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September 08, 2020
Missing America
5. Sectarianism

In This Episode

What happens when tribalism crosses into religion? In America, Donald Trump favors his evangelical Christian base, demonizes Muslim-Americans, and stokes fear of “Radical Islam.” That’s fueled a global trend embraced by other sectarian strongmen – like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pursued a Hindu nationalist agenda at the expense of Muslims.

Host Ben Rhodes talks to investigative journalist Rana Ayyub, who went undercover and exposed Modi’s tactics to turn Indians against one another.

 

Transcript

 

 EPISODE 5 – SECTARIANISM

 

Winter, Twenty-Fifteen. At the Obama White House, we were at the height of the fight against ISIS.

 

CNN’s BARBARA STARR: The first round of Jordanian airstrikes against ISIS in Syria is now underway…US war planes, as you would expect, are flying alongside in support of the Jordanians.

 

It put the Republican Party in an awkward position. Of course they wanted to label Obama as weak, but they didn’t want to argue for a bigger war with American troops on the ground. They knew Americans wanted to be tough on terrorism, but they also knew Americans didn’t want another Iraq War. 

 

So instead of attacking our air strikes, they attacked the way we *talked* about them….insisting we call our counter-ISIS campaign a global war against “Radical Islam.” 

 

[MUSIC BEGINS]

 

That’s a term we never put in Obama’s speeches.  

 

A fact Republicans took every opportunity to point out.

 

ABC NEWS CLIP: Last month, President Obama came under fire for referring to “Violent Extremism,” without any mention of Islam. 

 

FOX NEWS CLIP: GRAHAM Here’s what I really do have a problem with: Our President will not call this ‘Radical Islam.” 

 

SENATE SPEECH: CRUZ: they wont even say the word “Jihad,” that wont even say the words “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” 

 

It was a cynical, dangerous move.

 

Time and again, we explained terrorists like ISIS want us to frame our conflicts as a war on Islam. Because the best way to radicalize someone… is to make them feel like their faith…their identity… is under attack. 

 

When Osama bin Laden was killed, we even found documents in his compound… in which he proposed changing al Qaeda’s name. Because it didn’t sound religious enough.

 

So why did the GOP still want to frame the ISIS fight in religious terms?  

 

For the same reason that — a few months later, in the Presidential primaries — they tried to out-do each other in denigrating Muslims. Or imposing religious tests on immigration.

 

NEWS CLIP: SANTORUM: The reality is: all Jihadists are Muslims. We have to stop worrying about offending some people, and start defending all Americans.

 

CRUZ: We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.

 

HUCKABEE: It’s time to wake up and smell the falafel, something isnt going right in this open immigration policy, we are importing terrorism.

 

It’s the same reason Trump — as pretty much his first act as President — moved to ban the people of some Muslim countries from entering the United States.


TRUMP: I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep Radical Islamic Terrorists out of the United States of America. We don’t want them here. 

 

They did it to scare up votes, by demonizing an entire faith, even though millions of Americans practice Islam. 

 

And in the process, they radicalized a group of their own: 

 

Their mostly white and Christian base. 

 

[MUSIC SWELLS HERE]

 

I’m Ben Rhodes, and welcome back to “Missing America.”  A look at the political diseases sweeping across the world in the absence of American leadership.

This week: Sectarianism. In which a government turns one religious group against another for political gain. It’s an Us-versus-Them brand of politics that can unleash violence, oppression, and endless cycles of backlash that can last generations. Like its cousin, nationalism, on steroids. 

We’ll learn how sectarianism has turned the world’s largest democracy into an increasingly Hindu nationalist state.

AYYUB: Overnight, perfectly all-right neighbors, perfectly normal people turned savages. 

And we’ll learn why America has to return to the mission of promoting diversity as a strength: E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one.  

Not just for our own sake, but for the planet’s. On this episode of Missing America.

[MUSIC ENDS]

 

ACT ONE

India knows what sectarianism can lead to.  

In 1947, as the British were leaving, the country was partitioned into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Almost immediately, Hindus and Muslims in both nations started killing each other. A million people died.  

