Religious fascism is a funny thing.

Well, not really, but it is peculiar, especially in India, where to be a Hindu nationalist one doesn’t even need to be a Hindu. Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs — the Hindu nationalist movement will take ’em, writes Rajeev Bhargava, a political theorist at the University of Delhi in Dissent, a leftist quarterly CHK. Bottom line? So long as you regard India as both “fatherland” and “holy land,” you’re in. Which leaves Indian Muslims, the region’s largest religious minority for centuries, decidedly out.

Case in point: Cows. According to Bhargava, “the first movement for cow protection was initiated at the end of the nineteenth century and sought to unite all Hindus against the alleged barbaric practices of Muslims that threatened the natural order of Hindu society…. The permanent subtext of such campaigns is their anti-Muslim character: all Muslims are assumed to be beef-eaters, a permanent body of cow-slaughterers.”

“I see the cow issue,” a Hindu nationalist leader remarked recently, on the fight to save the bovine, “as part of the global struggle against jihadi fundamentalism.”

Which puts a new twist on mad cow disease.

Sacred cows, in fact, are responsible for a whole lot of human killing — the 2,000 Muslimsmassacred in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, for example. Their deaths were the instigation for Bhargava’s exploration of Hindu nationalism, but it’s more than a regional story from halfway around the world. Considering that Hindu nationalists have spruced up fascism for a new century — with lessons for demagogues worldwide — reading Bhargava is like looking through a glass darkly.

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