July 3, 2007Foreign Affairs

Go away South Asian’!

Exchanging a great brand for a flawed one is self-defeating and dangerous

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

It is fashionable among a section of Indians to become South Asians after setting foot in a Western country. There is, of course, absolutely no reason for expatriate Indian nationals to bear any ill-will towards expatriate Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis or Sri Lankans living abroad. Just as there is absolutely no reason to bear ill-will towards expatriate Chinese, Germans, South Africans, Nigerians or Peruvians. But it is wholly unnecessary for an Indian to adopt the label of South Asian” in order to be nice to others. Or to be seen to be nice to others.

Indeed, Indian” has far greater brand recognition, and far more positive connotations internationally than the meaningless South Asian”. At least until they gave that name to a mismanaged airline.

The abject failure of the South Asian” label can be seen when the media reports bad news. Take the case of some of the terrorists who were arrested. Dr Mohammed Haneef—a person who practiced medicine (and succumbed to the jihadi mindtrap) in Britain—is reported as being an Indian” national, not a South Asian”, although he is likely to have ended up as a terrorist suspect because of the baleful influence of other South Asians.

But it is the Indianness of Abu Musa al-Hindi, alias Bilal, that takes the cake. Except that he was born in India, to a Hindu family, it’s hard to see what is Indian in him. His family was from Kenya, he grew up in Britain, and converted to Islam in 1991, trained in a Pakistani terrorist training camp in 1995, fought the Indian army in Kashmir, before being arrested in 2004. Yet, his jihadi comrades call him the Indian’ (_al-Hind_i) and the media (even Wikipedia) still calls him Dhiren Barot, and often plays up his Indianness. (Fareed Zakaria, though, is as true blue an American as you can get.)

What’s this got to do with South Asianness? While that term is currently limited to the politically correct sorts, it can take on a life of its own, especially for good news stories. Like those successful South Asian immigrants, the West South Asians who run most motels in North America, the South South Asians who run good vegetarian restaurants there or the East South Asians who run North South Asian restaurants in Britain etc. Failure and bad news, being orphans, will be laid at the door of the Indian. Like that Dr Mohammed Haneef. He may or may not be a terrorist. But he is an Indian.

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