Narendra Modi was inaugurated as the 15th prime minister of independent India on May 26th, riding into office on an unprecedented wave of support for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which swept parliamentary elections earlier in May.
Although Modi and the BJP’s primary campaign message was that of economic growth, many Indians are concerned about what the future holds for the nation—in particular the minority Muslim population. India has the third largest population of Muslims in the world, behind Indonesia and Pakistan. At 177 million, it is the world’s largest Muslim-minority population.
It would be easy to write off the tensions among religious and ethnic groups and political persecution of Muslims as a problem specific to India. But that view overlooks the larger global narrative about Muslims that has been pervasive since the 9/11 attacks. That narrative has been crafted in large part by the United States, stemming from the U.S.-led “war on terror.”
The culture of Islamophobia in the United States has helped fuel and provide global cover for political and economic policies that discriminate against Muslims and paint the entire community with an extremist brush. Although the reasons behind the ascendance of Modi may be unique to Indian politics, the Islamophobia it is rooted in is not. Because of his own past and the previous policies of his party, Modi will have to go the extra mile to persuade his electorate and the leaders of other countries that he intends to challenge that Islamophobia rather than perpetuate it.