Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hints of Islamist radicalism

Now that things have calmed down enough in Muzaffarnagar for the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi to
make a visit the time has come for some dispassionate analysis. Not just of what happened in this particular riot but of what could be happening in Muslim communities across India. In situations of communal tension we have become so accustomed to blaming Hindus that we could be missing something insidious and very dangerous. We could be missing signs of radicalisation in the Muslim community that we do not dare talk about because it is so politically incorrect especially in the aftermath of communal violence that usually results in the death of more Muslims than Hindus. In Muzaffarnagar it has been heartbreaking to see injured children and disturbing to see whole villages emptied of their residents because Muslims fear for their lives. This is why it is easier to blame administrative incompetence and Hindu perfidy than Islamic radicalisation for what happened. But, it is important to confront the reality of radicalization among Indian Muslims and try and deal with it or consequences for the future are likely to be too awful to contemplate.

More than a bit of radicalisation 

In the name of 'secularism' neither the government of Akhilesh Yadav nor the Sonia-Manmohan government in Delhi are likely to accept that behind the violence in Muzaffarnagar lies a deeper, darker reality. It manifested itself in the violence with which Muslims responded when the two young Jat men came seeking to avenge their sister's honour. And, it manifested itself in the rumours that Muslim rioters in the area used automatic weapons to attack Hindus and security forces. Details remain so murky of what actually happened that I called a retired police officer in Lucknow whose analysis I trust and asked him if he had heard that automatic weapons were used. He said he had.

This led inevitably to my next question. Did he think there was a bit of radicalisation among Muslims in this part of western Uttar Pradesh? This is how he answered. 'What do you mean a bit of radicalisation? Have you never heard of the Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband? This is all the same area and for many years now there has been evidence of jihadi elements and of all kinds of weapons being smuggled into the districts of Muzzafarnagar and yes there is more than a bit of radicalisation and it has been there since the late eighties, early nineties.'

Remember that it was in a village in western UP, not far from here, where Omar Sheikh imprisoned his foreign hostages in 1994. He was arrested in connection with the kidnappings and remained in an Indian jail cell till he was released in exchange for the passengers of IC-814 five years later. He went on to organise the beheading of Daniel Pearl and other acts of jihadi violence.

My point is that the ugly, crowded town of Muzaffarnagar, and its surrounding villages, has long been a hotbed for jihadi violence. It is unfortunate that the media has not gone into this aspect of what happened. All we have had so far are tirades on national TV about how politicians are exploiting the situation for petty political gains. That is an old story. They always do. The new element is the sinister influences of the international jihad and the inability of the 'secular' government of Uttar Pradesh to do anything about this or to deal with situations of communal tension with an even hand. From all accounts an even hand was absent in the way in which the Muzaffarnagar violence was handled.

The Samajwadi Party government in Lucknow appears to have been tougher on the Hindu community without having managed to impress Muslims by doing this. The most prominent Muslim in the Uttar Pradesh government, Azam Khan, has made his anger public and Muslim organisations in UP have said clearly that they believe that since the Samajwadi government took power eighteen months ago there have been deliberate attempts to polarize Hindus and Muslims. {Read on}