Amartya Sen is a Nobel Prize-winning thinker. He was in Bombay at the time, and remembers how leaders like Gandhi quelled the violence. 

SEN: Gandhi walked around through riot torn areas, both Hindu Majority and the Muslim majority, fearless as he always was, and demonstrating that there was nothing that one should fear.

But Gandhi himself would later be killed by a Hindu nationalist. Between that and the horror of partition… 

It shocked India into embracing secular politics. Where people of all religions are supposed to be treated as equals. 

Over the last few years, though? That’s changed.

Rana Ayyub, a journalist who writes for Washington Post, can tell us how it happened…and why it matters. She’s lived it. 

[MUSIC BEGINS]

Rana’s always known that the relationship between India’s Hindus and Muslims is… fraught.

In school, she was taught about partition. Intellectually, she understood her country was born out of that sectarian spasm. But as a little girl, growing up in Mumbai in the ‘80s… she really didn’t feel it.  

Even though she was part of the only Muslim family… in a community of Hindus.

AYYUB: Our neighbors were absolutely, perfectly normal people. I mean, we used to celebrate our festivals together. In fact, during the Hindu festivals, our family used to be called for help, we used to go to the temple, we used to help with the decorations. And we were the only Muslim family in a housing society of about two thousand Hindu families. And we never felt insecure! We were a respected family! At no point was our religious identity thrust upon us.

At the time, India’s Congress Party dominated the political landscape.  Like it pretty much had for seventy years.   

It was the party of Gandhi. A “big tent” party — trying to build coalitions of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians.     

But the political landscape… was about to shift.

[MUSIC ENDS]

CLIP: SOUND OF CROWD DESTROYING BABRI MASJID, 1992 

Ayodhya, India. December 6th, Nineteen Ninety-Two. The destruction of the Babri Masjid.

That’s a 16th-century mosque, built by Muslim conquerors… on a piece of land that was sacred to India’s Hindus…the birthplace of the Hindu God, Lord Ram.  

The mosque became a symbol for a belief that India’s Hindu identity was being stolen…fueling centuries of grievance. 

The two religions had clashed over it many times, until the government closed it for the sake of public safety.

In 1992 — spurred on by a right-wing political party — a throng of Hindus jumped the barricades. Swarmed over the mosque.  And demolished it.

CLIP: SOUND OF BABRI DESTRUCTION, WITH SHOUTING OVER P.A. SYSTEM, POTS UP FOR A FEW SECONDS… 

Rana Ayyub was nine years old.

AYYUB: Suddenly on 6 December, I remember my mum’s, uh… Our neighbor. Who was closest to our family. And the day the Babri Mosque was demolished, she comes home and she knocks at door and I remember very distinctly — and she says, “Do you see, there is a whiff of fresh air emanating from Ayodhya?” 

“A whiff of fresh air.”  From the town where a mosque had just been turned to rubble.

AYYUB: And my mom just stared at her and she said, “What just happened? I mean, a mosque has been demolished and she’s at my house asking me to celebrate this!” And overnight, perfectly all right neighbors, perfectly normal people… turned savages. People who you call your best friends, your neighbors! 

Rana’s family hid out in a Sikh neighbor’s apartment… while all over Mumbai, bloody riots raged for weeks.  An estimated two thousand people died. The vast majority were Muslims.

AYYUB: And one day our father said “We have to pack, because we’re not safe here.” And I said “Where are we going?” He said, “We are we are going to a Muslim locality where will be safe.” And I had never thought of the concept “safe!”  I said “Aba, why aren’t we safe here?” He said, “Because there are too many Hindus here.” And I said, “So where are we going?” He said, “We’re going to a place where there are only Muslims.”

Rana’s family escaped to a new home in a Muslim suburb. Next to a slaughterhouse and a trash dump. But they couldn’t escape the way Muslims were increasingly talked about and treated in India.  From big things — like banks refusing to give Muslims credit cards — to more subtle ones.

AYYUB: I remember in school… Every time there was an India-Pakistan match and I would get into the classroom, I’d be asked “what team are you supporting this evening?” So you… you always had to prove your patriotism and your Indian-ness. And that remains the same to this day.

