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Thoughts On Terror

By Yoginder Sikand

16 September, 2008

As in the case of many previous deadly blasts across India over the past decade or so, there is much speculation about the real masterminds behind the recent blasts in New Delhi. Depending essentially on who you are—which these days has largely come to mean for many people which religious community one identifies with—the monsters behind the carnage could possibly be disgruntled Muslims or Islamist terrorists (for many Hindus) or Hindutva militants (according to many Muslims).

In the wake of the Delhi blasts, the media and intelligence agencies have been quick to blame the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) or what is claimed to be its new avatar, the Indian Mujahideen, as behind responsible for them. I have no doubt in my mind that the radical rhetoric of the SIMI was inherently conducive to mindless militancy and that, therefore, there is indeed a possibility of former SIMI members having been behind some of the blasts that have rocked India in recent years. In its vacuous call for a global caliphate and fiery appeals for armed jihad, the SIMI sought to imitate—lock, stock and barrel—radical Islamists, such as the Takfir wal Hijrah in Egypt, Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia and al-Mohajirun in England, all of which depart from centuries of classical Islamic tradition and preach a form of hate-driven Islamism that is akin to fascism and is viscerally hostile to other religions and their adherents. For Muslims in India, living as an increasingly beleaguered minority, SIMI’s rhetoric was entirely counter-productive, inherently dangerous and an open invitation for aggressive Hindu reaction and state repression. Which explains why SIMI never received mass support among the Muslims of the country, not even among the ulema or Islamic clerics, many of who considered its political stance completely unwarranted even in Islamic terms. Some of them even believed that the SIMI was outside the pale of Islam.

Based simply on its ideology, one could conclude that it is entirely possible that some SIMI activists or sympathisers could have indeed been behind some of the blasts that have occurred across the country in recent years. Besides, it is also possible that some of these blasts could be the handiwork of some other Muslims, incensed by the brutality of the state, witnessed most starkly in the state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, as a way of seeking revenge.

This does not mean that these elements speak for the Indian Muslims as a whole, however. To the contrary, Muslim leaders I have spoken to and whose statements I have read (mainly in the Urdu press, because most other papers simply ignore their voices) have repeatedly stressed—and are also doing so now, in the wake of the Delhi blasts—that if, as is being alleged, SIMI activists or some other Muslims were behind these, stern action—even capital punishment—should be meted out to them, for bomb blasts in which innocents die, they say, is not only against the Indian law, it is also in complete violation of Islam. They readily quote the Quran as announcing that so heinous is the sin of killing a single innocent individual that it is akin to slaying the whole of humankind. If indeed some of the blasts were the handiwork of Muslims, they argue, far from serving the cause of their faith and their co-religionists, they have only made things much worse for them, by heightening anti-Muslim prejudice, provoking indiscriminate arrests of Muslim youth, strengthening the hands of those calling for tougher anti-terrorist laws which, as in the case of the dreaded POTA, will probably be used to further terrorise Muslims, and providing additional ammunition to Hindutva forces in their anti-Muslim crusade. No Muslim, they argue, should engage in such acts of terror, for not only would this be a crime according to the country’s laws and Quranic commandments, it would also be entirely counter-productive from the Muslim point of view. That, based on my own reading of the Muslim press and my interaction with my Muslim friends, seems to be the generally prevailing Muslim opinion.

Just as some fringe radical Islamist outfit or Muslims incensed at the slaughter of Muslims by Hindutva mobs, often in connivance with the police and the state administration, might well be behind some of the bomb attacks, so could Hindutva activists. In fact, such blasts and the mounting communal divide that they engineer appear to eminently serve the political agenda of Hindu fascist forces, whose entire politics is based on provoking anti-Muslim hatred and violence. Although this has received little media attention and even less serious action by the police and investigating agencies, in recent years a number of Hindutva activists have been found to have been involved in manufacturing bombs and planning terror attacks, sometimes with the intention of camouflaging them in such a way as to make them appear as the handiwork of Muslims. The intention behind this is clear: to reinforce already widespread anti-Muslim hatred, manufacture a collective terror psychosis among Hindus, present themselves as saviours of the Hindus in the face of ‘Islamic terrorism’ and, thereby, capture the Hindu vote-bank. And with crucial elections round the corner, could it be that this tactic might be brought into play to supplement waves of organised attacks on Muslims (and now Christians) in various parts of India in order to garner Hindu votes?

Deadly enemies though they present themselves as, Hindu and Muslim chauvinists desperately need each other. Without each other they are incomplete, indeed unable to survive. That is what this series of blasts, as well as the entire history of Hindu and Muslim communalism, clearly suggests. So, going beyond the issue of tracking down the masterminds behind specific cases of terrorism, which of course must be done in accordance with the law, the larger issue of struggling against the tyranny of organised religion and of the ideology of communalism, of which these attacks are merely a symptom and a result, must not be lost sight of.

And part of that struggle must also entail honestly recognising how personal religio-communal affiliations often blind people to the forces of terror at work within the community they identify with. In the face of competing, but entirely symbiotic, forms of terror under a religious garb, we all need to draw our own personal lessons as well for how to respond to the challenge, hopefully unburdened by one’s communal identity. Mine, incidentally, is borrowed from Baba Nanak, considered a Guru by his Hindu followers and a Sufi Pir by his Muslim disciples, who discovered and then boldly announced: ‘There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim’.

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