Trump Is a Green Light for Illiberal Rulers Like India's Modi

The loss of liberalism in America will be costly for persecuted minorities elsewhere.


They say that when America sneezes, other parts of the world catch pneumonia. That certainly seems to be the case in India, where President Trump's anti-Muslim attitude is

Modi Trump

spreading like a virus.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed Yogi Adityanath, the country's most vitriolic anti-Muslim Hindu priest, as chief minister (the governor) of Uttar Pradesh, the state that houses the world's greatest Muslim monument, the Taj Mahal. This is tantamount to appointing the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan the governor of Illinois — and would have been simply unimaginable without Trump in the White House.

What's most distressing about this is that America is clearly losing its soft power to spread pluralism, tolerance, and other liberal values by its example. Instead of remaining a beacon for protecting vulnerable minorities, Trump's America seems to be turning into a giant green light for minorities' persecution around the world.

Modi rose to power three years ago because he promised Indians, frustrated with the glacial pace of growth, that he'd turn their country into a Hong Kong-style economic powerhouse. But he is an ardent Hindu nationalist, and the fear has always been that he is less serious about development than foisting a retrograde version of Hinduism on India. He cut his political teeth in the RSS, the militant wing of his Bharatiya Janta Party, whose sole reason for existence is inciting the country's majority Hindu population against Muslims and other minorities. Modi hailed the 1992 destruction of Babri Masjid — a 16th-century mosque in Uttar Pradesh — by a Hindu mob as a great "awakening" against Muslim invaders who allegedly planted the structure on the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram to taunt Hindus. Ten years later, after he became the chief minister of Gujarat, his state witnessed one of the worst Muslim pogroms in recent history. More than 1,000 Muslim men, women, and children were ruthlessly slaughtered.

Since he assumed national office, Modi has traded open incitement against Muslims for a posture of strategic ambiguity, communicating with his Hindu followers through pregnant silences. When BJP's Hindu "cow vigilantes" (Hindus regard cows as sacred) hauled out an aged Muslim man from bed and bludgeoned him to death for allegedly eating beef, it took Modi several days to issue a lame condemnation (Yogi Adityanath, on the other hand, vociferously defended the killing and even recommended that the dead man's family be prosecuted for possessing the meat). Modi has done nothing to squelch BJP's baseless claims that Muslim men are using "love jihad" to spread their faith by deliberately seducing Hindu girls. Nor has he done a thing about his party's efforts to browbeat Muslims and Christians into converting to Hinduism in large mass public ceremonies. He did, however, declare Christmas "good governance day" when government employees would be required to work while leaving all official Hindu holidays unmolested.

In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, Modi ran a two-pronged campaign in recent state elections, emphasizing his message of economic prosperity for all before mixed audiences while whipping up Hindu grievances before Hindu crowds. For example, he accused the deposed ruling party of buying Muslim votes by giving free handouts to Muslims but nothing to Hindus. So diabolically effective was Modi's message that the BJP won 325 out of 405 seats in the state legislature simply by unifying the Hindu vote, till now deeply divided along caste lines.

Still, the hope was that after his resounding victory, Modi would start pulling back from his divisive rhetoric. But Yogi Adityanath's appointment suggests that the mask is finally coming off, and Modi is preparing to launch a much more aggressive phase of Hindu nationalism.

Adityanath, who commands a huge Hindu following in his state, has pledged not only to build a temple where the razed mosque stood but also place statues of Hindu gods in every Muslim mosque. But that's not even the worst part. He makes no bones about his ethnic cleansing agenda and speaks openly about the need to reduce Uttar Pradesh's 40 million-strong Muslim population — about 20 percent of the total — by at least half. Nor is he shy about how he plans to accomplish this. He reminds Hindus of their duty to "take out 100 Muslim girls for every Hindu girl they take out" and kill "100 Muslims for every Hindu they kill," and taunts those who have moral qualms as "eunuchs." Such incitement, which is by no means his worst, has landed the yogi, who obscenely ran on a law-and-order agenda, in jail a few times.

Trump's calls for a Muslim ban and "extreme vetting" have emboldened men like Adityanath, who has repeatedly recommended similar steps in India — except that he doesn't have in mind wimpy measures like creating a Muslim registry or barring Muslims from only a few countries. Indeed, within a week of assuming office, he had already embarked on a campaign of anti-Muslim harassment, shutting down and burning "illegal" slaughterhouses, and throwing 650,000 predominantly Muslim men out of work.