From then on, Rana would be painfully aware of being a minority Muslim in a majority Hindu country.  

And painfully aware of how quickly religious rage — and historical grievances dating back centuries, can be weaponized by politicians. 

Which brings us… to Narendra Modi.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

In Two Thousand One, Modi became chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. He’d been rising in the ranks of the right-wing BJP party for a while.  

But his longest political affiliation — since he was eight years old — was with a group called the “RSS.” 

The RSS is a far-right Hindu Nationalist organization. Dedicated to making India an essentially Hindu country.  

Back in the day, their leaders openly admired the likes of Mussolini. The man who killed Gandhi? Had ties to the RSS.  

Over the years, the Indian government banned the RSS three times — Most recently in ‘93, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.  

So it wasn’t a total surprise when… just four months after Modi took office in Gujarat… the state exploded in sectarian violence.

CLIP: SOUND OF POLICE DURING RIOTS 

It started with a train car full of Hindu pilgrims… which got set on fire during a clash with Muslims. 

BBC NEWS CLIP: Hindu mobs raged through the state. Burning their neighbors alive and raping women. 

Another outbreak of rioting. This time, around a thousand people died. Again, mainly Muslims.  

And Modi… did nothing to stop the violence. In fact in speeches… he almost seemed to be condoning it.

Rana Ayyub, now 19 years old, watched this all play out on TV… and decided to go to Gujarat as a relief worker.

AYYUB: And the hatred for Muslims… It was so… it was… They weren’t even…. There was no facade. There was just, it was just bad. So there were eight women of the same family…who were gang raped by their neighbors. And and every corner, I remember — I remember every corner, and every lane, was just bodies. And Mr. Modi’s office was just like a stone’s throw away from where this is happening, from where the relief camps were set. And that man still today has neither apologised, nor expressed regret…Nor spoken to the media. 

In the aftermath, the U.S. and British governments banned Modi from travelling to their countries. Rana Ayyub… took a more personal approach.

[MUSIC ENDS]

What she saw in Gujarat inspired her to become an investigative journalist. And eight years later, working for an Indian magazine, she set her sights on Modi. Who was serving a second term in Gujarat.

No one would talk to a Muslim reporter about it. So she went undercover.

AYYUB: So I decided to be this girl, a Hindu girl, a Hindu nationalist girl. And I got fake passports and, you know, became this — I changed my appearance, fake lenses. I lived a different life of a Hindu girl. And I wore about eight cameras on my body. They were in my earrings, in my diary, in my watch, everywhere.

She pretended to be a student from the American Film Institute in Hollywood. She started mingling in elite social circles: Filmmakers, high society, politicians.

AYYUB: And then they allowed me access to Mr. Modi’s ministers and his bureaucrats. So in the span of eight months, I have forty hours of recordings with Mr. Modi’s home minister, his home secretary, his commissioner of police, Mr. Modi himself towards the end, where they confessed on camera that the carnage of Muslims was at the behest of Mr. Modi, and that he destroyed evidence systematically, that he suspended officials who were trying to save Muslims, that he gave provocative speeches, that he did not call for extra forces to protect Muslims while the carnage was happening. So I thought I had the most damning confessions, and I thought this would change the course of history of Indian journalism and Mr. Modi’s own career. 

Except it didn’t.  

When she came back to her magazine with the scoop? Her editors killed the story. She tried shopping it around to other magazines. Same deal. The reason, she says?

AYYUB: They were scared. Everybody is scared of Modi and his ministers.

Not least of all, because he was shaping up to be a likely Prime Minister.

Rana had a hard time believing that.

AYYUB: The year was 2011 and I remember when anybody used to make this —you know — have loose conversations around Mr. Modi’s candidature, and saying that perhaps he could be the prime minister, and I would laugh at it! I said “You guys. I mean, you can’t be serious. A man like Modi who has blood on his hands cannot be the Prime Minister of India.”

She was wrong.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

In Twenty-Fourteen, Modi was elected to India’s highest office. By a landslide.

