Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah creates stir with remarks on Taliban

Naseeruddin Shah
The 71-year old actor’s comments have generated a lot of debate on social media in India

Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah has created a stir over comments he made about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

In a video, Shah admonished “sections of Indian Muslims” against celebrating the group’s victory, saying they were setting a dangerous precedent. He drew a parallel between “Indian Islam” and what is practiced in other parts of the world.

His comments irked Muslims in India who accused him of making false binaries. But many supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) praised Mr Shah and said more Muslims should speak up against the Taliban.

Speaking in Urdu, the 71-year-old actor said that those who are apparently celebrating the return of the militant group in Afghanistan should ask themselves “if they want a reformed, modern Islam or live with the old barbarism of the past decades”.

The Taliban enforced a strict version of Islamic law when they controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, including public executions and banning women from schools and workplaces.

Mr Shah said that “Hindustani” or Indian Islam has always been unique and different from the rest of the world, and that he hoped “God will not bring a time when it changes so much that we cannot even recognise it”.

“I am an Indian Muslim…and my relationship with God is informal. I do not need a political religion,” he added. Journalist Saba Naqvi called Mr Shah’s comments “a trap and a binary” – one that unnecessarily put the onus of disowning the Taliban on Indian Muslims.

“Why are so many Indian Muslims sitting up and being asked to condemn Taliban? Did they chose, elect or invite Taliban?” she wrote on Twitter. Journalist and commentator Aditya Menon said that the “actor’s rant was unnecessary” and “ill-advised”.

“At a time when Indian Muslims are facing economic boycott, mob violence, police atrocities, last thing they need is a prominent voice adding to the bogey that Taliban mentality could take over the community. There’s no such threat,” he added.

Critics have repeatedly raised concerns about the increasing marginalization of India’s 200 million Muslims. Many of them have been victims of discrimination and hate crimes – a trend which critics say has intensified since 2014 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

However, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, a staunch supporter of the BJP government, lauded Mr Shah for speaking against “inhuman and barbaric Taliban”.

“I hope more and more educated and creative Muslims specially from Bollywood speak against these enemies of humanity,” he added.

On 15 August, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, almost 20 years after being ousted by a US-led military coalition. It came after foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan following a deal between the US and the Taliban, two decades after US forces removed the militants from power in 2001.

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