An influential Catholic bishop in Kerala has sparked controversy by alleging that a “drug jihad” is being carried out by Islamist groups to endanger young people of other faiths in the state. Christian girls were in the grip of “the love of jihad,” he also said, an allegation first made by the church a few years ago, which was later militarized by the Sangh Parivar. Christian and Muslim groups staged marches for and against the bishop’s words while the BJP demanded a central law to deal with the “jihad of love and drugs”. The Catholic Church and the Kerala Congress (M), which is part of the state’s left-wing government, as well as the Nair Service Society, an influential community organization, supported the bishop while Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the leader of the opposition in the Assembly and Congressman VD Satheesan, and a host of civil society actors, including the Catholic community, have criticized the Church. This confrontation has the potential to disrupt community peace in Kerala, which has an enviable history of three major religions coexisting with minimal conflict or confrontation for decades.
The government must crack down on the production and supply of drugs. But painting the business in religious colors, making it a common dog whistle, is an act of irresponsibility that must be guarded against. In the name of the defense of the laity, the Bishop of Kerala and his supporters may be helping to promote Islamophobia. This has the potential to build a discourse that makes the Muslim community a scapegoat for social and economic concerns which, of course, lack a community base, confronting people across the sectarian divisions of the state. The agricultural crisis, and the general economic slowdown, especially after the Covid, have pushed the middle and lower middle classes into a precarious situation. Public policies, such as a greater emphasis on Muslims in stock exchanges – a result of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee – have been projected as proof of appeasement and as a sign of the disproportionate influence of Muslims in politics. International political developments – from attacks on Christians in Africa to Sri Lanka, to the presence of converted Christians among IS recruits and the conversion of Hagia Sophia in Turkey into a mosque – also appear to have contributed to the feeling of insecurity. of the Catholic Church. and anxiety. The fact that non-Catholic churches have so far refused to support the claims of the Catholic clergy is also revealing.
In the wider interest of Kerala, the Catholic Church must end this campaign which can fuel the fault lines between communities. Economic worries and political concerns must not become water for the politics of religious polarization. The Catholic Church has an illustrious history of public service and of contributing to the creation of a secular Kerala. Hopefully the current “jihad” campaign is a temporary aberration, from which the clergy will immediately withdraw.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 14, 2021 under the title “Please reculez”.