No way Modi now believes Islam and terror not linked

He had felt enraged and criticised the term 'saffron terrorism'.

 |  8-minute read |   20-03-2016
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Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a rare public appearance at a gathering organised by Muslims. Modi was present at the Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi to address the World Sufi Forum. During his speech, Modi batted for delinking terrorism from religion. "We must reject any link between terrorism and religion. Those who spread terror in the name of religion are anti-religious," said Modi.

Emphasising that the fight against terrorism is not against a particular faith, Modi spoke about understanding the true message of religions. He added that "terrorists distort a religion whose cause they profess to support. They kill and destroy more in their own land and among their own people than they do elsewhere."

Modi's comments were a clear reference to Islamist terror outfits like the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda and Taliban. These terror organisations indulge in radical interpretation of religious texts to justify their barbarity. They have mutilated and maimed more Muslims than non-Muslims. Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have been at the receiving end of monstrous men masquerading as pious Muslims summoning people to the right path. It is an utmost necessity on the part of world powers to come together and wipe out terror organisations.

Also read: Modi’s praise of Islam means nothing for India

Modi was correct in pointing out that the fight against such outfits is a fight against "forces of inhumanity".

At a time when the US presidential candidate Donald Trump has declared that "Islam hates us", it was encouraging to see the prime minister of the world's largest democracy differentiate between religion and terrorism based on religious distortion. It was a mature assessment on Modi's part to not choose the easy way out by simplistically holding the teachings of Islam responsible for modern day terrorism.

But was Modi being genuine while addressing the World Sufi Forum? Well, that is a matter of debate. It is so because Modi has previously linked terrorism with religion and that is something on which he came down heavily in his speech before the Sufis.

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai anchored a discussion on "The Big Fight" to discuss the contentious issue of Muslim involvement in terrorism. Modi was a part of the panel alongside late Congress leader Rafiq Zakaria and G Parthasarathy.

Also read: What choices Muslims have under Modi government

In his opening remarks, Modi claimed that "pseudo-secularism" dominated the mindset of the Indian media and hence they were afraid of speaking the truth and using the term "Islamic terrorism". He said that the newspapers spread across the entire world started discussing the issue once the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred. He went on to commend Sardesai for representing the truth as it is. He even said that Islam has many good aspects, but how Islam was being used by some people was the real question.

The clipping of that television discussion is available on YouTube for everyone to see.

Others can refer to the transcription of Modi's opening remarks in Hindi below:

"Somwaar tak, last Monday tak, Hindustan ka media, anek kargujari ke bawajood bhi Islamic terrorism yeh shabd upyog karne ka sahas nahi karta tha, kyunki unka pseudo-secularism unpar itna haawi tha ki satya bolne ki inki himmat nahi thi. Kal mangalwaar ko, last mangalwaar ko, jab duniya ke akhbaar yeh likhne lage, America ki ghatna ke baad, tab pehli baar... aur main Rajdeep ke iss initiative ka main abhinandan karta hoon ki sach ko sach ke roop mein pesh karne ka unhone sahas dikhaya hai. Jahan tak Islam ka sawaal hai, uske bahut ache pehlu hai... aaj jo log hai woh Islam ka kis roop se upyog kar rahe hai yeh sawaal hai."

(Till Monday, the Indian media, was not using the term "Islamic terrorism", because they were so driven by pseudo-secularism that they did not have the courage to speak the truth. Last Tuesday, when the world media started to use this term, after the incident in the US, then for the first time... and I congratulate this initiative by Rajdeep, as he has shown the courage of presenting the truth as truth. As far as Islam is concerned, it has many good elements... how people are using Islam today is the question.)

The moderator, Sardesai, responded by saying, "We haven't used the term Islamic terrorism. We've only raised the question so we don't need the compliments from you (Modi) at the moment."

Zakaria didn't spare Modi either. He accused Modi of suffering from "Muslim phobia". He said, "You know this is the outcome of the Muslim phobia which unfortunately hasn't left people like Mr Modi. I am very sorry to say that." Without wasting much time, the ever combative Modi hit back and tried to clarify.

However, there is a fundamental contradiction between the two narratives mooted by Modi. Fifteen years ago, he was insisting on using the term "Islamic terrorism" and presently he is talking about delinking terrorism and religion.

