Seize the moment


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GOOD can sometimes emerge from the ugly, evil moments; when all seems lost, a ray of light can emerge from the darkest corners. In her essay in response to the savage assault on Mumbai, ‘The Monster in the Mirror’ published by Outlook and The Guardian, UK, Arundhati Roy quite aptly places the stark options before us today and we all must choose. Only two choices, no third option: Justice or Civil War. Its difficult to disagree with what she says: how can there be peace where there is no justice?

Roy’s point is not without merit. Neighbouring Pakistan seems on the brink. Rampant discrimination, demonisation, ghettoisation, marginalisation, alienation and genocidal killings thrice over in 18 years – Bhagalpur 1987, Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat 2002 (should we also mention here the plight of the country’s other minorities, Sikhs in Delhi 1984 or Christians in Orissa 2008?) – has been pushing Indian Muslims to the precipice. Ever since 1992, establishment icons – retired and sometimes even serving judges, IAS and IPS officers – have repeatedly sent out a warning signal: by its failure to protect the life and property of a section of its citizens, the state is sowing the seeds of extremism.

In early 1994, Dr Jalees Ansari was arrested on the charge of masterminding at least 40 bomb blasts in various parts of the country since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. (He was later convicted and is still in jail.) During his interrogation the young physician said: ‘I wanted the government to know that if it cannot protect the Muslims of this country, we will protect ourselves.’ No message, no signal it seems reaches those at the helm of affairs.

Who in our terror times will pay attention to the recommendations of the high-powered Sachar Committee? When will we next hear another official word on the fate of the tame Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, supposedly meant to deal with mass crimes of the Gujarat kind? In his Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa Memorial Lecture in the national capital on 17 September 2008, P.C. Chidambaram, then Union finance minister, warned of ‘new waves of terror’ resulting from the growing alienation of India’s minorities.

‘Out of the hopelessness and despair of the Muslim community – and if not addressed firmly, the Christian tribal communities too – will rise new waves of terror.’ But the messenger of our times – the media – was not interested in reaching Chidambaram’s message to the nation. Repeated reminders to the Indian state of the consequences of its failure to follow its constitutional dharma – rule of law, due process, equality before law and equal protection of law – have all been in vain. Now that Chidambaram is himself Union home minister, may we hope that he walks his talk?

Choose: justice or civil war? Roy has a point, I repeat. But I also have another point to make, a hope to express. Is there no way we could cut down the choice before us from two to one: justice without civil war?

The 9/11 attack on America that stunned the world also struck at the edifice of today’s Islam and that too is context. The response? Denial. A conspiracy theory hatched overnight somewhere in the Middle East seized the ummah’s mind: Muslims didn’t do it, Mossad did it, with CIA’s help. Proof? Jews who worked in the World Trade Centre, hundreds of them, stayed away from work that day because Zionists had forewarned them!

Since then and until recently, too many Muslims across the globe, Indian Muslims included, remained in denial mode. Bomb blasts in London, Beslan, Madrid, Israel and even those in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan: Mossad-CIA conspirators at work! Why would the CIA and Mossad engage in such ugly orgy, going to the extent of targeting its own citizens? The answer is simple: to defame Islam, demonise Muslims! What about terror in India? Add the Sangh Parivar to the list of conspirators!


The charge sheet submitted in court in August 2006 by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of the Maharashtra police; the arrest of some Hindu extremists in parts of Maharashtra this summer for bomb blasts in Thane and Panvel; the arrest of a sadhvi, a sadhu, and a serving army officer, among others for their involvement in the end-September blasts in Malegaon point to the birth of ‘Hindu terror’, at least since 2003. What is scary is the number of Hindu organizations whom the investigating agencies have implicated in the web of terror: Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, RSS, Shiv Sena, Bhonsala Military Academy, Abhinav Bharat, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, Sanatan Sanstha. To the Muslim denialists, the arrival of the ‘Hindu bomb’ is the ultimate proof that the enemies of Islam and Muslims are using terror to terrorise Muslims and fuel further Islamophobia.


Muslims, however, are not the only ‘denialists’ in business. Three months ago, Teesta Setalvad, co-editor of the monthly journal, Communalism Combat, obtained through an RTI application a copy of the ATS charge sheet in the Nanded blasts case (April 2006) holding members of the Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS responsible for the blasts. We published it in our journal and presented the facts before the national press through a well-attended press conference in Delhi on 28 August 2008.

