Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: The ghettoised Muslim stereotype

The ghettoised Muslim stereotype - The Indian Express

Seema Alavi ()
7 February 1997

Title : The ghettoised Muslim stereotype
Author : Seema Alavi
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 7, 1997

During a recent visit to Germany I was struck by the squalor of
what constituted the "Turkish Quarters" in that country. These
were enclaves of the predominantly Muslim Turkish people located in
most of the sanitised "high tech" towns like Bonn, Dusseldorf and
Kolon. In these Turkish ghettos the local population lives seeking
out its living selling Turkish kababs, breads, trinkets and
ribbons. The more affluent of them being owners of tiny corner
shops or working as industrial labour.

The Turkish people first arrived in Germany after World War II as
immigrant labourers to help in the reconstruction of the industrial
areas which were totally devastated during the war. The
reconstruction work over, the Turks settled down in Germany where
they had worked and struck personal relationships sometimes for
more than two decades. The German reunification and the
accompanying increase in inflation figures and unemployment has
ensured that the Turkish minority does not move beyond its
economically and socially ghettoised existence.

The Turkish Quarters constitute vital arenas through which Germany
constructs and reinforces a particularly monstrous image of Islam.
In fact the issue of ethnicity, at least in the Turkish case, has
been subsumed in the more menacing European image of Islam that
looms over the continent. Thus the cultural "difference" between
the Turks and the Europeans is perceived in religious and not
ethnic terms. The ethnic variance between the Turkish and the
European cultures is projected as a more fundamental divide between
a conservative, sectarian and fundamentalist Islam on one hand and
a modernist, liberal non-sectarian Europe on the other.

The Turkish case exemplifies the grave social and political
implications of the ghettoisation of religious and ethnic
minorities. In the case of the Turks, ghettoisation is the only
option given their financial inability to live in the better parts
of the city. But when religious minorities, like the Muslims in
India, who constitute a sizeable section of the Indian middle
class, prefer to live in spatially, cordoned community ghettos then
the issue needs careful examination.

The emergence of middle class Muslim ghettos in the new areas of
big cities like Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi is a fairly recent
phenomenon. Whereas in cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai this
development is a direct result of the gruesome communal riots of
the last two decades, it is difficult to trace its immediate causes
in Delhi where middle class localities have by and large been
unscathed in Hindu-Muslim conflicts. It is no doubt understandable
that the killings in urban middle class localities of Mumbai and
Ahmedabad created a general insecurity in the community as a whole
and the middle classes in particular who closely identified with
the victims.

But ghettoisation of the middle class Muslims is not the solution
to the feat of riots. This trend inflicts more damage than communal
flare-ups. Its ramifications are detrimental to the long-term
interests of the community. For such a herding together reinforces
an inclusive sense of community identity based on fear and urge for

But more importantly, ghettoisation is splitting the Muslim middle
class into two neat groups. For instance in Delhi the middle class
Muslims increasingly prefer to stay in two community enclaves. The
small-time business class, contractors and lower level political
functionaries live behind Jamia Millia University in the
nightmarish urban slum called Zakirnagar. The Muslim
professionals, and the service gentry class are housed in a more
habitable neighbourhood - Zakirbagh. The social hierarchies between
these two "Muslim areas" are very clearly demarcated.

The emergence in the last two decades of a considerably big Muslim
middle class raised the hope of social reforms within the community
and the eventual change in its leadership. But a split in this
class is all set to extinguish this ray of hope. Such enclaves,
like the Turkish Quarters in Germany, run the risk of being
projected as epitomising the archetypal "Muslim lifestyle" in
India. Middle class Muslim ghettoisation thus needs to be checked
as it reinforces the mischievous stereotype of the "backward" and
"incestuous" Muslims.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements