Against the circle of unreason

Why is it that the Gujarat violence or Mumbai blasts affect us more intensely than the daily killings in Jammu and Kashmir? Is it insensitivity or fear?

Iftikhar Gilani Delhi

It is an irony which begins in the beautiful landscape of ravaged Kashmir. While the 2002 Gujarat genocide pushed the Muslim electorate to help the larger secular consolidation to vote out the BJP-led NDA regime, the violence in Kashmir, which has devoured more than 10,000 Muslims (as per official figures), has hardly evoked any sense of empathy among Indian Muslims in rest of the country.

Undoubtedly, the Kashmir crisis includes an inherent communal angle as its manifestation lies in Partition, but Indian Muslims have largely kept themselves aloof. Hence, despite provocations from communal outfits inside and outside the mainstream, including the Hindutva camp, the Indian political system has not been communalised. So much so, the exodus of a million Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 did not end in a cataclysm, despite BJP hardliner LK Advani unleashing the Ram Mandir frenzy in north India around the same time.

The method, though uncanny, seems to be following an unhappy pattern. Omar Abdullah, president of the National Conference (NC), told Hardnews that various governments as well as the Indian civil society now seem willing to ‘tolerate’ a slightly heightened level of violence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Though the India-Pakistan peace process was showing signs of fatigue even before the Mumbai blasts with a rise in militant activity and attacks on tourists in Kashmir, Omar Abdullah believes that the Mumbai blasts, coupled with last year's killing of innocents in Delhi, convinced India to put the brakes on the peace process. "Delhi can take some violence in Kashmir, but not on the mainland," he says stoically.

Asked if the violence in Kashmir doesn't seem to concern people in India anymore, the NC chief feels that a certain level of dispassion has crept in. "The daily killings of five to six people don't make a big difference. But a strike that kills 200 people in Mumbai in a day creates a major impact, even though for a year the number here will be much higher," he says.

Besides, there are deceptive layers which remain unseen. While the killing of minorities dominates headlines in Kashmir, official figures reveal that violence has claimed more Muslims than Hindus. As many as 111,057 Muslims were killed between 1988 and 2003 as against 1,490 Hindus falling to the bullets of militants.

Intelligence agencies claim that like certain small sections of the Sikhs during the Khalistani movement, some Indian Muslims were always on the radar of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Since the early 1980s, they had tried to motivate some Muslim youths to cross over for training. Till 1993, even soon after the demolition of Babri Masjid, and the Mumbai killings, they could convince just about four persons, and two of them also escaped when they reached Delhi, disclosed an intelligence source. But, gradually, after the Babri Masjid demolition, disturbing reports started pouring in. The year 1993 saw around 80 Muslim youngsters being recruited for training in the militant camp.

Surprisingly, the source added, the trend stopped soon after the Mumbai blasts. "Probably, these young men wanted more intensely to express their anger at the mosque demolition and the bloody Mumbai riots," he claims. Indeed, very few Muslims found involved in militant activities have been arrested in Poonch and Kupwara over the last few years.

G Parthasarathy, former Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, who was recently in Islamabad, says that Gujarat carnage has been politically encouraged by certain forces in Pakistan. The violence in Gujarat has provided fodder to militant forces. He says that polarisation on communal lines and the undermining of democratic institutions, especially in the border states, can become a perfect recipe for disaster.

The former diplomat believes that the earlier crisis in Punjab could well be attributed to the communalisation of politics but in contrast many of those who desperately took to arms in J&K in the late 1980s were compelled to do so because of the intense feeling that the democratic processes in the state were terribly flawed and the elections were rigged.

Lt General Arjun Ray, who served as Brigadier General Staff (BGS) at the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and who was later corps commander in Ladakh, in his book Kashmir Diary: Psychology of Militancy (1997), based on interrogations of captured militants, says: "Contrary to popular belief, religion is not the primary motivational factor for Kashmiri militants. Kashmiri militancy is not a religious movement (yet)." The military official, however, warned in 1997 that this may snowball into a religious movement if the fact that fundamentalism has arrived in the Valley and is spreading

rapidly is ignored.