Only two papers published the news, one readily, the other reluctantly. Such scandalous conduct of our ‘free press’ prompted the following comment by Outlook: ‘In a curious convergence of views, policy-makers – regardless of the party in power – administrators/police and journalists appear to be united in the belief that to put the activities of Hindu militant organizations under the scanner, in the way their Muslim counterparts are, would somehow upset the social balance.’ According to prevailing wisdom, pogroms and genocides are never referred to as ‘mob terror’ as they should rightly be called. So much easier on the conscience to keep it simple: ‘communal riots’. (Might we also recall that in very many places in Gujarat in 2002, gas cylinders were deployed as explosives to blast homes, hotels, work places and places of worship: Hindu bomb?)

Back to Muslims. Though the malady is widespread, not every Muslim is a denialist. The perpetrators of 9/11 were denounced there and then. ‘Islam was hijacked on 9/11’, the US-based Christian convert to Islam, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf had declared. Soon thereafter, he affirmed that Enlightenment values and Islamic values were in consonance, not in conflict; that most western countries offer a far friendlier atmosphere for a practicing Muslim than most countries that describe themselves as ‘Islamic states’.

‘My fatwa against the fanatics’, was the title of an article London-based Ziauddin Sardar of Pakistani origin wrote in The Observer. Muslims have failed to condemn terrorism in the name of Islam as harshly and as loudly as they must, complained Sheikh Khaled Abou El Fadl in an article in the Los Angeles Times (14 July 2002). In knowledgeable circles, many consider El Fadl to be the most important and influential Islamic thinker in the modern age. An accomplished Islamic jurist and scholar, he is Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law where he teaches Islamic law and human rights.


In response to him, the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote a polite letter protesting that the Sheikh was not being fair to fellow Muslims. It drew his attention to the fact that, among other things,

* Within two hours after the attacks on 9/11, a coalition of the largest American Muslim organizations consisting of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council and the Muslim Public Affairs Council had issued a joint statement condemning the terrorist attacks, offered condolences to the families of those who were killed or injured and together with all Americans demanded the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators.

* In a nationwide call on September 11, the Council on American-Islamic Relations had urged Muslim medical professionals to go to the scenes of the attacks to offer aid and comfort, among other things.

* Ever since the tragic events, Muslim organizations in the US had repeatedly condemned the terror attack on their country.

* CAIR took out a full page advertisement in the Washington Post the Sunday following the attacks, stating its condemnation of the events of 9/11 and sending condolences to the victims and their families.


What Dr Fadl said in reply to the CAIR letter is something that remains valid even today and bears quoting in some detail: ‘Before writing my op-ed, I also did research on the statements issued by various Muslim organizations. What I found missing is what might be called a proportional public relations campaign. Certainly, a Muslim American campaign existed but, in my view, it was not proportional to the gravity of events and accusations levelled against us. When someone threatens you with a tank, you cannot respond with a handgun.

‘We needed to respond with a concerted, systematic, unified, and unrelenting effort, considering the stakes and dangers to our religion… Considering the stakes, considering the animus and hostility to us, considering the plots and conspiracies against us, our voice, as Muslims, must be loud, resounding, and even deafening. We must be so loud to the point that we are able to drown out the voices of the Emersons and Pipes (both notorious Islamophobes) of our world.’

Sheikh Fadl did not stop there but proceeded to grab the Muslim malady by its roots: ‘Most of the (Muslim) leadership (in the West) remains to be the byproduct of an immigrant phenomenon – individuals who grew up in authoritarian cultures, who came to the USA primarily for financial reasons, and who are unable to differentiate between Arab or Indo-Pakistani culture and Islamic law. My experience is that most Muslim organizations do not have the ability to benefit from and adequately utilize their human resources; they are unable or unwilling to incorporate a dynamic process of intellectual regeneration…

‘Whether we are from the Arab or Indo-Pakistani world, it seems to me that despite the façade of democratic processes that we have learned to master in our home cultures, despotic processes and paradigms have become well-ingrained in the very psychology and intellectual fabric of our leadership. Our main organizations, despite the façade of democracy, are still trapped within the mainly despotic paradigms that they imported from back home.’ What Sheikh Fadl says of the émigré Muslim leadership in the West is no less true of the Muslim leadership in India, for example.


