coup attempt, he has had a series of meetings with prominent Muslim figures in India. Apart from the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, he also met with a delegation from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind; Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind general secretary Mahmood Madani; Chishty Foundation director Syed Salman Chishty; India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) president Sirajuddin Qureshi, and others.
The emergence of neo-Ottomanism in Turkey and the palpable effort by Turkish diplomatic missions abroad to garner support for it should be a matter of grave concern for everyone.
Not only is it perilous for Muslims in general to support a trend that has no place in today's secular and democratic world order, it is also a threat to India's own unity and integrity.
On the contrary, the person accused by Erdogan of plotting the coup - Fethullah Gulen - thinks unfavourably of any idea to re-establish a caliphate.
In an article, he says: "…the revival of the Caliphate would be very difficult and making Muslims accept such a revived Khilafah would be impossible. The perception of the modern world regarding the revival of Khilafah must be considered."
Finally, Maulana Nadvi's letter is also a manifestation of the great appetite for conspiracy theories among Muslims in India.
Arguments like Osama bin-Laden wasn't killed in Pakistan, 9/11 was an inside job, the international financial system is under Jewish control etc, are some of the most popular and preposterous conspiracy theories in India.
Within a few days of the coup, when the world was still trying to grapple with what happened in Turkey, Maulana Nadvi and the Shahi Imam were too sure that the attempt had been made by Gulen with the backing of the "American and Israeli lobby".
He said this despite Gulen categorically denying any involvement and any independent investigation into the coup still due.
In fact, no independent inquiry has yet been carried out on the matter and the Turkish government's narrative on the coup has been challenged on many fronts.
Understandably, what convinced them so quickly of Gulen's involvement in the coup is the fact that he lives in the US.
If so, this is no different from the infamous Subramanian Swamy's allegation that since Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan has worked for many years in the US and holds a permanent residence permit of the country, he is "mentally not fully Indian".
To summarise, the support that has been expressed by some prominent Muslim figures of India for the Turkish president can hardly be said to be support for modern democracy and democratic values.
Seemingly, their prime concern is the defense of a political Islamist who talks of the revival of a lost caliphate, regardless of his democratic credentials.
This is a deeply alarming situation and must concern everyone who holds democracy dear in India.
Published on DailyO, 18 August 2016, Thursday