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India Appeases Radical Islam
By SADANAND DHUME
November 27, 2007; Page A18

Friday's multiple bomb blasts in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh -- which killed 13 people and injured about 80 -- ought to give pause to those who see the world's largest democracy as a linchpin in the war on terror. India's leaders and diplomats seek to portray the country as a firebreak against radical Islam, or the drive to impose the medieval Arab
norms enshrined in Shariah law on 21st century life. In reality, India is
ill- equipped to fight this scourge.

Like neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, (and unlike Turkey or Tunisia)
India has failed to modernize much of its Muslim population. Successive generations of politicians have pandered to the most backward elements of India's 150-million strong Muslim population, the second largest in the world after Indonesia's. India has allowed Muslims to follow Shariah in civil matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance. An increasingly
radicalized neighborhood, fragmented domestic politics and a curiously timid
mainstream discourse on Islam add up to hobble India's response to radical
Islamic intimidation.

Most Indian Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, and are more
concerned with the struggles of daily life than the effort to create a
global caliphate
. Muslim contributions to the fabric of national life --
most visible in sports, movies and the arts -- should not be dismissed.
Furthermore, religious zealotry in India is not a Muslim monopoly
. Still,
the notion that Indian Islam is uniquely tolerant, or somehow immune to the
rising tide of world-wide radical sentiment, is a myth.

Last year, Haji Muhammad Yaqoob Qureshi, a minister in the Uttar Pradesh
government, publicly offered a $11 million bounty for beheading the Danish
cartoonists who had drawn the prophet Mohammed. In high-tech Hyderabad,
parts of which are Muslim strongholds, three sitting legislators of a local
Islamic party recently roughed up Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi author
critical of her country's treatment of its Hindu minority and her faith's
treatment of women. Last week, the government of West Bengal state in
eastern India had to call in the army to quell Muslim rioters in Calcutta,
whose demands included Ms. Nasreen's expulsion from the country.

India's historically weak-kneed response to radical Islamic intimidation
only encourages such behavior. In 1988, India was the first country to ban
Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses." (Ayatollah Khomeini issued his
infamous death sentence on the author only after reading about disturbances
in India.) In 1999, after terrorists hijacked an Indian aircraft to then
Taliban-controlled Kandahar, New Delhi responded by releasing three
prominent Islamic militants from prison in Kashmir. One of them, the
British-Pakistani London School of Economics dropout Omar Saeed Sheikh, went
on to mastermind the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
True to form, the authorities have responded to the latest outbreak of
violence in Calcutta by bundling off Ms. Nasreen to distant Rajasthan, and
from there to Delhi.

As in other democracies -- Britain and Holland to name just two -- a
permissive approach toward radical Islam has only made the country more
vulnerable to terrorism. In August this year, 42 people died in attacks on a
Hyderabad restaurant and an open-air auditorium. Last year, a series of
explosions on commuter trains in Bombay killed over 200 people. Two years
ago, the Hindu festival of Diwali was rung in with bombs that claimed 62
lives in Delhi.

New Delhi has blamed the attacks on groups such as the Pakistan-based
Lashkar-e-Toiba and Bangladesh's Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami. Though much of
India's terrorism problem is imported, part of it is homegrown. Instead of
reflexively blaming Islamabad, Indians need to ask themselves why foreign
terrorists appear to have little trouble recruiting accomplices from India.
(The Uttar Pradesh attacks appear to be the work of a previously unknown
outfit called Indian Mujahideen.) The bromide about the lack of Indian
Muslim involvement in international terrorism, accepted unquestioningly by
much of India's liberal intelligentsia, must be called into question after
the involvement of Indian doctors in this year's failed attacks in London
and Glasgow.

India's experience offers important lessons to other democracies struggling
to integrate large Muslim populations. It highlights the folly of attempting
to exempt Muslims from universal norms regarding women's rights, freedom of
speech and freedom of inquiry.
It reveals that democracy alone -- when
detached from bedrock democratic principles -- offers no antidote to radical
Islamic fervor.

Mr. Dhume is a fellow at the Asia Society in Washington, D.C. "My Friend the
Fanatic," his book about the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, will be
published by Melbourne next year.

 

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