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Acknowledge, so you can combat

Acknowledge, so you can combat

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 3, 2008

In the wake of the terror strikes in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and the discovery of some 20 bombs in Surat, the police and counter-terrorism experts are agreed on one point: That the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) which claimed responsibility for these, and earlier attacks in Uttar Pradesh and Jaipur, is actually a smokescreen for ISI-sponsored groups, notably SIMI and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

The experts may well be right. Yet, certain questions are troubling. First, it is established that regardless of the letterhead, those who sent the emails claiming responsibility were fully in the terrorist loop because they had prior information of the attacks. Second, unlike some terror groups that are preoccupied with the liberation of Palestine and Iraq, US domination and the establishment of a Caliphate, the communication of the Indian Mujahedeen is centred on a blend of theological assertions, the victimhood of Indian Muslims and Hindu perfidy. This local dimension to the IM propaganda leads to the most worrying feature of the terrorist threat. There is now almost incontrovertible evidence that the bombers were not "paratroopers" from Pakistan out on a suicide mission to attack the Red Fort or even Parliament. The nature of the attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and the aborted mission in Surat suggest that the perpetrators were familiar with the local terrain. In other words, regardless of where their inspiration came from and who were the masterminds, the terrorist foot soldiers were Indians hell bent on killing fellow Indians.

Glaring evidence of local Muslim involvement is something that responsible politicians are wary of addressing. Even the much-reviled Gujarat Chief Minister was careful in describing the bombings as an "attack on India". Only the vacuous MoS for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal, tried to score petty political points by linking the Ahmedabad blasts to the post-Godhra riots. But he was the exception. The Indian establishment and civil society have not charged Indian Muslims with "collective guilt" for terrorism.

Yet, the terrorists have succeeded in vitiating the atmosphere. The fact that the bombings were carried out brazenly "in the name of Allah" and ostensibly targeted Hindus has made the Muslim community, particularly the educated youth, objects of suspicion. The initial volley of abuse may be reserved for the most colossally incompetent Home Minister since Independence and the perennial failings of the Intelligence agencies, the IB, for example, was busy with "political intelligence" to help the UPA Government win the Trust vote. But while the Government can be voted out, the Home Minister replaced and Intelligence work entrusted to professionals, the problem of Muslim radicalisation isn't likely to go away. The temptation to link India's terrorist problem to the wider global Islamist upsurge is, therefore, irresistible. The proforma assertion that Islam is a religion of peace has been treated with some scepticism in the light of the faith-centric underpinnings of Muslim terrorism.

The ISI has no doubt been fishing in troubled waters, as they have been in Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Its activities and agenda are also a source of worry to democratic politicians in Pakistan. However, it is important to note that the ISI has facilitated radical Islamism and used it for its "secular" objectives, it hasn't created it. What has been called the Al Qaeda mindset has taken hold of an influential section of the ummah. It involves a rejection of modernity, acceptance of medieval certitudes, a literal reading of theological texts and a complete intolerance of other faiths and cultures. Just as the Nazis viewed Jews, gypsies and Slavs as "inferior races", the Islamists look upon Hindus as sub-humans. The IM e-mail says Hindu blood is "the cheapest of all mankind" and contains Quranic justifications for killing insolent non-believers.

India is dealing with a terrorism that is grounded in a mindset of superiority, hate, de-humanised ruthlessness. The terrorists are not "boys" who have strayed because there is inadequate employment and because the Srikrishna Commission Report is in cold storage. These are not boys who can be co-opted by the "system" if India accepts the Rajinder Sachar gospel. Nor will they believe the feeble strictures against violence by maulanas who have profited from manipulating Muslim votebanks. India is witnessing an ideological terrorism that can't be beguiled back into the Constitutional path. It is based on an alternate world view that contests all the assumptions on which democratic nationhood is based. (I strongly urge a reading of Philip Bobbit's Terror and Consent: The War for the 21st Century published earlier this year.)

The terrorist menace has put ordinary Muslims in a predicament. They are being pushed into a corner with every blast and forced to confront issues not of their own making. The traditional Muslim leadership in particular knows that terrorists pose a simultaneous threat to their own position. The Islamists have fed on the same contrived victimhood that power brokers have created in Muslim ghettos but have taken it to a logically absurd conclusion. The so-called community leaders have pampered the underworld, taken up cudgels for those who blasted Mumbai in 1993 and torched kar sevaks in Godhra, and sold their community's votes for personal aggrandisement. Now they don't know how to deal with a monster they unwittingly nurtured.

The tragedy is that the cluelessness affects the rest of India. Everybody knows what India can ill afford - economic disruption, communal tension and the emotional alienation of the largest minority community. Yet, as a country, we are paralysed by both fear and complacency as terrorists force the agenda in that direction. From being the fanaticism of the fringe, jihadist propaganda has made the murder of non-believers an acceptable article of faith.

Combating terrorism involves fighting an ideology and a mindset. But can we tackle a virus if we shy away from recognising its very existence?

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