Scholar of Islamic studies, Yoginder Sikand, argues that it is not due to insensitivity but because of the fear of being accused as an 'anti-national' that has compelled Indian Muslims to keep aloof from the Kashmir crisis. He says that a large section of Indian Muslims do link resolution of the Kashmir dispute to their survival and progress. "The fear of continued conflict furthers the cause of Hindutva forces in their anti-Muslim campaign," he says.

Surely, madrassas in India just can’t be cast in a negative stereotype, nor is there any evidence to prove baseless allegations against them by predictable Muslim-bashers. However, while there was a network of about 30,000 madrassas dotting India’s landscape, till a decade ago, J&K, though a Muslim majority state, had no madrassa. Last year, it was disclosed in Parliament that there are 27,518 madrassas all over the country. Kerala and Madhya Pradesh top the list with 6,000 madrassas each, followed by Uttar Pradesh (4,292), Bihar (4,102), Rajasthan (1,985) and Gujarat (1,727). Even remote areas like Andaman and Nicobar Islands have 54 madrassas, and Sikkim has one registered seminary. Following government figures, there was no madrassa in J&K.

The fact is, over the years madrassas have started mushrooming in J&K and almost all of these are associated with larger madrassas in India, particularly of the Deobandi, Barelvi and Ahl-i Hadith schools of thought. A large number of teachers in these madrassas are from north India, mostly from Bihar, Haryana and eastern UP.

Sikand argues that this connection could be used positively to provide a valuable lead to creatively involve Indian Muslims in the Kashmir peace process. The Jama'at-eå Islami Hind, the Markaz-i Ahl-i Hadith-i Hind and the Dar 'ul-'Ulum madrassa at Deoband have peers on other side of the border. Organisations like the Jama'at-i Islami Pakistan, the Jamaat-u-Dawa-wa-Rishad associated with the Ahl-i Hadith, Pakistan, are key players in the Kashmir conflict.

Their Indian counterparts, like Jama'at-e-Islami Hind and Ahl-i Hadith and the Deobandi ulama, who do not approve the actions of their Pakistani counterparts, can be imaginatively ‘used’ to spread the process of inter-communal harmony and a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. "It should not be difficult to encourage them to take a more pro-active role in Kashmir and since they exercise influence on Muslims, their intervention can prove to be invaluable," concludes Sikand.

That is, a creative, cultural synthesis of secular unity, rational positions and shared values, as opposed to hatred and bigotry, could be the way to break the impasse. And why not, when it can defeat the forces of communal violence and xenophobia and send a message of hope in Kashmir, across the Indian spectrum, and even beyond the border?

 

Here to stay

Islam cannot be separated from everyday life in today's world

Mehru Jaffer  Vienna

What is there to say about Islam at a time when the religion seems to be in

the eye of every storm, that the world must brave, from felling of New York's twin towers to the recent bomb attacks on Mumbai?

As a Muslim against every kind of violence but who is certainly not with George W. Bush in the US President's war against terror what I can say is that the gigantic collision rocking the world's boat is not about Islam, at all.

Islam is just another well-intentioned idea born in a concerned mind in an attempt to try and make life more meaningful.

The image of Islam, however, is now besmirched and associated with the action of hijackers, bombers, assassins and kidnappers and its message is said to be imposed upon us by gods. Islam seems to be at odds with people of all other faiths with many Muslims looking at especially Christianity as a monster with bloody hands that continues to practise imperialism. Christianity is held guilty of being the author of much anti-Islamic history too.

The western Christian world's sympathy for Zionism is interpreted in much of the Muslim world as crude hunger for yet more land of formerly Muslim homes.

Sarnath Banerjee, 34, author of Corridor, India's first graphic novel, who is visiting me here in Vienna, expresses concerns that are more personal. Just four months ago he married Bani Abidi, 35, a Pakistani artist and filmmaker.

The recent Mumbai bombings mean that he will probably be forced to spend more time begging with bureaucracy to provide his wife permission to travel, and to live in India. Why, he would like to know.

My home in New Delhi is now Bani's home. But try explaining that to the bureaucracy,” he says.