Count Anwar Ebrahim, a former Islamist and former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, among Muslims who were shell-shocked on 9/11. Not long thereafter, he wrote that it will no longer do to try and distance Islam from the terrorism being practised in its name. Muslims must ask themselves why and how in Islamic theology and tradition there was space left for extremism and terrorism to grow roots. Many Muslim scholars and theologians have since introspected on this question and traced back the root of the problem to India. And the name of the problem is, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The website of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba/Jamaat-ud-dawa tells us: ‘Islam does not mean following a few rituals like performing prayers, keeping fasts, performing the pilgrimage to the Kaaba (Haj), giving alms (zakaat), or donating to charitable works, but in fact, it is a complete Code of Life.’ Guess from where the JUD/LeT gather such wisdom? From a 1939 speech by Maududi, later published as a booklet Jihad fi Sabilillah (Jihad in Islam). Islam, for Maududi is a ‘revolutionary creed’ and Muslims means a ‘revolutionary party’. It is the duty of this vanguard to engage in jihad by ‘every means possible’ to overthrow all man-made systems ruled according to man-made laws (liberal democracy, fascism, communism) and install an Islamic state to enforce ‘Allah’s laws (shariah) on earth.’

Jihad fi Sabilillah is to a hard-core Islamist what Vladimir I. Lenin’s 1902 tract ‘What is to be Done?’ was for the Russian Bolsheviks. Both are prescriptions for a utopia on earth – Islamic state and shariah for the former, communism for the latter. Ask any Jamaat-Islami leader in India and he is sure to tell you ‘every means possible’ does not include the resort to violence. But the words and deeds of his Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Kashmiri counterparts tell us something altogether different.


But Maududi’s thoughts are not confined to South Asia. He was a major inspiration for both Sayyid Qutb (Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt) and Iran’s Imam Khomeini. For Qutb (to many in the West, ‘the philosopher of Islamic terror’), violence was certainly part of the acceptable means and the enemies of Islam included Muslims who for Qutb were only so in name. Placed behind bars for years, he was finally hanged to death in 1966 by a military court set up by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Following his death, many of his ardent followers fled to Saudi Arabia and took up the teaching profession. There, ‘Qutbism’ cross-fertilized with Wahhabism to produce a lethal hybrid. (Wahhabism is an extremely arid, insular, rigid, intolerant even fanatical version of Islam propounded by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab in the 18th century embraced by the Saud clan, was made the official state religion on the founding of Saudi Arabia. Flush with petrodollars after the 1973 oil crisis, the Saudi monarchy has poured millions of dollars into mosques and madrasas across the world, including India, to promote an intolerant Islam to Muslims).


Khomeini’s successful ‘Islamic Revolution’ in Iran in 1979 virtually coincided with the Soviet occupation of neighbouring Afghanistan. One successful revolution inspired another, so the resistance to the Soviet occupation donned a religious garb. What would otherwise have simply been a war of resistance against an occupying force overnight turned into a holy ‘jihad’. Since this was a jihad against the ‘Evil Empire’, America supported it to the hilt with billions of dollars, sophisticated weapons and training.

The then President Ronald Reagan even invited monstrosities like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami) and introduced them to the American elite and the media with the words: ‘These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of our own Founding Fathers.’ Since it was a war against atheist infidels, Saudi Arabia too contributed both money and crusaders schooled in Qutbism-Wahhabism. Next, the world’s strongest democracy involved an all-too willing Pakistan into the Afghan jihad. This new engagement worked well for dictator Zia-ul-Haq who was then busy doing all he could to ‘Islamise’ Pakistani with help from Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami. Thus it happened that Maududiyat came to embrace Qutbism and Wahhabism in the madrasas of Pakistan.

If we had the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the last Soviet troop pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989. What could be a headier moment than this for the disciples of Maududi and Qutb who had been groomed on the idea that Islam recognizes no national boundaries: for the Islamic vanguard the entire world was its arena. So from Afghanistan, the jihad travelled east for the ‘liberation’ of Kashmiri Muslims and in every other direction. No doubt the continued bleeding of Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya provide extra-charge to the global jihadist. But it is important to remember that Maududi had foregrounded global jihad on the Muslim agenda before the surfacing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Qutb’s vision, too, was never limited to the solution of the Palestinian problem.


Context is important, always important, says Roy in her recent essay. She is right. But when talking of Indian Muslims, apart from the larger global contexts, we also need to factor in some specifically Muslim context. In Marxist jargon let us call them the ‘objective conditions’ and ‘subjective conditions’. A good Marxist will tell you that an ideology or a world-view is born and the human subject can intervene in history only when the ‘objective conditions’ are ripe. All credit is due to the Indian state and the Sangh Parivar for creating the objective condition necessary for the birth of the Muslim terrorist on Indian soil.

