Indian Muslims Against Terrorism
Yoginder Sikand, April 10, 2008
Recent months have witnessed a spate of seminars, public meetings, rallies and press conferences organized by various Muslim groups across India denouncing terrorism and insisting that it has no relation whatsoever with Islam. These have been widely reported in the Muslim press, but, barring the recently-held Anti-Terrorism convention held by the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, they have not received any attention by the so-called 'mainstream' Indian press. The reason is simple: The 'mainstream' press rarely, if ever, highlights any positive stories or news about Muslims. It is as if only 'bad' news about Muslims is 'good' news for the 'mainstream' press.
These anti-terrorism meetings are of considerable significance in several respects. They clearly indicate the unfortunate predicament of the Muslim community, which has been unfairly singled out, both in India and elsewhere, as being allegedly inherently associated with terrorism. It is a sign of the massive, and still mounting, wave of Islamophobia, propelled by Western, Zionist, and, within India, Hindutva, forces, which is increasingly compelling Muslims and their organizations to be put on the defensive. No other community is being forced to explain itself and absolve itself of charges of 'terrorism' in even remotely the same way, although 'terrorism' is, needless to say, not specifically a 'Muslim' issue.
The anti-terrorism meetings show that the Muslim religious leadership is fast waking up to the need to reach out to an audience beyond that of their own followers, in particular to non-Muslims and to explain their stance to them. This follows mounting arrests and even killings of Muslims, many of them innocent, on charges of 'terrorism'. Although on the whole unfortunate, this move to reach out to non-Muslims might have a welcome fall-out: they might help build important bridges of communication between Muslims and non-Muslims, promote much-needed inter-community solidarity and counter deeply-rooted communal prejudices. This effort is, however, hampered by the fact that the Muslim religious leaders who have organized these meetings have few, if any, relations with non-Muslim organizations, activists and media professionals who could have helped relay their message to a broader non-Muslim audience. Hence, most of their meetings have been both addressed and attended by Muslims themselves, reducing them largely to exercises in preaching to those who are already convinced of the argument that Islam has no relation with terrorism.
These meetings clearly suggest the growing willingness on the part of influential sections of the Muslim religious leadership to bring internal contestations about Islamic authenticity into the public domain and to openly deny the claims to such authenticity on the part of such fringe elements that target innocents in the name of Islam. By explicitly condemning acts of terrorism as anti-Islamic, even if these are carried out by groups that claim to be 'Islamic', they clearly indicate the possibilities of developing alternate forms of religious expression that condemn terrorism in all its forms and stress the need for inter-community solidarity for social justice.
Significantly, these meetings have sought to widen the scope of public debate about 'terrorism' by also raising the issue of forms of terrorism engaged in by a range of non-Muslim actors, something that the dominant Western and Indian media have been reluctant to discuss, name or even acknowledge. They have, accordingly, talked of the need to also condemn state terrorism, particularly American and Israeli, that has caused the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of people. They have condemned with equal passion the terrorism of the Hindutva brigade, often abetted by elements in the Indian state apparatus. Surely, as these meetings appeal to us to acknowledge, the debate on terrorism must move beyond its misplaced obsession only with Muslims to cover all forms of terrorism if we are at all serious about combating the problem.
These meetings have also forcefully called for more terminological clarity and balance about the very concept of 'terrorism'. They have pointed out that in the case of several Muslim groups and movements in certain countries, anti-imperialist resistance forces that have taken to violence in self-defence cannot be branded as 'terrorists', as the dominant media generally does. This is most striking in the case of the Palestinian and Iraqi resistance movements, that may use an 'Islamic' vocabulary for their anti-imperialist agenda.
It is significant to note that while denouncing terrorism done by Muslim groups (and simultaneously condemning terrorism engaged in by states and by non-Muslim forces), these meetings have not explicitly critiqued any Muslim group engaged in terrorism by name. Nor have these meetings sought to critique the interpretations of Islam articulated by these groups in any detailed manner, beyond simply announcing that Islam has no relation with terrorism. This perhaps emanates from a fear of being attacked, even physically, if such groups were to be named. It could also indicate a reluctance to admit that some Muslims, like some others, too might actually engage in terrorism. Whatever the reason, this silence surely reduces the impact that these meetings might have otherwise had in countering terrorism in the name of Islam engaged in by some fringe groups.
The debate about 'terrorism' needs to move beyond the parallel sets of monologues engaged in by Muslim groups and their detractors. The series of anti-terrorism meetings organized recently by various Muslim groups across India has sought to do this in a limited way, although this effort has been marred by a lack of sufficient internal critique. That said, these meetings are undoubtedly a very welcome and significant development.