Inviting ISIS home: India should stay away from European Islamophobia

The problem of Islam in the Middle East is peculiar to the region.

 |  In real time  |  4-minute read |   24-11-2015
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There are people who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or defeat from the jaws of victory. We Indians specialise in snatching other people’s defeat. This is exactly what we are doing with the way we are getting drawn into the ISIS-in-Europe debate.

We did it in the past with globalisation, the earlier Asian Financial Crisis in the nineties and the more recent 2008 global downturn. We had not reformed or globalised even a fraction compared to the economies in crises but drove ourselves into panic. Remember, Sonia Gandhi say repeatedly that India had been saved from the 2008 contagion because Indira ji had nationalised our banks. We were calling other people’s problems our own and responding to our imaginary nightmares. Now, we are repeating the same pattern with ISIS and global jihad.

Once people’s minds are made up these days, nobody wants to be confused by facts. But it is still important to state them when respectable members of our establishment and commentariat are making common cause with the “global” fight against terror as if the ISIS invaders are at India’s gates. By implication, all Muslims — including 15 crores of our own fellow citizens — are painted with the same brush. It is a brilliantly silly but convenient over-simplification: adherents of “Indic” religions never preached violence against others whereas for "Abrahamic" faiths, all “others” were infidels or apostates.

Let us leave arguments over history aside, although our own "Indic" history was reasonably violent before the first Muslim invader, Mohammed bin Qasim came into Sindh in 711 A.D. So violent, in fact, that the carnage of Kalinga moved all-conquering Emperor Asoka to embrace non-violent Buddhism. But let’s cut to the present. India does face a threat of Islamic-inspired terrorism for sure. But most of it comes from Pakistan and is fuelled by the Lashkars, and their patrons, Pakistan Army and ISI’s hatred for us rather than Islam as a faith, particularly as practiced in the subcontinent. Islam is a justification for jihad, but the motive is to damage India, may be even destroy it, or ok, for the more delusional ones, to unfurl the Pakistani flag over Dilli’s Lal Qila. But it is not to expand the Caliphate of Islamic State here.

I have to handle this carefully. I know the immediate conclusion the more simplistic will draw, that I am somehow stating that being destroyed or conquered by Pakistani militarised Islamists is a lesser evil than be overrun by ISIS. The distinction I am making is, the first, a Pakistani “grand design” doesn’t presume India’s Muslims to be natural accomplices. The other, a marauding ISIS caliphate followed by all Muslims with designs on India, does. That is dangerous.

So far, barring the odd flag in Kashmir Valley, or here or there in Pakistan, there has been no sign of any ISIS activity in the subcontinent. In India, only four suspects have been caught for having gone, or trying to go to ISIS — out of a population of 15 crore Muslims and another 150, we are told, are under watch. Even the latest intelligence "assessment" which, in my view, has plant written all over it, talks of only 23 Indian fighters with ISIS. Even Indian Mujahideen, at its peak, was no more than a hundred people. Every Muslim religious organisation, Ulema and even sectarian political parties speaks against ISIS. In inner Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi’s party has put up hoardings saying ISIS is un-Islamic and he has said this to me explicitly in a Walk the Talk Interview.

The problem of Islam in the middle-east is peculiar to the region. It has a history of the use of the most extreme fundamentalist Islam, Wahhabi (Saudi Arabia) and Shia (Iran) in defining states and exercise of state power. It also has no history of pluralism or multiculturalism - of Sunnis, Shias, Yazidis, Kurds, Turks, various denominations of Christians, Bedouins, Hashemites and indeed the Jews, living together peacefully. It also has its own history of colonialism by Europeans including France and Britain and recent invasions, bombings and regime changes by the US. There is also a more recent set of issues between Muslim populations left stateless because of these interventions and their old European colonial masters. Nothing is justified as a root cause for terror. But this is an issue located in the Middle-East and Europe. It is also looking westwards from Middle-East.

Why are we feeling so obsessively self-important now that even our state governors, who are sworn-in to preserve the constitutional order, are suggesting our Muslims can go to Pakistan or Bangladesh? Why are we, including our newspapers and TV, getting so neurotic about ISIS “threat” to us. The barbarians are not at the gates and if such a threat were to arise, India will be fully capable of dealing with it. So will the Indian Muslim.

The basic difference is that the subcontinent’s, particularly India’s Muslims are mostly of a Sufi persuasion which the ISIS ideology detests even more than idolatry. Equally, India’s Muslims fear and oppose ISIS. Our Muslims, and the kind of Islam they practice, are in fact a giant bulwark against the spread of the ISIS contagion. If you start treating them as a giant Fifth Column instead, you are embracing the new European paranoia, and thereby snatching their defeat.

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Shekhar Gupta Shekhar Gupta @shekhargupta

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