For now, however, Muslims don't have to fear what Adityanath does so much as what he doesn't do — namely, protect them from private harassment and violence by the Hindu thugs his campaign mobilized. Indeed, in one town, pamphlets started circulating the day after his appointment asking Muslims to leave by year's end. "If you do not do so, we will do things in this village, similar to what Trump has been doing in America because Uttar Pradesh will now have a BJP government," it reads. "So decide soon because you are no longer suitable for this village." This might simply be a horribly ill-advised prank, as the police claim, but it nevertheless signals a major shift in India. And should a Muslim retaliate to the relentless provocation under Adityanath, the Hindu backlash might be explosive.

Trump is directly responsible for none of this, of course. But it is incontrovertible that illiberal leaders around the world are emboldened by his example.

This is not merely because Trump has neither the interest nor the moral clout to call them out and deny them international respectability, something that Modi and others desperately crave. It is because the rest of the world sets its moral compass by looking at America. Most Americans don't fully appreciate this, but the moral progress that this country has made by invoking its own principles — liberty, justice, equality, tolerance, religious pluralism — to fight slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation has been the main driver of liberalism around the world over the last several decades. America has offered persecuted groups a moral vocabulary and a modus operandi for securing their rights and holding their regimes accountable.

If America can't hang on to its values while dealing with terrorism, economic downturn and other challenges, there will be little hope for the rest of the world. Modi's India may be the first domino to fall. But unless America does a fairly quick course correction, it won't be the last — or the ugliest.

This column originally appeared in The Week

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  1. you know, the EO wasn't a Muslim ban. Maybe Shreekha (and Reason more broadly) and this priest might try to get it right.

  2. It is because the rest of the world sets its moral compass by looking at America.

    With great exceptionalism comes great responsibility? If they're going to truly follow Trump's lead, they should stop looking to America and start putting [insert own country here] first. (Which, admittedly, might circle back around to taking "illiberal" steps to protect against what they see or claim to see as a physically threatening ideology.)

    1. Huh, I assumed the rest of the world was practicing the Golden Rule with regard to the Muslims and doing unto them as they do unto others. It's kinda sad to see people condemning the Muslim culture of intolerance without first trying to adopt it themselves and see if maybe it's a better way. Let's at least try to stone gays, treat women as dogs, behead non-Muslims, blow up anybody who resists us, beat anybody who offends our sensibilities, chop off some body parts of heretics and apostates and non-believers, kill all the Jews and elect a bunch of hard-shell red-neck snake-handling Baptist preachers from the backiest backwoods of the Deep South as our leaders and let's see how things work out, shall we?

      1. I thought Trump was just a big racist against brown people. Aren't Hindu Indians brown people too? It's like there's some kind of actual "nuance" going on here that only gets acknowledged to the degree that is convenient for someone's argument.

  3. This is hogwash. It is a false equivalency to put the legitimate concern for radical Islamism and terrorism on par with genocidal hate. And contrary to popular opinion, sovereign nations are capable of independent thought and morality.

  4. "What's most distressing about this is that America is clearly losing its soft power to spread pluralism, tolerance, and other liberal values by its example."

    That shipped sailed when the Abu Ghrab broke in April of 2004.

    It was kicked in the crotch again when Snowden told the world ugly truth.

    I'd love to get back on the moral side of history again. I just don't think it's about Trump's tweets or immigration rhetoric.

    Meanwhile, criticizing Trump for being responsible for the internal politics of India is a hard sell with swing voters. The hatred between Pakistan and India and the internal problems India has had with its Muslims go back much further than Trump's tweets or immigration rhetoric.

    For goodness' sake, Modi won in a landslide in 2014. Should we look at India's internal politics to explain that victory, or was that Barack Obama's fault?

    Note to Zeb: It's a rhetorical question, you moron.

    1. 2014? That'd be Booooooosh's fault, then, right?

    2. It's the white man's burden, Ken, we have to teach the ignorant brown-skinned heathens the virtues of civilization. It's our duty as Christians. Do try to keep a stiff upper lip about it, won't you, old chap? There's a good fellow.

      1. Operation Cormorant

    3. "Soft power" was always a sucker's game from the outset, anyway. The world plays to us because we're very rich and very powerful. Take that away and we could be Mahatma Ghandi and they'd still ignore whatever prattlings we issue.

      The reason to be moral is because it's the right thing to do. not because you want all the other global diplomats to think you're nice.

