Twist in the Terror Trail

Maverick: Twist in the Terror Trail
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Feb 26, 2008

No Monday blues for the Darul Uloom at Deoband. The Ulema from over 6,000 madrasas got together to discuss how “Islam does not sanction terrorism”.

It is commendable that the organisation has taken time out from issuing fatwas, whether it was against the rape victim Imrana, who was declared “haraam”, or Salman Khan for becoming a waxwork at Madame Tussauds or Muslim women contesting panchayat elections in UP who did not cover their faces.

The irony of their psychological terrorism escapes them.

The Deoband discussions were planned partly because groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been arguing that violence against non-believers, including innocent bystanders, was part of their religious duty.

We do not need a religious body to tell us how to look at militant groups, for the emphasis only sanctifies the prevalent view about Islamic terror.

I wonder what they will have to say about Yahya Khan, a software engineer based in Bangalore, arrested for suspected terrorist links. We have already been inundated with opinion pieces about ‘the new face of terror’, which essentially takes the mickey out of madrasas.

Now they are saying that the time has come for Muslim thought leaders to appear. I believe the problem here is that the community has too many thought leaders and few doers. Every mullah can claim to be a leader, putting his thoughts on the mat, as the Deoband is doing.

This is a contemporary western modus operandi. Why must Muslims have to conduct a dialogue merely on the basis of their religious identity when the idea of pan-Islamism is so hollow? Where the West is concerned, what would be the agenda for a Muslim dialogue with, say, the US from the Iraqi, Iranian, Palestinian, Afghan, East European points of view?

Will they, as a decimated people, be given the dignity of a dialogue at all?

Whether it is calling himself a “prisoner of war” or appealing to groups to seek self-respect, there is complete subservience to the larger premise. Said one terrorist, “I will never give up my weapon. It is the only path open to us. With elections we will never win. I am ready to die for my people”.

All revolutionaries – and the term is legitimate for anyone protesting – have a price to pay. Did not Radio Beijing brand the Dalai Lama a “political corpse, bandit and traitor”? Gunter Grass on a visit to Kolkata had raised the question about Subhas Chandra Bose and his covert support of Nazism. Bose, by taking the help of a dictator, was really using one Establishment against another.

That is the reason no government in the world can contain separatist aspirations.

Simone Weil had once stated, “The great error of nearly all studies of war... has been to consider war as an episode in foreign policies, when it is an act of interior politics.” By this definition, one could include the war on Afghanistan and

Iraq as terrorism. Was the US not trying to wage an internal ideological battle and therefore qualified as dissent against dissension? Even the ‘Islamic sympathiser’ (yes, we have that category too!), Robert Fisk, compared the 1917 invasion of Mesopotamia (quoting British Lt. Gen. Sir Stanley Maude who said, “We have come here not as conquerors but as liberators to free you from generations of tyranny”) with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Clearly, his sympathies were with the conquerors.

Terms like “Muslims” and “the West” are often used as two very disparate but individually congealed wholes in themselves, maintaining the status quo of stereotypes. But, then, even respected international organisations like the United Nations strike discordant notes. Besides, we must ask whose definition of status quoism we are following. Is there any uniformity? Must there be?

Democracies by their very nature are about free expression and not compromise. I do wonder whether mainstream opinion in most societies is really a manifestation of independent thought or much of it is accepting the establishment viewpoint. Is it good? Yes, if that society is fairly uniform (perhaps the Scandinavian countries), but in our subcontinent we have divides along regional, language, economic, educational, and religious lines.

Minorityism does not as a natural course lead to terrorism, and is invariably a matter of perspective. For example, the Sri Lankans as well as the Tamils in Sri Lanka think they are minorities. The Tamils look around and find 70 per cent of the people Sri Lankan; the Sri Lankans see the sizable Tamil minority and start thinking of the larger numbers of them back in South India.

Right from Telugu pride which got legitimised in a party (Telugu Desam) to the Tamil Nadu political parties that flaunt Dravidian antecedents, to the sons of the soil in Maharashtra (wasn’t there a move to make Mumbai a separate state?) to the North East such movements have existed. Somebody had even termed Manipur as “India’s Intifada”. Recently, there was the nauseating sight of child artistes performing the “Krishna Leela” during the Bundelkhand Mukti Morcha’s demonstration demanding statehood for Bundelkhand.

When Iran decided to lift the fatwa the first time against Salman Rushdie, many small groups had come forward with their own rewards for the author’s head, from the Association of Hezbollah students at Tehran University, to a small village on the Caspian coast that had given the bait of tracts of land, an orchard, a house and carpets. Most amazing of all was a fundraising drive by 500 Iranians pledging to sell their kidneys to use the money for a just cause: the murder of Rushdie.

These were not militants. Isn’t it prudent, therefore, to see such movements through a prism and not a microscope?

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