Letter: New risk of nuclear war

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Sir: Peter Popham's account of Muslim-Hindu relations on the Subcontinent is dangerously misleading (Comment, 1 June).

Of the many inaccuracies in his piece, which reads as an apologia for some of the more extravagant Hindu nationalist claims, one could cite the image of Tamberlaine as a Muslim fundamentalist hell-bent on slaying Hindus; a claim which ignores the fact that he murdered all those who opposed him, including much of the largely Muslim population of Central Asia.

The suggestion that Indians converted to Islam from fear of Muslim violence ignores the consensus among Western scholars who attribute the conversions to the preaching of pacific Muslim mystics, and the desire to escape the rigours of the caste system.

A more even-handed analysis would have added to the historical record Islam's rich contributions to Indian culture. The Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, and much of Indian dress, vocabulary, literature and music would have been unimaginable without Muslim influence. All these cultural forms testify to the capacity of India to synthesise Islamic and Hindu elements to create the region's distinctive identity.

The "nationalist historians" Popham cites regard that synthesis as a contamination of the country's pristine "essence', and demand the marginalising of Islamic culture, coupled to an aggressive stance towards Pakistan. The nuclear arms race now under way is part of that process, which can only be defused by the rejection of the xenophobic and absurd readings of history now emanating from right-wing Hindu circles.

TIM WINTER

Lecturer in Islamic Studies

University of Cambridge

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