Both the things cannot be simultaneously followed. The moment one uses the term "Islamic terrorism" (as opposed to "Islamist terrorism" or "violent extremism" as chosen by US president Barack Obama), one invariably ends up equating Islam with terrorism.

In 2001, Modi was happy that the media was using the term "Islamic terrorism", but he felt enraged and criticised the term "saffron terrorism". 

If terrorism and religion are not to be equated, how does Modi explain his dual approach? According to Modi, it's a good thing if the media says "Islamic terrorism" but it's a heresy if the term "saffron terrorism" is uttered. Terrorism, whether it is committed by Muslims or Hindus, or anyone else, has the same ramifications. It leads to violence and death of innocents.

Politicians like Modi shouldn't downplay terrorism when it is carried out by Hindus while insisting on the recognition of terror activities carried out by Muslims to be branded as "Islamic terrorism". One should sit down and devote a little over 27 minutes to watch the entire clipping of the programme that has been referred to in this write-up. It is important to watch it because it gives us an uncensored insight into Modi's thoughts on the relationship between Islam and terrorism.

Throughout the show, Modi tries to portray Islam as some sort of violent force. He talks about Muslim conquests across the world over a period of 1,400 years and associates it with modern Islamist terrorism. He stated that no Islamic country in the world condemned the destruction of Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

But an opinion piece published in USA Today ("Why the Taliban are destroying Buddhas", March 22, 2001) clearly pointed out that "the world community from Russia to Malaysia, Germany to Sri Lanka, and of course, UNSECO, has expressed horror at the destruction of Buddha statues. Many mullahs in Islamic countries condemned (former Taliban chief) Mullah Omar's interpretation as wrong-headed and damaging to the image of Islam." 

When asked by Sardesai whether all religions have been exploited, Modi said that there was no such evidence in history against Hinduism, thereby once again indicating there was something extremely, inherently and uniquely wrong with Islam. He also threw light on 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden's connection with Islam and Muslims.

"Rajdeep, Osama bin Laden ko takat kahan se mil rahi hai? Samarthan kaun kar raha hai? Karne waalon ki prerna kya hai? Jab woh unko Islam ki bhasha bolta hai tab bacche aur khade hote hai uske saath. Aur koi prerna woh anti-America ke mood se nahi kar raha. Woh kar raha hai Islam ki bhavnao ka durupyog karte hue. (Rajdeep, from where is Osama bin Laden deriving power? Who is supporting him? Why are they supporting him? When bin Laden uses the language of Islam then more kids stand in support of him. He is not piggybacking on anti-Americanism. He is misusing the emotions of Islam)," said Modi.

Modi was basically trying to say Muslims supported bin Laden because of Islam. Yes, it is true. But how many Muslims supported bin Laden? An overwhelming majority of Muslims rejected bin Laden and the Al Qaeda. Can a religion of 1.6 billion people be represented by a tiny minority of extremists? And were Islam's teachings being misused or distorted by bin Laden? There is a difference between the two.

Distortion would mean twisting religious texts in a manner they are not supposed to be interpreted. Terrorists distort verses to justify killing of innocents whereas the Quran clearly lays out in verse 5:32 that the murder of even a single innocent person amounts to the murder of entire humanity. Misuse, on the other hand, would mean the wrongful use of a certain religious edict. For instance, polygamy which is permissible according to the Quran, can be used by certain Muslim men for simply satisfying their sexual desires.

Bin Laden was not misusing but distorting Islam because Islam resolutely stands against the killing of innocents as it unfolded on September 11, 2001. But according to Modi, bin Laden was "misusing (durupyog)" Islam which would mean that there is scope for such violence in Islam, which is certainly not the case. Islam condemns indiscriminate killings with no ifs and buts.

Politicians must end the practice of turning Islam and Muslims into scapegoats. By attacking Islam and Muslims, politicians like Modi seek to consolidate conservative, anti-Muslim voters.

But when they are in power and looking for wider acceptability as an international statesman, they start contradicting themselves. It's about time we called out their fraud. While we welcome Modi's new found wisdom concerning Islam's true meaning of peace, we must ensure that he be held to account for what he has said in the past.


Saif Ahmad Khan Saif Ahmad Khan @saifakhan

The writer is pursuing MA Convergent Journalism from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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