Srijana Mitra Das
Author and academic Tabish Khair
and academic Tabish
Khair has written Jihadi Jane. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das,
Khair discussed complex pulls and pushes around jihad, sudden spikes of women
Jihadis – and India versus IS:
idea of India staved off the idea of IS?
idea of an inclusive India and our democracy have definitely staved off the
threat of IS and its ilk – but this may change in a few years, if more Hindutva
voices keep complaining about Akbar, Kabir, etc., and talking of Muslims as
‘outsiders’, if democratic institutions are hobbled, and if the insidious
influence of petro-dollars on Muslims is not faced up to. Let us not be complacent. India is many ideas – not all of them are
peaceful or cohesive.
become a ‘brand’ – if so, what does it signify?
I guess, to
its three percent supporters, it probably signifies ‘pure Islam’ or
‘anti-Western politics’ – both of which have an appeal that can extend beyond
the three percent.
IS does not
worry me too much, just as the lunatic Hindutva fringe and far-right neo-Nazi
groups do not worry me too much – what worries me is the ‘respectable’ base
they build on. With Muslims, this is a narrowing interpretation of religious
and cultural heritages and an intolerance of women’s rights – the latter easily
translates into other kinds of intolerance.
seeing many more women Jihadis now – how did this happen? Was the West’s stress
over the Hijab involved?
later, any large movement – no matter how anti-woman – will have to use the
female half to further its cause.
I find the
Hijab issue simplified. Yes, the Hijab should be a personal choice – but it can
be so only when it is not a political compulsion. At the moment, it is a
political compulsion in many Muslim states and societies.
religious Muslims want women to have the personal choice of wearing the Hijab
internationally, they have to first make sure it is not a political compulsion
in any Muslim state or society.
the experience of writing as women characters in Jihadi Jane?
I was advised against it, for all the usual reasons. But fiction is not just
facts; it is a kind of truth – and for truth to be more than facts it has to be
accessed across differences.
of differences, why do Muslim migrant communities stick with certain religious
practices – why not just adapt to the country they’ve chosen to join?
always a tendency among recent immigrants – not just Muslims – to stick to
older forms of what they consider their traditions or ‘identity’.
In the case
of Muslims in the West, this is compounded by the fact that they’re seen in
terms of religion. Because the West allows so little space for Muslim cultures
– much of Western history is based on a denial of their Muslim links, which go
back to the early Enlightenment – and because Muslims are dominated by
‘Islamic’ spokespeople internally, there is greater ‘religious conservatism’ in
many immigrant Muslim communities in the West.
here, there are differences. For instance, Kurdish Muslims for political
reasons and Bosnian Muslims for ‘racial’ reasons (because they look North
European at times) might find it easier to adapt.
writing describes the poverty Muslim migrants’ face – why does this push some
to militancy, not aspiration? And how does this explain IS, etc., growing in
more comfortable ‘native’ contexts like Bangladesh?
react in different ways to the same stimuli – some get apathetic, some are
pushed to aspiration, some to militancy.
contexts like Bangladesh, Gulf jobs and petro-money play a huge role – one
cannot imagine something like IS without religious doctrines like Wahhabism.
Such doctrines would have remained confined to tribal Arab circles without
petro-money and Gulf jobs.
A kind of
Arabised petro-colonisation of diverse Muslim societies in the subcontinent has
been taking place over the past five or six decades.
a social medium use love, sex and romance in attracting people to jihad?
social media – is a strange phenomenon. You speak to others as if you’re
speaking to yourself in a mirror on the wall. It is not like speaking to people
in a room or on the street. You cannot switch people off in real life – you
always take some account of what you are saying because you face them in the
There is no
such social accountability on internet, – yet, it’s a wider world that you can
ever encounter bodily.
to any kind of person in any country instantaneously – this greatly increases
the scope for love, romance, hatred, and makes it easier to experience all of
these almost in the abstract.
you’re also not really breaking Islamic rules by communicating across gender on
internet, are you?
imagine the attractions – and the dangers.
discuss the cultural confusion Muslim youth face between Quran and computers –
what is the cultural gap that makes some fall towards suicidal ideas?
small percentage is attracted to these suicidal ideas – even high estimates put
it at under three percent.
argue that three percent of white men will be attracted to militant white
supremacist ideas too and three percent of Hindus might go for the Hindutva
‘lunatic fringe.’ That has to be put on record, in all fairness.
what is particularly worrying in the case of Muslims is a certain apocalyptic
interpretation of history and the future – which is held not only by militant
and suicidal extremists but also by most of the peacefully religious.
Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine – why do some young Muslims in the West feel
entranced by distant wars?
I know the
term ‘Middle East’ was a half-ignorant Western designation, but it is an apt
+ Muddle East = Middle East. That is part of the answer.
part is the fact, whether one likes it or not, that religious Muslims do have a
strong sense of community that refuses to recognise national and cultural
barriers. European Christians had something similar well into the 19th century
but largely from the 18th century onwards, perhaps as a (positive) consequence
of empire; it slowly expanded to include ‘humanity.’
Pope is a good example of that inclusion, even in the narrow confines of the Vatican.
obviously, as the recent so-called refugee crisis in Europe also highlights,
belief in a common humanity is not totally pervasive even in Europe.
sadly, even less pervasive among many Muslims.
religious ideas aside, is jihad seen sometimes as an answer to class
inequalities and disparities in power – a clash aggravated by the collapse of
Communist ideology or credible Left movements?
time i heard the term was in secondary school, when a family elder asked me to
‘keep waging your jihad’ – he meant my effort to be a good student.
also means a struggle for the betterment of society and self. It has been used
to mean ‘battle’ too, sadly, but the options of a struggle to make a better
society are hard-wired into it.
explains some of its appeal to Muslim youth. Of course the failure of coherent
socialist alternatives has played a role, especially in and around the
Meddle-Muddle-Middle East, where the socialist alternative was jailed and
executed, and autocratic governments, undergirded by forms of religiosity, were
often sustained by the ‘free world’.
and Saudi Arabia are two very different examples of this.
‘free world’, do you think the Prophet cartoons have been a provocation,
sparking a lot of the violence you describe?
course. You always need a spark to start a fire. This spark suited many of the
most inimical and manipulative political actors on ‘both’ sides.
different kinds of violence were involved – symbolic and abstract violence on
the one side and physical violence on the other.
world, the former is usually the prerogative of dominant sections – and the
latter the recourse of marginalised ones.