NEWS CLIP:  It’s quite clear Modi will be the next Prime Minister, and the BJP is forming the government!

Modi’s BJP party also won a clear majority of seats in the Parliament. The first party to do so in three decades.  

The Congress Party… got its teeth knocked out.  

NEWS CLIP: This is a Modi tsunami!  This is a Modi tsunami! 

Rana wanted to know how this could have happened?

She knew the incumbent Congress party had been implicated in a slew of corruption scandals.

But, she says, she also underestimated how many Indians would vote with their wallets.

The Indian economy was sputtering.  And many who *hadn’t* supported Modi’s sectarian past… were willing to turn a blind eye. To get economic reform.

AYYUB: The biggest disappointment, was the Indian businessmen, everybody was bending over backwards to accommodate Mr. Modi, overlooking his fascist agenda. Seeing him as some kind of a visionary leader who means business, who’s going to lead India and bring in some some kind of reforms. There was an amnesia where Mr. Modi’s past was normalized.

But ultimately, she couldn’t deny something else was at work. Something darker.

AYYUB:  I never imagined that a man like him could be accepted by India on a national level.  Then I was made to realize that Mr. Modi did not win the Indian elections despite the 2002 carnage. But because of the 2002 carnage. He was elected as a prime minister because he was seen as a leader of the Hindu majority in India, who could show Muslims their place.

[MUSIC ENDS]

Some Modi supporters definitely tried to show Rana her place.  

She self-published her undercover work about Modi as a book. And proceeded to be hounded by his followers on social media.

She was doxxed — her phone number and address given out online.  

She’d get a call before a TV interview — from someone saying they were waiting outside the building to kill her.  

And then she got a call from one of her sources. An intelligence official in Modi’s government. 

AYYUB: He gives me a 31 page dossier. And he said “This for you.” I said, what does it mean? He said, “I want… I’m protective about you and I want you to know that this is happening.” So I look at the dossier and every, like, every two pages are details of each family members of mine. So, What does my father do? What time does he go for his morning walk? What does my mother do? What do all my siblings do? What are their latest investments? What flights do I take? So it was a means of telling me that they are watching me.

And all the while, as Modi’s followers made Rana’s life hell…  

The rest of the world… embraced him.

NEWS CLIP: CAMERON: Namaste, Wembley! [CHEERS]

In his campaign for Prime Minister, Modi hadn’t portrayed himself as a nationalist firebrand – but as a Reformer.  

Someone who’d end the political gridlock and modernize the economy.

David Cameron welcomed him… with a stadium rally.

CAMERON: Here we are at Wembley, where Prime Minister Modi is set to speak to the biggest gathering of the Indian diaspora he’s ever addressed. [CHEERS]

And yes, President Obama welcomed him, too.

CLIP: OBAMA: It is a great pleasure to welcome back my friend, Prime Minister Modi and the Indian delegation to the Oval Office. 

I’ll be the first to admit this hasn’t aged well. We debated it at the time. I was conflicted. But we figured we could encourage Modi to be the reformer he said he *wanted* to be, and not the strongman his history suggested he *would* be. Maybe engaging him would give us more influence over what he did…and there were some important things we wanted to get done. 

India’s the third most-polluting country in the world — so we needed Modi to sign on to an ambitious Paris Climate Accords.  

For a while? It seemed to work. India did join the Paris Accords. Modi’s nationalist followers were emboldened… and there were moves in a more nationalist direction, but many of his government’s actual *policies* were somewhat restrained.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

Then, in February last year… things escalated.

[CLIP: NEWS REPORT OF THE KASHMIR BOMBING]

Control of the region of Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan.  

But both sides claim they should control it *all.* Muslim militants living there have been fighting Indian forces for years.

One of them detonated a car bomb that killed more than forty Indian soldiers. And gave Modi a perfect enemy to mobilize his country against: Muslim Pakistan.

He called in an airstrike. His poll numbers shot up. He won a second term.  

And Narendra Modi went full Hindu nationalist.

He rolled troops into Kashmir, shut off the Internet, and detained opposition figures. 