Read reports of the intelligence wings of the Border Security Force from different states – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam – and they almost read like carbon copies of each other. They all go something like the following: On 6 December 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished. After that Pakistan’s ISI, which so far had failed to strike a chord among Indian Muslims, found its window of opportunity.


Even before 6 December 1992, Indian Muslims had lived through the trauma of Jamshedpur, Ahmedabad, Bhiwandi-Kalyan, Moradabad, Nellie massacre (Assam), Meerut-Malliana, Bhagalpur to name just a few. None of these, however, led to a terror act in response. If the credit for preparing the objective conditions goes to the Indian state, the Maududiyat-Qutbism-Wahhabism that was spreading its tentacles in the neighbourhood must assume collective responsibility for poisoning the Muslim mind (subjective conditions).

In a paper titled ‘Erosion of Secularism, Explosion of Jihad’, Irfan Ahmed, an anthropologist from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, links the Islamist radicalization in India to the failure of the state. ‘SIMI’s (Students Islamic Movement of India) radicalization unfolded in direct response to the rise of virulent Hindu nationalism or ‘Hindutva’… As the assault on secularism by Hindutva – culminating in the demolition of the Babri mosque and accompanied with large-scale violence against Muslims – grew fiercer, so did SIMI’s call for jihad.’

But Ahmed’s thesis is only partially true. While it helps us understand how Indian Muslims were pushed towards militancy, it does not explain why it donned the garb of jihad and shahadat (martyrdom). The LTTE, for example, is a lethal terrorist outfit, but it does not wear its Hinduism on its sleeves. SIMI’s stated objectives on inception (1977) may earlier have been different. But it cannot be denied that the moment it took a radical turn in the late ’80s, it needed no theological leap before jumping onto the global jihad bandwagon in spirit if not in immediate action. After all, it emerged from the womb of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the organization founded by the original guru of global jihad.

In his well-researched paper on SIMI, Yoginder Sikand rightly observes that there was nothing more than some feeble protest from some Muslim organizations when SIMI was first banned in 2001, even though the then NDA government led by A.B. Vajpayee ignored the demand of the governments of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for a simultaneous ban on Bajrang Dal. ‘Muslim organizations realized, as never before,’ wrote Sikand, ‘that the aggressive confrontationist stance of groups like the SIMI could hardly serve the community. Rather, it had only made their situation as a beleaguered minority even more precarious.’


However, Muslim religious and political organizations, the Urdu media and the Jamaat-e-Islami in particular cannot escape responsibility for having remained silent spectators while an entire generation of Muslim youth full of dedication, commitment and drive took to the path of self-destruction. Hardly anyone said anything in the ’80s when SIMI plastered Muslim homes, shops and offices with attention grabbing stickers proclaiming: ‘Secularism, NO! Democracy, NO! Nationalism, NO! Polytheism, NO! Only Islam!’

Again, no one said anything when following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, for several years running, SIMI plastered Muslim mohallas across the country with posters with the invocation: ‘Ya Ilahi, bhej de Mahmood koi (Oh Allah, send us a Mahmud)’. Who did not know that the reference was to Mahmud Ghaznavi whom the fanatics among Muslims revere as a ‘But Shikan’ (Destroyer of Idols; recall his repeated pillage of the Somnath mandir)? Yet again, no one asked the SIMI youth what they meant by their daily chant: ‘Allah Maqsad hamara, Rasool rahbar hamara, Quran dastoor hamara, Jihad raasta hamara, shahadat manzil hamari’ (Allah is our mission, Prophet our path-giver, Quran our constitution, jihad our path, martyrdom our destination). What could jihad plus shahadat possibly mean?


Through the headline of an article I wrote in the October 2001 issue of Communalism Combat, I had raised the question: ‘Why be shy about SIMI?’ The introduction to the article said: ‘The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslim religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25-year-old history of SIMI have they spoken out publicly against an organization that is a self-declared enemy of "democracy, socialism, nationalism and polytheism’’.’ A large number among the readers of CC across the country are Muslims. The response from them as also others: silence. I do not recall a single conversation or a letter either agreeing or disagreeing with what I then wrote.