    4. What's most distressing about this is that America is clearly losing its soft power

      Well, yeah, when you're broke and need money for a shiny new healthcare system, you've gotta cough up some leverage.

  5. "My articles are on a libertarian website." sips mocachino
    "Oh? That's neat. My boyfriend microbrews his own strawberry liquors. They're ok."
    "Oh? That's neat. My articles discuss capitalism and the government's role in changing society." smirks
    "Oh? I thought you said your articles are on a libertarian website."

  6. When FDR was president, did Indians stop walking?

  7. Shikha's grasp of reality is so tenuous that it would be appropriate to use violent force in order to settle with her.


    1. Everything that happens that I don't like is Donald Trump's fault.

  9. I feel like this article has appeared three or four times already.

    it is incontrovertible that illiberal leaders around the world are emboldened by his example


    1. I feel like this article has appeared three or four times already.

      Looked familiar to me too, but since Shikha is a two or three trick pony anyway, what does it really matter?

      She really should just post the same couple of articles every week. Every article is pretty much the Shikha Horror Picture Show already. Same topics, same TDS, same lies every time. Just make it the same text so we can start singing along.

  10. Muslim invaders who allegedly planted the structure on the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram to taunt Hindus.

    The Muslims would never do such a terrible thing. Purely a coincidence that there's a big mosque on the Temple Mount - the holiest site of Judaism. Another complete coincidence that the Hagia Sophia is a redecorated Greek Orthodox basilica.

    1. That Muslim claim to the Temple Mount is about as legit as that guy in Florida that swears his toaster creates images of the Virgin Mary on his bread. Literally - their claim is that if you look at the rock from a certain angle, it almost looks like letters.

  11. Outright rejection of violence aside from self-defense is a core tenant of Objectivist thinkers. Nothing can justify brutality waged against innocents we hold little intellectual commonality with, in this case, Islam.

    Onward. So Trump bats his butterfly eyelids to institute a measure of improved security over Obama's devastating vacuum of security that hopefully limits Americans' exposure to an ideological force with a proven multitudinous murderous track record and his doing so sets off a worldwide ripple of brutality unleashed against innocent Muslims?

    I understand you are an intelligent woman and your Islamic nature is overwrought with nightmares that your religion is headed to the chopping blocks of history and the horror is going to be unleashed under the vanquishing totalitarianism of Trump leading an earthly charge.

    If you believe this your Quran acid is spectacular! But, maybe, next time hit it with less indica, benzo, and fear, my dear.

    1. Splendid, AC.

  12. Modi's India may be the first domino to fall.

    First domino to fall anno domini Donald Trump. The Phillipines were headed into the shitter before Trump. Venezuela started falling in the Bush era. Brazil has been pretty up and down. It's questionable whether the Ukraine or South Sudan have yet to become vertically standing dominoes...

    If the world sets its moral compass by looking at America, it does an exceptionally shitty job of it.

    1. The rest of the world has had the playbook available to them. America's secrets to success are open-source. The shitholes of the world have no excuse for continuing to keep their own people in poverty, it's the fault of their own political culture which westerners are under no obligation to respect or tolerate.

  13. "But it is incontrovertible that illiberal leaders around the world are emboldened by his example."



      Duarte was a real cupcake before Trump came along, everyone knows this. If Hillary had been victorious, he was planning to change his death-squads into hug-squads.

      1. The psychosis is settled

  14. So let me guess, 20+ comments bitching about Shikha?

    1. 20+ comments criticizing her bitching about Trump you mean? Trump isn't the root of all evil, neither is money for that matter.

    2. So let me guess, 20+ comments bitching about Shikha?

      Any honest condemnation of the commenters' criticism must also condemn the subject being criticized.*

      *Not my rules.

    3. I think most of those went to some other libertarian site, the ones regularly foaming at the mouth about the heresies being committed here. Believe it or not, Shikha is not a lone voice in the wilderness and she's not a brain-damaged six-year old, there really are serious people who agree with her. They're wrong, of course, but if you want to argue with somebody whose opinions you're hoping to change you first have to understand their arguments and then rebut them rather than just slagging on them. Some of us do it with a great deal of sarcasm, profanity, and invective, to be sure, but there's a nugget of an argument there.

      1. It would be nice if her logic and arguments ever surpassed those of a brain-damaged six-year old. Her only argument tends to be: Trump Bad! Muslim/immigration Good!