His government passed a “citizenship bill” that restricted immigration from some Muslim-majoirty nations…and classified millions of Muslims in India as “migrants,” stripping them of their rights. In a speech, Modi’s Minister of Home Affairs called them “termites.”

Meanwhile, shortly after the election, mobs around the country rounded up Muslims… and lynched them. Supposedly for illegally smuggling beef into states where Hindus consider cows sacred.

And that was before the coronavirus gave rise to another wave of Islamophobia.

AYYUB: The narrative in India right now is that Muslims are spreading the virus. One of India’s leading leading news channels, India Today, had a graphic of the virus with a Muslim skullcap, and that graphic went viral.  And the prime minister, who’s very, very vocal on Twitter, has not once admonished his own ministers and people who he follows on social media to stop making these comments or has given a warning to these news channels. So I think it’s… I’ve never seen a more serious game of Islamophobia in India as I see it right now. It’s a state-enabled propaganda.

For Modi, this is all working as planned.  

Recent polls show him with approval ratings as high as *ninety* percent.

The damage will be hard to undo. Once the Pandora’s Box of sectarian politics has been opened, it is painfully hard to reverse. 

Rana places whatever hope she has on two things.  

First, in the young Indians who came out in unprecedented numbers to protest his citizenship bill…

And second… on us.

AYYUB: I think it is time for the United States to seek accountability of the hate crimes that Mr. Modi has legitimized in India. India, as the world’s largest democracy — if the world’s largest democracy, I mean, goes down under, then ripples will be felt by the rest of the world.

How can we help prevent that from happening — coming up on Missing America.

[MUSIC ENDS]

 

—ADS—

 

ACT TWO

[MUSIC BEGINS]

One reason the Obama Administration engaged Modi is that in twenty-fourteen, his campaign for prime minister was pretty normal.

He downplayed his sectarian past. He played up his successful economic record. He tacked towards the center.

But five years later, when he campaigned for re-election? Not so much.

MEHTA: I think 2019 was different. It was far more negative, vicious, and much more cleanly and openly embracing Hindu nationalism and nationalism more generally.

That’s Pratap Banu Mehta, speaking to me from New Delhi, where, for a long time, he was President of the Centre For Policy Research — a progressive think tank. He chalks up Modi’s change in tone and message… partly to political pragmatism. 

MEHTA: In 2019, he could not run a very effective campaign on the economy alone, because the economy really had not recovered and there was no spectacular story to tell.

But more importantly, he says, back in 2014? Modi was way more concerned about how India was viewed by the other major countries of the world. He cared about his relationship with leaders like Obama. He wanted to belong to what Mehta calls “The big boy’s club.”

[MUSIC FADES]

MEHTA: When you want to be a member of the big boys club, there were certain norms and rules. You know, what G8 leaders brought or what G20 leaders brought. I think by 2019, all that was changed dramatically. And frankly, I think there was a sense that there was very little penalty attached to…“not behaving well,” let’s put it this way.

In other words, by 2019? Modi looked around and saw a lot more nationalist, sectarian leaders. China had a million Uighurs in concentration camps. Putin had his troops in Ukraine. And in the U.S. he sees…Donald Trump.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

When we began this series, we told you about the creation of the international order after World War Two. The framework of norms and rules that Pratap Banu Mehta mentioned.  

That order’s largely been held together by the United States. Not just legally or militarily.

But most powerfully, through our example.

And right now, to the world’s sectarian strongmen? Trump’s example looks a lot like a permission slip to do their worst. 

P.J. Thum’s seen it happen in Southeast Asia. He runs a pro-democracy organization there called “New Naratif.”

THUM: Like it or not, right, the US with its cultural capital, with its great prosperity, was a place to aspire to. So now you get the rise of the right and ultranationalists, and then governments can justify the very nationalistic things that they do, the very extreme things they do, the xenophobic things they do, in that same context. To say that, “Well, you know, we want to aspire to be America.” Well, America has a right wing nationalist in charge. So that’s OK for us to then, you know, “We’re not as bad as America when we lock up people.” You know, “Look at what the American president is doing,” right? Look at what these right wing regimes are doing?

