10:00pm. Princeton. Ending my night sipping a cup of Chai Karak made from an instant packet from a stash I begged a friend to bring for me from overseas. Abroad, we would take our vibrant cups from the tea shops and gather at night with local and international friends by the corniche overlooking the Gulf Sea. Karak was the driving excuse that brought us together, those who've been there can attest to that. Karak is said to have been brought to the Arabian Peninsula more recently with the mass migration of Indians and South Asians. In a way, this Gulf-Indo drink is the fuel for my article in which i'll discuss, The United Arab Emirates and India's enhanced cooperation, and what this means for both those countries regionally and domestically .
United Arab Emirates - India:
Domestically the two countries have been sharing spices, clothing, gold and commerce for ages, however, many Gulf countries' support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, has stunted diplomatic relations.
Despite diplomatic undulations, one thing that remains constant since 3000BC, is the trade and commerce of goods and services between the two regions. In the 1970s, United Arab Emirates and India bilateral trade was worth 180 million, today, it has since reached 60 billion, making India UAE's second largest trade partner, and the United Arab Emirates India's third largest trade partner.
A landmark day for the United Arab Emirates was August 18, 2015, where the first time in 34 years an Indian Prime Minister had visited a Muslim country outside of South Asia. The visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to reiterate growing cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and India on many fronts, energy, economics, culture, and counterterrorism efforts.
Of the many fronts, the United Arab Emirates took a landmark step in cultural tolerance, by allotting land to build a Hindu Temple in Abu Dhabi, respectfully for their 2.6 million Indian residents that make up 30% of the population of the United Arab Emirates. Something that once could have been seen as a threat because it gives a mass body of people the ability to congregate, has been overlooked with a revised understanding that religious tolerance is necessary in tribute to the many workers who are invaluable to the country and for the future of the region.
United States - India:
A restorative move like this - since the past 34 years of tension and turmoil in the region - compliments that of the United States, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had received a travel ban from the United States for a dozen years until 2015. This ban was placed because of the 'International Religious Freedom Act of 1998' invoked under the Bush administration to punish foreign officials for severe violations of religious freedom in their home country.
The justification for this decade long travel ban on the now Prime Minister of India, described in a 2014 Wall Street Journal article was because, "horrific violence erupted between Hindus and Muslims in Mr. Modi's state. At a train station, Muslims surrounded a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, and the two groups clashed. The train was set on fire, and 58 passengers died. Many Hindus blamed Muslim agitators for the blaze, and Hindu mobs rampaged through Muslim communities, beating people to death, raping women and burning homes. Over a period of days, more than 1,000 people were killed."
The aftermath of this uprising, led Congress to believe that he did not take the right actions under his rule to prevent this or stop this.
After 12 years of a travel ban, It is said that President Obama will have his second meeting with Prime Minister Modi in New York this September.
Both the United States and United Arab Emirates' efforts to restore relations is a sign of India's reemergence into the global sphere as not only a sub-continent abundant in a rich culture, human capital, and investment potential, but increasingly a critical political one; for counterterrorism and regional stability.
Temples and Tolerance:
Overshadowed by the media's attention on war and gory, two months before the United Arab Emirates announced plans to open a temple, they had inaugurated another Catholic church in Abu Dhabi, to accommodate 1,900 people.
The United Arab Emirates has not only demonstrated that they are serious about religious and cultural tolerance, but have backed it up by the construction of significant buildings and constitutional laws. A recent anti-discriminatory law was announced to criminalize all forms of discrimination, be it religious, caste, ethnic, race, or creed.
Following the pattern of the past decades, the increasing religious abuse and restrictions, I had made the assumption that the Gulf region in particular would soon culturally isolate themselves. However, the efforts of Gulf countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates, has actively sought to reverse intolerance in the region.