The increasingly negative image of Islam in the collective consciousness of the world worries Bani in a broader sense and she tries to explore this phenomenon all the time in her work with short films. Research has proved to Bani that most Muslim suicide bombers are not religious people. She found that even young, intelligent Palestinians are driven to the edge of such extreme desperation in the face of on-going hopelessness, homelessness and helplessness that they agree to give up on life.

“India and Pakistan share the same air, sky and waters and yet we, the people of the two countries, are forced to become the enemy of the other.” Why, she would like to know. Islam in its best decades practised a “true protocol of tolerance”. Today it is turned into a “fortress of fanaticism”.

Amin Maalouf, the celebrated Lebanese writer who fled war in his country to live in Paris since 1976, has repeatedly said that this has nothing to do with Islam but with people who have converted their religion into a fundamentalist movement. Maalouf feels that extreme movements are not the product of Islam but rather the signs of the times.  

What has fuelled fundamentalism is the breakdown of progressive projects not only in the Muslim world but worldwide. Here powerful influences like materialism, consumerism and secularism have revived religion. Here problems of the past continue to shelter anxieties about the future. The era of globalisation does unify but it also exposes the unfair divide between developed societies and the defeated ones.

Under such circumstances the appeal of moral absolutism and the authoritarian life style propagated by all conservative politics provides certainty in an uncertain world.   

What we are witnessing in this day and age is naked anger of the rest, against the West. The problem is a post-colonial fear lurking in the mind of most multicultural societies that find themselves crammed with contrasting social practices into small, shared spaces.

Thriving in anonymous modern cities, minorities in multicultural societies feed their self-awareness with images of themselves as members of historic communities, empires and superstates. To them the insecurity of change perhaps makes the luxury of nostalgia enjoyable as glories of the past have meaning only once they are lost.

According to Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of Millennium, a fascinating history of the last thousand years, this proximity amongst a diverse group of people enriches but also adulterates, refining the desire for all human groups to differentiate themselves from their neighbours. As people become citizens of even bigger states, smaller entities are expected to multiply.

What then?

Will mother communities then clean out ethnic groups that refuse to conform, and is the refuge provided by religious leaders the only alternative for all those running away from the culture of conformism?

In times of unprecedented change, relatively pristine communities in the polar world, deserts and forests living in close harmony with nature feel threatened as exploiters crawl closer to them. Then is the fear of sameness. Global culture spawns look alike airport lounges, fast-food outlets and shops filled with the same products and brands from Mumbai to Montreal. Violence accompanies the imposition of sameness leaving those preferring diversity to feel endangered.

Fernandez-Armesto warns that the gravest danger of this sort looms large in India where the survival of a huge and broadly spread Muslim minority will come to seem like the unfinished business of previous wars. Islam is a political religion. Its name implies a way of life as well as a system of faith, writes Fernandez-Armesto. Turkey tried to divorce Islam from political life but it remains a potent political force.

There is a comment on fundamentalists too. “Those who harbour deadly identities in the Arab world may discover that as much as they wish to withdraw from the world and from their times, they are deadly not to the other but to themselves; nothing is as self-destructible as the decision to let civilisation pass by, especially a civilisation that today is more global than ever before, or at least needs to be,” says Maalouf, author of In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, amongst other books.

In the past when large states have repressed the aspiration of small people they are known to have eventually exploded with the pressure of their own policies.

This does not mean that multicultural society has no chance of surviving. There is the example of Brazil that seems to have reached remarkable harmony between a most diverse group of ethnic minorities. Latin American societies too reflect attitudes that are born out of centuries of living together. And India continues to be an evergreen example of an extremely vibrant multicultural society where religion and rationality co-exist in relative harmony.

People seem to need religion, not just Muslims, and to attempt to eradicate it out of societies is out of question.

And those trying to wipe out terrorism only harm themselves by targeting the single identity of people called Muslims.

Points out Amartya Sen, Indian Nobel Prize winner, “What is surprising is that those who would like to quell that violence promote, in effect, the same intellectual disorientation by seeing Muslims primarily as members of an Islamic world”.

For the majority population of the world on a desperate journey in search of improved political, economic and social opportunities cannot all be Muslims.

Dangerous liaison

Israel and the US are playing a typically diabolical double game. They want a regime change in Lebanon and the destruction of Hezbollah by

controlling a nation without actual occupation

 

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