Indeed, just this February, in the wake of India’s crackdown on Muslims… Trump basically endorsed Modi’s sectarian tactics. When he held a stadium rally with him in Ahmedabad, India   And dropped a familiar phrase.

TRUMP: The United States and India are also firmly united in our ironclad resolve to defend our citizens from the threat of Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. 

[THE CROWD CHEERS:]

Rana Ayyub saw it up-close-and-in-person.

AYYUB: And the moment Trump spoke about the threat to the world from Islamic terrorism, the crowd erupted in a roar, and they were like clapping and cheering it. You know, so it’s like two leaders who speak the same language. So unless there is a change of administration and in America, I do not see any specific change.

[MUSIC ENDS]

So step one for combating sectarianism? Win this Presidential election. Change this Administration. Pratap Banu Mehta: 

MEHTA: I think if the perception grows that there is a new US president who once again cares about multilateral institutions…I think that itself will actually have an effect. And the United States’s own conduct, both domestically and abroad, I think, will have a great effect.

And that’s step two: With Trump gone, we can begin to undo the damage of his example by setting a positive one.  

A good start? Rescinding Trump’s Muslim Ban on day one.  And then, make human rights a central focus of our foreign policy. 

Ro Khanna represents Silicon Valley in Congress, and co-chaired the Bernie Sanders campaign.   

KHANNA: Well, we certainly have to prioritize human rights the bilateral negotiations and make sure that is not sixth or seventh on the agenda as something that people raise pro forma, but that really is critical to our relationship. 

Congressman Khanna wants to have a constructive relationship with India. But, since America is made up of people from all over the world, he also thinks we can mobilize even better messengers than politicians. Like, say the 4 million thriving Indian-Americans living in the US, many of whom have supported Modi: 

KHANNA: You have the opportunity for both the South Asian diaspora and American leaders to try to win over as many hearts and minds in India. So, you know, the opportunity for tech leaders and people who are respected to make the case that ultimately pluralistic societies are ones that are more successful — economically more successful — and more opportunity. And that cultural  parochialism is a bad economic strategy. Now, most of that has to be indigenous within India. But to the extent that people who are influential can try to win over the hearts and minds, I think it’s worth the effort.

Still, Congressman Khanna acknowledges there’s a bigger, deeper problem that needs to be addressed if you want to win the hearts of people who’ve turned to sectarian identities in an uncertain world. 

KHANNA: We can model better behavior and certainly could provide a better example, but I think the broader question is why do we see the rise of nationalism in places like India and other parts of the world, And what we’re seeing is that people are more tied to a cultural identity, that they’re more tied to their religious identities than we had assumed.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

This is something right-wing movements identified long ago.

Something we’ve talked about a lot on this podcast. 

For better or worse, people will change their morality — and even sacrifice their lives — to be part of a mass movement that offers a sense of pride. Pride In their identity… their nation… or maybe most unshakably, their religion.  

Pratap Banu Mehta says: way back, the right started doing the hard work of reinforcing, or even creating, these kind of identities. Even during periods they didn’t hold office.

MEHTA: So if you look at the type of right-wing parties, I’m just using right-wing loosely at the moment. Globally, I think, one of the things we often underestimate is how much they are helped by social movements that are independent of electoral cycles and fortunes. I mean, you could even think of the Tea Party in the United States as a kind of analog, right? Where there are organizations in India – it could be the RSS who have done literally years and years of cultural work. Whereas I think the left in India was a little bit more socially deterministic. You know, I think we were sort of head counting, which particular social groups which people belong to. And can we put together a social coalition? Whereas I think the right was working with the agenda of remaking social identities?

“The Agenda Of Remaking Social Identities.” What would it look like if *progressives* embarked on that kind of agenda?  

Not rejecting people on the far-right as a lost cause. Not trying to appease them politically with a few right-wing policies. But by slowly, steadily, actually changing hearts as well as minds. 

It’s not hard to imagine what that would look like…because progressives used to do it all the time.

And poetically, we were shown how… by a guy from India.   