26/11 must not mean India’s 9/11 in the sense that India needs to behave more responsibly and maturely than President Bush, a man considered a ‘war criminal’ by millions of Americans. But within the Muslim/Islam reference frame, 26/11 has meant for Indian Muslims what 9/11 meant for American Muslims and that’s a most welcome development. The sheer savagery and bestiality that 26/11 involved has jolted the Indian Muslim out of his mode of denial. Sweeping aside the conspiracy theorists, Muslims in Mumbai and elsewhere in the country have poured out of their homes to join fellow Indians in denouncing the perpetrators of the monstrosity, expressing anguish at the fragility of our security system, sending out condolence messages to the family members of those who were killed and paying homage to police officers and NSG commandos who died in the line of duty.


This was the obvious thing to do. But more importantly, they instinctively grasped the need to also stand up as Muslims to make a Muslim statement. The trustee of one graveyard in Mumbai announced that under no circumstance will they permit the burial of the nine terrorists who had been gunned down. ‘Our graveyard is for Muslims, mass murderers can’t be Muslims,’ he said.

No sooner had he said it, the rest of the city’s Muslims took the same stand. The Maharashtra government then announced that it will offer the bodies to Pakistan as all were Pakistani nationals, failing which they will be buried at some undisclosed place outside Mumbai. An all-India organization of imams who lead prayers in mosques asked Muslims to observe Eid this time in a subdued and sober way. News channels on Eid day and newspapers the next morning flashed images of Muslims in different parts of the country praying with a black band around their arms.

But the most significant statement from Indian Muslims was made on Sunday, 7 December. Around 1 December, Muslims for Secular Democracy, thought of mobilising 50-100 Muslims in Mumbai to take out a silent march from Chattrapati Shivaji Train Terminus (where the aam aadmi was targeted) to Oberoi-Trident (where the elite were the target). No slogans, no speeches, we decided. Our banners and placards will speak for us, but they will say things that have never till date been said.

We will name all the terrorist organizations that come to mind and denounce them all – from Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden to SIMI and Indian Mujahideen. To our very pleasant surprise, some 3,000 Muslims turned up for the Mumbai march. The participants included scores of maulanas and muftis who brought their madrasa students along. Celebrities were there and so also businessmen and professionals who probably had never marched the streets in their life. Jean-clad Muslim women marched alongside those in burqa.


As thrilling was the fact that thanks to the Jamiat-ul-ulema-e-Hind led by Maulana Mehmood Madni and numerous other religious, educational cultural bodies, similar silent marches were held – same day, same time – in 10 other cities, including Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkota, Hyderabad. The two common banners under which we marched everywhere were: ‘Watan ke dushman, hamare dushman’ (‘enemies of our motherland are our enemies’), ‘Begunahon ke qaatil, Islam ke dushman’ (‘killers of innocents are enemies of Islam’).

When in mid-August, The Indian Express published an article by me asking Muslims to beware of SIMI, a lot of secular Hindus were aghast. But in Mumbai on 7 December, it was madrasa students who carried our big banner on which were named all the enemies of democratic India and Islam, including SIMI and Indian Mujahideen. Some organizations refrained from naming SIMI and Indian Mujahideen. But they had no hesitation walking together with others who did.


If 26/11 threw open the floodgates of Indian Muslim sentiment, Maulana Mehmood Madni’s faction of the Jamiat deserves high praise for taking the lead in stepping out of the denial mode and launching a countrywide campaign this year to denounce terrorism of all kinds, particularly that committed in the name of Islam. The Jamaat-e-Islami is now under a lot of pressure from other mainstream Muslim bodies to shed its ambivalence over SIMI. One out of every six Muslims in the world is an Indian. He has spoken out this time, loud and clear. It is for the Indian state to now step out of its own state of denial and show us that it, too, is opposed to all forms of terror, including its own.

The secular Hindu, too, must respond to the need of the hour. The majority communalism, minority communalism distinction will no longer do. One reinforces the other and communalism is a South Asian malaise, not just an Indian one. What is minority communalism in India is majority communalism on both sides of the border. I also suspect that the soft on minority communalism attitude is not just a problem of theory. It probably also has to do with guilt for not speaking out loud enough when the communal Hindu demonises Muslims, and not asking the state to task for its failure to protect Muslim life and property. The choice is obvious: act, speak out against violence whoever the perpetrator, demand justice for all.

If only we can seize it, India’s worst nightmare could also be its defining moment.