There are two aspects of an argument: its content and its construction. On this blog our focus is almost entirely on the latter; the only reason we have content is that we cannot do without it to construct an argument – an argument has to be about something. However, we have no material or emotional stake in the content; it is just a means to an end. In this post we explore in more detail the specifics of the end we have in mind.
There are at least three attributes of the construction of an argument that are critical: Credibility (whether the argument is supported by evidence); Coherence (whether the argument meets the tests of logic); and Consistency (whether the argument is free of contradictions). In order to illustrate these attributes we will resort to content provided by a participant in an earlier discussion.
The argument offered by the participant is the following (the complete text can be seen here):
Here is what’s going on and what will continue in India once their [Muslims] population gets more than Hindus
Am I being paranoid, or just learning from history and present? What’s your take, you “really” think India can remain peaceful with so many Muslims? What do you think is the difference in Indian Muslims that they won’t go same route as their Pakistani and Bangladeshi brethren.
[As mentioned earlier, we have no interest in the content of this argument; for our purposes it could just as easily refer to Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and Ireland.]
The participant has concluded his comment with the remark: “With this I rest my case.” Since he has used a legal paradigm to present his argument, we shall stay with it for the examination of its validity.
In a legal environment, the plaintiff is free to enter any argument he or she desires. It does not matter whether it is considered paranoid or otherwise. All that is required in the first instance is that argument be credible, i.e., it should be supported by evidence.
There are two components in the factual part of the argument (that the population of Muslims would exceed that of Hindus in India at some point in time and that non-Muslims are ill treated in Pakistan). From this is inferred the conclusion that when the population of Muslims exceeds that of Hindus in India, the latter would be subjected to the same ill treatment as in Pakistan. Let us examine the factual and inferential parts of the argument in turn.
The first claim in the factual part can be easily verified by statistical methods. The participant has not provided any evidence despite our request in an earlier exchange and our reference to a summary of the Sachar Committee Report where it is stated that “Muslim population growth has slowed down as fertility has declined substantially. This does away with the concern that Muslim population growth would be able to outnumber Hindus or change the religious demography in any meaningful way.” However, in order to go through this exercise, let us assume that the claim is true, i.e., that Muslims would outnumber Hindus in India at some point in the future.
The second claim in the factual part is that non-Muslims are ill-treated in Pakistan. For this the participant has furnished evidence which is in agreement with most other assessments of the situation in Pakistan. So, the factual claims of the participant’s argument satisfy the requirement of credibility.
We come now to the inferential part which we can separate into two components: that the ill-treatment of non-Muslims in Pakistan is attributable to Muslims in Pakistan and that the behavior of Muslims in India would be the same as that of the Muslims in Pakistan. We can examine each in turn to see if they meet the tests of coherence and consistency.
While the Pakistani state is undoubtedly guilty of allowing the ill-treatment of non-Muslims it is a contestable logical extension to attribute that failure to Muslims in general. There is much evidence from many parts of the world to support the claim that most communal violence is not spontaneous. Rather, it is instigated by agents with political interests and they succeed because the state either remains passive or is actively involved. The participant needs to provide additional support for the assertion implied in this component of the argument. However, once again let us assume the participant is correct in order to complete the exercise, i.e., it is accepted that Muslims ill-treat non-Muslims in Pakistan.
We arrive now at the second and even more contestable component of the participant’s inference: that Muslims in India would behave in the same way towards non-Muslims as their brethren in Pakistan or Bangladesh. The consistency of this argument can be challenged in at least two ways.
First, at the time of the partition in 1947 some Muslims decided to migrate to Pakistan while others stayed in India. We know from a lot of research that the process of migration always involves self-selection – the people who migrate are different from the people who don’t. One just has to look at the migration from rural to urban areas to verify that the migrants are not a random selection from the rural population. If hatred of non-Muslims was an inherent characteristic of Muslims, then all should have migrated when presented the opportunity to live in an exclusively Muslim space. To make this more concrete, the participant would have to claim that there was no difference in the worldviews of Maulana Maudoodi (who migrated) and Maluana Azad (who didn’t). This is a strong claim that is not unequivocally true at face value.
[For the record, I personally don’t subscribe to this line of examination although the defence remains at liberty to pursue it. The migration at the time of Partition was not voluntary for virtually all non-Muslims in what is now Pakistan and for a significant number of the Muslims who migrated from what is now India. However, that does not imply that there is no difference amongst Muslims.]
Second, in an earlier comment the reader himself made a distinction between North Indian and South Indian Muslims: “Situation would have been less alarming had Muslims from North India would have been asked to leave to East and West Pakistan while all non-Muslims in India (sic), in my opinion it would have been unfair to ask South Indians Muslims to leave due to cultural differences.”
Here, the reader’s argument fails the test of consistency because it is contradicted by a claim that he himself had advanced earlier. If cultural differences between South and North Indian Muslims can lead to different behavior then it can be argued that cultural differences between Pakistani Muslims (who are themselves divided in a number of distinct ethnicities) and Indian Muslims can also lead to variations in behavior.
In addition, when Muslims in India outnumber Hindus, the former would not constitute a monolithic cultural bloc. They would still be divided into North and South Indian Muslims and into various linguistic groups. There is no prime facie reason to believe that they would unite spontaneously to mistreat non-Muslims. Even if they did, there is no convincing reason to expect that they would gain from doing so in a situation in which Muslims and non-Muslims would be equally matched in numbers and a secular state would be in place to prevent violations of the law.
Our cross-examination of the argument thus leads to the tentative conclusion that its construction is flawed. One component of its factual part lacks credibility and both components of its inferential part do not unambiguously pass the tests of coherence and consistency.