Prime Minister Modi's visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first Non-South Asian Muslim country in 34 years since Indira Ghandi, is heavily symbolic, that times are changing. The United Arab Emirates is not only showing that they are a hub for foreign workers, but actively recreating many aspects of different cultures in their cities, proving they are a home.
Past decades of intolerance have allowed racism to grow. It was not intentionally neglected, rather, globally no one could anticipate what intolerance could breed, whether it be Israel-Palestine, extremist groups, United States and the Arab world, or inter-Middle East conflict. We are now living the reality of neglected decades.
Diplomatic ties are essential to battling these intolerances, and the United Arab Emirates has moved from reactive, to active in combatting these.
In regards to intolerance because of severed diplomatic relations, the whole country will feel the impact, which is why racism grew in the Gulf region towards South Asians, which is why racism grew in the United States towards Muslims.
I attended one of the best public schools in New Jersey, however, to my surprise, we rarely touched upon the Middle East, we did not even cover the history. This curriculum prepared us to become foreign to the Middle East, creating assumptions on the region as we grew. Since we hadn't learned the history or contextualized the people, this void in understanding was filled with the media's explanation. Which undoubtedly led to skewed perceptions for many students, especially growing up during 9/11.
Our public restoration of ties with the Arab World on a higher level and its influence on domestic perception, is applicable to what we are witnessing abroad; diplomatic and cultural cooperation will make South Asians less foreign to Arabs. I have hope because I see this leading to an innate respect by the nationals to the workers which could positively change the discourse on labor rights, years to come.
More times than not, a nation's foreign policy becomes the domestic perception on those foreign countries.
Northern India is a growing threat seen in the eyes of Prime Minister Modi, as there is an abundance of unfortunately illiterate and underrepresented Muslims in essentially every sector. This makes them vulnerable targets to various Extremist groups and camps. It is essential to reach out to this demographic.
India boasts a large 180 million Muslim population, most of whom are peaceful. In a Pew Research Report, India is said to have the world's largest population of Muslims by 2050. The opening of India to Arab culture and vice versa, and Hindu-Islamic tolerance are invaluable progressive steps for a stable future. In such steps, temples and mosques in exchange are beautiful impactful gifts.
The sound of religious exchange may irk some people because the stain hardliners and extremists have caused, however, if initiated to promote tolerance and not segregation, it could have a rippling effect in becoming tolerant to other cultures. I hope that the East is met with a wave of faith that can't be defined or described by the clothes a woman wears or the marks on a man's forehead, but a spiritual current moreover, a spiritual element that has been so long divorced from Islam since its politicization.
Acknowledging differences is a necessary step in progressing modern thought; a key to development. Efforts in condemning extremist actions, intolerance, and religious hatred will have a positive effect on the once ambiguous relationship between the two regions.
Because the United Arab Emirates was able to cooperate with India despite the issue that separated them most before; Kashmir, this not only showed a balancing of relations, but also, that coexistence, inter-cultural and religious cooperation is necessary to counter terrorism; to prevent domino effects in Asia.
The Gulf and India can no longer afford to turn a blind eye on cultural and religious intolerance, and on Pakistan's growing threats from extremist groups. Pakistan bridges the Arab world with the South Asian World - spillover effects are a real concern. In a recent interview with Khaleeji Times, Prime Minister Modi said, "The Gulf region is vital for India's economic, energy and security interests. I have begun my regional engagement with the UAE."
This foretells that India has started with the UAE, but will be seeking a holistic approach to stability and development; engaging the Gulf region as a whole. The key to counterterrorism and prosperity is regional cooperation; bridging back together South Asia and the Near East.
If the United Arab Emirates can maintain strong cooperation with Pakistan, if India can cooperate on counterterrorism efforts with Pakistan despite Kashmir-related tensions, and if countries from the United States to the Arab World can mend relations even through accusations of Narendra Modi being nonchalant amidst Hindu-Muslim riots, and come together on an understanding of the urgency to stabilize the region through restoration of relations -this could be one of the most promising counterterrorism moves.