The Muslim holy fasting period of Ramadan, which started on July 20, 2012, is expected to end on August 18.Muslims all over the world will be observing the International Quds (Arabic name for Palestine) Day on August 17, the last Friday of the fasting period to express solidarity with the Palestinians and renew calls for the liberation of Jerusalem from Israeli control. The call for the observance of Al Quds Day was given by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran in 1979 and is followed by all Muslims, Sunnis as well as Shias, every year.
Muslim feelings of solidarity with each other and grieving for the sufferings of fellow-Muslims anywhere in the world tend to remain intense during Ramadan. A careful mapping of violent incidents involving Muslims across the world would show that many of these incidents took place during Ramadan. The serial blasts of March 1993 In Mumbai, which are seen by some terrorism analysts as the first act of catastrophic jihadi terrorism in the world, were carried out by Dawood Ibrahim’s group, with the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), during Ramadan.
The police and counter-terrorism agencies in many countries of the world, affected by jihadi terrorism, remain extra alert and watchful during Ramadan. It is, therefore, quite likely that the Indian intelligence agencies and the police in different states would also be in a high state of alert during the present Ramadan.
Two persons were killed and 55 , 45 of them policemen, were injured in Mumbai on August 11, 2012, when a group of Muslims demonstrating against alleged anti-Muslim incidents of violence in Assam turned violent, clashed with the police and burnt down a number of vehicles, including some reportedly belonging to the media.
The Mumbai Police need to be complimented for bringing the situation quickly under control, though they seem to have been initially taken by surprise. Our media also deserves to be congratulated for reporting on the violence with restraint and balance.
This year’s Ramadan has coincided with a period of suffering for the Muslims because of the anti-Muslim incidents reported from the Rakhine state of Myanmar and Assam state of India. Indian media has been covering these incidents with its usual caution, restraint and balance. Some sensational stories, including photographs regarding the anti-Muslim incidents in the Rakhine state, have been circulating through the Internet.
While Indian media has refrained from disseminating these sensational stories and pictures, one cannot say the same thing of the TV media in Pakistan and the West Asian countries. Al Jazeera, for example, disseminated a story on August 9 regarding alleged atrocities against Muslims in the Rakhine state. While the text of the story was about alleged discrimination against Muslims in the Rakhine state, the headline spoke of regional discrimination against Muslims. The West Asian media is not yet giving the same focus to Assam, but one should keep a watch for distorted stories about Assam making their appearance there.
The important question is not whether these stories telecast are accurate or inaccurate. It is what impact such dissemination will have on the reactions of the ordinary Muslims. The reach of the Internet in the Islamic world is limited, but that of the Arabic TV channels is extensive. The dissemination of such stories could have unpredictable impact on the emotions and reactions of the ordinary Muslims.
Till the communal situation returns to normal in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and in Assam state, it is important for our police and intelligence agencies to step up their vigilance and security alert. It is equally important for our political leadership and administration to closely interact with the leaders of our Muslim community, keep them informed of the measures taken by the government for the relief of the Muslims affected by the recent violence in Assam and urge them to exercise restraint and not to exploit the situation for their narrow religious interests which could be detrimental to broader national interests.
If any Indian Muslim leader does not accept this advice for moderation and tries to exploit the situation for narrow ends, the police should not hesitate to act against him or her appropriately under the law. The political leadership should not interfere with the actions of the police.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.