Breaking the Siege
Islamic Voice, October 1, 2008

The Indian Muslims are gripped by despondency and helplessness. The esieged community is finding itself at its wit's end in combating the all-enveloping atmosphere of Islamophobia. Factors such as the dramatized encounters, media's 'spiced' up coverage, arrests of youth with remote or no links with terrorists, lack of support from the civil society have all combined to espouse a sense of disgust, dejection, desperation and a feeling that the community has been completely isolated. It is said the lapses of a few from the minority community are enough to tar the entire community with a black brush. Something of this sort has happened in the last few months what with police raiding homes and villages in pursuit of terrorists in the wake of highly condemnable serial blasts and death of innocents in several cities. While the entire Muslim community is burdened with a sense of shame and guilt, the wave of latent antipathy against them threatens to gnaw the very vitals of the social fabric. A community that is destined to inhabit this beloved land of ours, has to share schools, farms, factories, workshops, markets, hospitals, mass transport, roads, and the public discourse on national affairs. Therefore. it has to inevitably and constantly think of ways to defreeze the impasse, reworking of bonds and enlivening the ties with the general masses and the mainstream population. Coldness of behaviour from others is no excuse for evading the assignment. It is here that challenge of living in a plural society lies.

Let it be said that the initial step must begin with thorough condemnation of terrorism, vow to jettison all the perpetrators of violence and an undertaking to stick to the rule of the law. And this law should be one that is recognized by the Constitution, not the one that is handed down by the religion for centuries. It has to be recognized that the visionary fathers of this nation had vested this country with democracy, secularism and justice for all. So parameters have already been drawn.

Secondly, the community has to shun extremists and fundamentalists who are of course, not found only among Muslims. Currently, the mood among the Muslims is one of denial of existence of extremism and its practitioners within the community and pointing of fingers at others. It is unhelpful in diagnosis, to say the least. It is not for nothing that terrorists are born among people. SIMI represented a lunatic fringe that could intoxicate youth with hysteria and notions of absolutism. Impracticality of those ideals often leads the youth to subvert and undermine the existing institutions. Of course, the establishment could be accused of being harsh against one kind of extremism while treating a rival kind with kid gloves. But let us not forget that it were MIM goons in Hyderabad who attacked Taslima Nasreen and were uninhibited in proclamation of their intent to murder her. Terrorist Kafeel emerged from a middle class Muslim family of IT capital of India. Suicide bombers in Pakistan are rising from Taliban aficionados. There are separatist forces in the Valley who make their intention plain against allowing the Kashmiri Pundits's return. Losing sight of extremism within only provides legitimacy to extremists on the other side of the fence. Such negative symbiosis has permeated deep into our polity.

Thirdly, ethos of pluralism must be inculcated among the Muslim youth whereby they could appreciate the divergent opinion on social issues. Unfortunately, certain dawah groups (including TV channels and evangelists) have spoilt the atmosphere with their fundamentalist posturing and rhetoric of rejection and repulsion of all concepts modern. Using the state-of-the-art technology these groups peddle all kinds of intolerance, injustice and regressive ideas. Their puritanical worldview is antithetical to the respect for diversity the time and society requires. They feel no qualms in shouting from the rooftops that women must be barred from social space, Islamic criminal law is most effective in curbing crime, economy must be rid of every iota of interest, blasting of Bamiyan Buddhas was justifiable because the Buddhism does not preach idolatry, and khilafah is the ultimate solution to all human woes. Such absolutist ideas from TV channels may project a fantastic mirage to a community starkly shorn of role models, but cannot be substitute for practical wisdom.

Fourthly, the community must realize that in a democracy like ours all doors are not slammed shut on a group. Institutional infirmity at one level gets remedied at another level. If executive is found acting harshly, courts come to the rescue. Miscarriage of justice in one instance often gets redressed by the legislature. If all else fails, civil society or media may provide the correctives. Did not the media highlight the unjust role of the Australian Federal Police in Dr. Hanif's case? Groups within the community could take their plea for justice to the media and civil liberties group for investigation into several instance of perceived atrocities and injustice. Tomtomming victimhood is no solution.

Finally, Muslims need to work with civil society groups on issues of popular woe and weal. They stir into action on emotional issues of Danish cartoons but remain conspicuous by absence on issue of implementing Justice Srikrishna Commission report, or helping the Bihar's flood victims or attack on Christians in Kandhamal . Hardly any voices are heard against separatist movement in the Kashmir Valley. How then are they justified in seeking others ears while being deaf to their woes.

This article is based on the editorial published in October 2008 edition of Islamic Voice newspaper.