        There are serious people that may come in the neighborhood of her opinion and should be considered but that doesn't mean her reasoning or opinion should be taken seriously just by proximity of conclusion.

  15. So are the countries that can Jews doing so because of Obama or did they already have beef (metaphorically speaking of course).

    This writer is the true embodiment of Trump derangement syndrome. And she's failed to include any evidence to justify likening this ruler with the KKK leader. Surely she understands most of us are ignorant to non-American politics, especially those of countries leftists don't want to imitate.

    We get it, you hate Trump. We picked that up considering your posts about him are often 100-300% in length than posts having nothing to do with him. Just write a book with all your grievances already...

  16. This is nothing new in India, sorry. Hindus have fought Muslims there for hundreds of years. I guess you haven't heard of a place called Pakistan, but that's alright. Not much there to interest a member of the Beltway cocktail class anyway.

    India was also a stratified society with their own racism problems long before Trump was ever in the picture. Hell, just spend some time looking into the treatment and stereotypes that people from the northeast part of the country put up with when they move south. I guess that wouldn't fit into the narrative, though.

  17. We lost all 'city on the hill' and 'beacon of liberty' credibility when we began intervening overseas. And those in power knew this 200 years ago.

    Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. - John Quincy Adams

  18. I don't donate to them but I have to say that I'm impressed that Reason is apparently so flush with cash that they can afford to hire a columnist to write the same article that they did the week before.

  19. This is tantamount to appointing the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan the governor of Illinois

    Or an Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan as Senate Majority Leader?

    and would have been simply unimaginable without Trump in the White House


    Modi rose to power three years ago because he promised Indians, frustrated with the glacial pace of growth, that he'd turn their country into a Hong Kong-style economic powerhouse. But he is an ardent Hindu nationalist

    Ardent Hindu Nationalist rises to power in India three years ago. But apparently he has been waiting for the Orange Man's ascension to the Cherry Blossom Throne to do just what you'd expect a Hindu nationalist to do.

    Strangely, I seem to recollect Shikha bitching about things Modi had done long before Trump became President.

    Did the God Emperor's ascension send ripples back through space-time to facilitate all of Modi's previous Crimes Against Humanity too?

  20. It's thoughtful of Shikha to bring us evidence from round the world on the wonders of multicultural societies, and all the cultural enrichment we can look forward to thereby.

    Sign me up for Open Borders Uber Alles!

  21. Do I hafta read this? Would Ms. Dalmia blame Trump & his American followers if she found out the Martians had some untoward development in their zeitgeist too?

  22. Modi was an "ardent Hindu nationalist" and had a cloud over him for a weak response to anti-Muslim riots when he was in Gujarat quite a few years ago. To suddenly blame Trump for Modi acting as he has for decades says a lot about the author's opinion of US politics, but nothing about Modi or India.

  23. This columnist is a one trick pony if there ever was one.

    1. Yes indeed. A very one sided piece.

      Totally missing is the recognition that when India separated half a century ago, it split into Hindu India, and Muslim Pakistan (and, later, Muslim Bangla Desh). Religious extremists could go to the country of their choice. Yet now Muslim fanatics promote Sharia and want Hindu India to become Muslim, leaving the Hindus nowhere to go.

      I'm left wondering if Shikha Dalmia is a Muslim fanatic. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck, then it probably is a duck... Does he/she believe in Sharia too?

  24. You say "Trump is directly responsible for none of this, of course. But it is incontrovertible that illiberal leaders around the world are emboldened by his example." Which means you think he's INdirectly responsible.

    But Trump is not anti muslim, he's just against Islamic terrorism - violence against Americans and Christians in the name of the Muslim religion.

    The trouble is that Islamic fanatics say the Muslim religion requires them to forcibly convert everyone in the world to Islam. So Islamic fanatics everywhere promote Sharia for the whole country and say non-believers in Islam - apostasy - deserve death. This is creating enormous problems throughout Europe with, for example, Sharia courts set up in Britain which, regrettably, does little or nothing to stop them.

    And you pretend that Trump is the problem? Get a grip on reality!

  25. Pah! The election of a non-liberal US president won't be bad for "persecuted minorities" anywhere. It might be bad for liberal governments around the world, though, since they might not get as much overt and covert foreign aid as a liberal American administration would have given them. If Trump's election causes liberal regimes elsewhere to topple and be replaced by more conservative governments, then that will be a very good thing for the world.

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