In a Delhi home, a conversation is taking place between a local cleric and a young nephew earning an excellent corporate salary. Young man: "The old generation of Muslims has failed. Aap log kuchh nahin kar sakte ho (You people can do nothing)!" Stunned and taken aback, the bearded elder responds: "What could we have done? Injustice is suffered by everyone. Not just Muslims. Except for the rich and powerful, everyone suffers in a poor country." Young man: "I laugh at this kind of argument. Especially as a man of religion, you should know that it is our duty to fight against injustice. The Quran instructs us not to tolerate injustice."
The voluble and emotional youth has not become a terrorist. Yet he is arguing in support of the group that now goes by the name of Indian Mujahideen. The elder finally loses his calm: "You are talking rubbish. Ideas like this will bring trouble on the entire qaum (community). You don't understand the Quran at all. The only way out for Muslims is education."
The irony, as usual, is that it is only a small number of the educated Muslim that has become radicalised. The e-mail sent by the Indian Mujahideen is worth deconstructing. Written in fluent English with several references to the Quran, it does vent ire against Hindus, "the infidels", and mocks at Narendra Modi's "asmita" (pride). Yet, eventually it is a record of perceived injustice by the courts, lawyers, commissions of inquiry and state governments against Muslims. The group says it is issuing an "ultimatum to all the state governments" but specifically mentions Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
It is significant that Andhra and Maharashtra are Congress-ruled while the BSP is in charge of UP.
Intelligence agencies and the media would do a disservice and mislead the public if they did not highlight the fact that the e-mail is chilling in its purpose and articulation. This is not the work of what can be dismissed as a loony fringe. The authors have built an intellectual justification for their actions, have cleverly used Quranic texts for their purpose, are fiercely committed to their cause and their political perceptions are keenly evolved (for instance, states where there are no random arrests of Muslims are not mentioned).
Stamp of terror: Victim of the Ahmedabad blast
Radical Islam seems to have arrived in India. Indeed, the fluency with which both Arabic and English are used in the mail and the level of education the document indicates suggests that the perpetrators are familiar with the ideology of political Islam. The founder of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism was Sayyid Qutb (1906-'66) of Egypt. He took radical thought to a new level when he said the concept of jahiliya (barbarism) applied not only to infidels but also to Muslims who collaborated with an "unjust" state. The Indian Mujahideen's e-mail also attacks the traditional Indian clergy. The emergence of this kind of force does make the traditional Muslim leader, propped up by conventional political patronage, very nervous. As the late Asad Madani, the legendary leader of the Jamait-e-Ulema-e-Hind, had once said: "It is likely that Muslim leaders of India will be killed by Muslims."
A senior leader of the community, who does not want to be identified, tells me in confidence: "Hamaare kuchh naujawan haath se nikal gaye hain (Some of our youth have slipped out of our control)." He believes most such youth are professionals and relatively well-placed. In fact, most Muslims are clear that the radicalised youth are not products of madrassas alone though they certainly have a thorough grounding in religious education. They follow events across the world with great interest and get angry with the injustices wreaked on Muslims. But they are ultimately operating for stated goals that are wholly Indian. Revenge for the Gujarat riots. Giving warning to lawyers, judges and certain state governments.
However, the bloody means these radicalised youth employ does put the entire community at peril. Till now, all fronts, clerical groups and political parties claiming to represent Muslim interests have operated on the minority principle. This means that though India may have the world's second-largest Muslim population, the community is a minority here and must always be mindful of this status. No Muslim would go out of his way to invite vengeance on the entire community. Of the 14 crore Muslims in India, 10 crore live in Hindu-dominated areas. Even the 4 crore who live in Muslim ghettos have to eventually operate in a Hindu society.
That is why reprisal and revenge are not tactics Indian Muslims have resorted to in the past. Yes, the Mumbai blasts did take place in reaction to the post-Babri Masjid riots. But it was the powerful Mumbai underworld and Pakistan's isi that orchestrated the deadly chain of events. After the bloodbath in Gujarat in February-March 2002, undoubtedly the worst assault on Muslims in independent India, nothing happened. Earlier too nothing had happened after Bhagalpur, Meerut, Moradabad....
But 9/11 changed the world in ways often hard to quantify. The Indian Muslim may not have been a direct victim of US or Israel action in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine. But some of them imbibed the idea and spirit of global jehad. As one Western commentator said tongue-in-cheek, it now increasingly appears that "all the Muslims of the world have gone nuts", and it is because US actions across the globe have left Muslims with a deep sense of victimhood. French commentator Jean Genet had famously stated: "The arrogance of the strong is met by the violence of the weak." In India, too, the mindset of a small section has been changing. Once the idea of jehad went out in the world, it was only a matter of time before a few Indians tried to create their indigenous brand.
One interesting observation coming from Muslims living in riot-prone areas is that they do not expect any immediate communal fallout from the Ahmedabad blasts. This is not only because there is a great weariness with that brand of politics but also because no political party stands to gain directly from it at the moment. But across India suspicions will increase. And although there will be no large-scale rioting, small skirmishes are inevitable as divisions between the communities are increasing. However, what is really bad news for the minority community is that that the policing and intelligence scrutiny of their homes, mosques, schools and neighbourhood will increase. The number of Muslims picked up on mere suspicion will go up dramatically. And that is precisely the sort of state action the Indian Mujahideen is using to justify terrorism.
Meanwhile, as the mujahideen display their articulation, the usual Muslim commentators are at a loss for words. They all say they're despondent and don't want to say anything significant on record. Some have begun to suggest conspiracy theories in private. One theory is that Israelis are pushing small arms. Another supposes that the Chinese are behind the easy availability of arms as they want to undermine India, particularly as it is now a great friend of America.
But when the theories are all done with, then the great anger with the US for unleashing this monster on the world is expressed. Then the Indian state is abused for never keeping any promise to Muslims or giving them even one straw of justice. There is, however, unanimity about one thing—they are afraid for the future.
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