MLK: In theological seminary days, I had heard of Gandhi, and the whole philosophy of Gandhi and passive nonviolent resistance.

That’s Martin Luther King talking.

And at that point, I became deeply influenced by Gandhi, never realizing that I would live in a situation where it would be useful in meaning. I feel that..organized nonviolent resistance is the most powerful weapon that oppressed people can use in breaking loose from the bondage of oppression.

A weapon when aimed at oppression. A peaceful movement that could grow. 

Gandhi brought together people of all faiths and classes to end colonialism….and then King led a movement of all races to transform America. 

And just like a religious movement, people were willing to sacrifice for it. Ro Khanna’s own grandfather gave up his freedom to support Gandhi in India. 

KHANNA: He was in jail in the 1940s and my grandmother tells the story of how she didn’t know whether he was alive or not in those four years as she was raising young children. And she would send her oldest son, Dave, who was about twelve, every year to the jail to inquire about my grandfather. And the guards would say that he was okay, but wouldn’t tell him anything else. And they would take the sweets that Dave would offer. And my grandfather never got them. So it’s a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that people had made for freedom around the world. 

But as we explored in our very first episode — that struggle for freedom and dignity remains unfinished today…and not just in India. 

CNN NEWS CLIP: (BLM International): London is leaning into America’s pain and demanding an end of its own…by the day, these protests are gathering worldwide momentum…Japan, S Korea, Kenya, S Africa, Lebanon, Canada, where PM Justin Trudeau took a knee. Everywhere there is hope the swell of support will amount to change finally.

We know where Donald Trump stands. His response when Black Lives Matter protests erupted this summer? He tear gassed peaceful protesters so he could pose in front of a church holding a Bible…the same sectarian impulse that led him to fulminate against “Radical Islam.” 

So the movement that’s united people in our streets this summer? That secular movement for equality? That’s our progressive answer to the right’s appeal to a religious and an exclusionary patriotism. 

We know that kind of movement provides an almost spiritual sense of pride.  

That kind of movement can bend the arc of history towards justice. 

That kind of movement can remake identities by making people aspire to be their better selves…as individuals and as nations. 

But only if we do what Gandhi and King did in shifting attitudes over time. Pratap Banu Mehta believes that means reaching out to those who aren’t already on board. 

MEHTA: I mean, in a way, we’ve sort of become too woke for our own good. And the standards… are so high that it’s often led to much more factional fights within the left or between the left and the center itself. and I think what we find is we end up spending far more energy negotiating the differences between the center and the left, than we are between this lot and people who are actually going to, you know, disrupt our constitutional order very deeply and fundamentally. As opposed to saying that, ‘look, so long as you are abiding by certain basic constitutional values, we think of this movement as a big, you know, big tent.

India and the United States are the two biggest democracies in the world. We’re also multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries that find strength in diversity. But now that very ideal is under threat…in both our countries, and around the world  

So we need to do the hard work of building movements, and welcoming people into the fold — even after we win this election, and whether or not we lose the next one. Because as the right realized decades ago, conversions don’t happen overnight.

[MUSIC SWELLS] 

Next week on Missing America: We head to the Middle East. Where instead of leading the way out of sectarian conflicts, the U.S. poured gasoline on them — and continues to pay the price.

JEBREAL: if you don’t tie your foreign policy in, in terms of promoting the rule of law, human rights and justice, you will always have backlashes. Period. Simple.

The blowback from endless war… and what we can do to break the cycle. On our next episode.

[MUSIC ENDS] 

[CREDITS MUSIC BEGINS]

Missing America is written and hosted by me, Ben Rhodes.

It’s a production of Crooked Media.

 

The show is produced by Andrea Gardner-Bernstein.

Rico Gagliano is our story editor.

Austin Fisher is our associate producer.

Sound design and mixing by Daniel Ramirez.

Production support and research from Nimi Uberoi and Sydney Rapp.

Fact checking by Justin Klozco 

Original music by Marty Fowler. 

 

The executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Lyra Smith, and Tanya Somanader.

Special thanks to Alison Falzetta, Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau.

Thanks for listening.

[CREDITS MUSIC FADES]