New Age Islam Edit Bureau
04 December 2015
Terror in the name of religion
By Deepak Sinha
Intolerance fuels radicalisation
By Narayan Lakshman
The myth of Intolerant India
By ARVIND P. DATAR
Why Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a bad ally
By Paul R. Gregory
Friday, 04 December 2015
Daesh represents an insurgency that afflicts the whole of West Asia and parts of Africa. It has definite ideological underpinnings and a clear aim: To wrest power from the governing classes in the region
Paris has been in the eye of the hurricane this past year, what with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office last January that resulted in killed 12, followed by an even more horrific attack 11 months later that has left 129 dead and hundreds more injured. While Paris may be in a shock, others in Lebanon and Russia too have reason to grieve. On October 31, terrorists planted an explosive device and destroyed an airliner over the Sinai killing all 224 on board, while a fortnight later two suicide bombers attacked a Shia neighbourhood in Beirut killing 40 and maiming many more.
While there is some truth in the statement that terror has no religion, sadly all these attacks were perpetrated by militants owing allegiance to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or more appropriately, Daesh.Why Daesh? As journalist Zeba Khan suggested in the Boston Globe, “Daesh is a better choice because it is accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, Daesh can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from ‘to trample down and crush’ to ‘a bigot who imposes his view on others'.
We do, however, need to keep things in perspective by reminding ourselves that if we were to go by statistics alone from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, then in all probability, approximately 260 fatalities occurred due to gun violence in the United States in the past month. That being said, one cannot avoid facing the fact that Daesh and its affiliates do pose an ever-increasing threat to global peace and communal harmony that needs to be neutralised at the earliest to avoid a conflagration that they are keen to initiate. Therefore, it would be beneficial to understand the nature of the beast before we can conclude that the campaign in progress to neutralise it is on the right lines or if it needs changes.
We need to accept the fact that Daesh represents an insurgency that afflicts the whole of West Asia and parts of Africa. Like all other insurgencies it has clear ideological underpinnings and a clear political aim: To wrest power from the governing classes in the region. In Iraq and Syria, it enjoys extensive support and sympathy among the marginalised Sunni community. That has enabled it to engage the Iraqi and Syrian Armies in a conventional conflict, for control of territory larger than the United Kingdom, in what can be considered to be the final offensive phase of any insurgency. While insurgents do normally resort to acts of terror against the population at large, especially in the early phases of their campaign, Daesh continues to simultaneously behave like a terrorist group in those regions it has little or no traction.
While insurgencies are restricted to countries or regions within them, the fundamental difference between Daesh and past and on-going insurgencies is that they see themselves as trans-national with the world as their target. Their literal interpretation of Islamic precepts that were embedded by Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers, requires them to act against non-believers and apostates alike. Despite vehement and universal opposition to its ideology from Islamic scholars and others, its brand of Islam has found resonance among young Muslims around the world, especially second and third generation immigrants in the West, among others, who face problems of racial discrimination, socio-economic deprivation and unemployment. They have no stake in the future of the countries their forefathers immigrated to, and are now looking for revenge against society at large, which they consider to be corrupt and discriminatory.
It stands to reason that the Daesh, its advocates and affiliates, must be tackled at several levels simultaneously. The civil war must be quickly brought under control by the use of conventional forces with greater combat capability and effectiveness than what the Daesh can muster. However, to expect militias and semi-trained, poorly led and motivated Syrian and Iraqi Government forces, even if supported by an effective air campaign, to pay dividends and inflict strategic defeat on Daesh is just wishful thinking. The complexity of the situation cannot be understated as the United States and its coalition partners have not exactly distinguished themselves with the locals with their earlier interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Add to this the ongoing fracas between Russia and Turkey and the likelihood of tackling Daesh in a coordinated manner appears remote.
One option available is to put in place a coalition force under a United Nations command, mandated by the Security Council, as was done in the Korean War. This force could be given the limited task of destroying Daesh’s ability to wage war and also to recapture territory that is presently occupied by it. In tandem with the military counter-offensive against Daesh, political and socio-economic measures must be implemented in a time-bound manner to win over the disaffected populations of the region, which will, in all likelihood, require political boundary re-alignments and leadership changes.
As for us, the possible spread of Daesh within the subcontinent is a contingency that our intelligence and security agencies will need to take a close look at, so that we are not caught off-guard in the future. There is room for optimism in the fact that, unlike in the West, out of a Muslim population of nearly 180 million, only 23 youths are reported to have joined Daesh. Despite the ongoing raucous debate on intolerance within the media and intellectual community, India continues to remain an island of religious tolerance and communal harmony.
(Deepak Sinha, a military veteran is a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation)
Hateful vitriol was spewed upon actor Aamir Khan recently, for expressing concern over the rising anti-minority attitude.
Unless there is a concerted effort to neutralise the impunity of extremist elements that regularly engage in anti-Muslim violence, there may be little to halt the drift of a few members of a moderate community into the arms of IS radicals.
India is awash with Islamophobia and there could not be a more dangerous time for this pernicious slant in our national politics.
Hateful vitriol was spewed upon actor Aamir Khan recently, for expressing concern over the rising anti-minority attitude, just as black ink was literally spilled on the Observer Research Foundation’s Sudheendra Kulkarni last month for organising a book release event for a former Pakistani foreign Minister.
Even more violent and disquieting were September’s mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, over rumours that he had stored beef in his home, and August’s murder of notable rationalist M.M. Kalburgi, who was shot dead after being threatened for his criticism of idolatry in Hinduism.
There will no doubt be more such displays of bigotry in the months ahead, as fringe elements of the Hindutva brigade, emboldened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s description of the Dadri lynching as “unfortunate” and “undesirable”, go on the rampage to correct what they perceive to be injuries to the sentiments of the majority.
The most compelling reasons for Mr. Modi to decisively stymie this rising tide of hatred are quite obvious: respect for India’s constitutionally protected secular credentials, and the maintenance of broader societal peace and harmony between communities.
Yet there is a third feature of the Indian political firmament that makes it urgent, nay imperative, that the country’s leadership effectively tamp down on the flames of extremism — the alarming proliferation of support for Islamic State (IS), the jihadist terror outfit that controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
The discovery of these IS-sympathisers has had a creeping quality, starting late last year with a handful of youth travelling to West Asia from Kalyan, near Mumbai, but more recently has been gathering momentum with a much larger cohort being pulled into the net by intelligence operations.
The fact that this trend has been coterminous with the surge in anti-minority violence ought to be a red flag for the Modi government, for there is a risk that the two developments may begin to feed off one another, leading to a perfect storm linking an ongoing foreign policy crisis to a community under siege on Indian soil.
Consider the speed and pattern of IS proliferation on Indian soil over the past year.
Back in January The Hindu received a response on a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Defence asking what information it had on Indian nationals discovered to be fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq.
Their answer was simple: none. Clearly the few Indians that had made it into the ranks of IS at that point were either relegated to menial tasks or used as cannon fodder on the frontlines as they have generally been considered “inferior” fighters.
Yet, as outlined in a series of reports in The Hindu (“The IS Files”), the last past year has witnessed a slew of intelligence operations that have flushed out a number of potential IS recruits, and they hail from across the breadth of India.
For example, Haja Fakkrudeen and Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar both grew up in Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu, and while Maraicar is now lodged in an Indian prison, Fakkrudeen, who may have been radicalised by Maraicar, is likely to be fighting alongside IS in Syria.
The case of Muhammed Abdul Ahad, a U.S.-educated computer professional from Bengaluru, reflects the diversity of backgrounds from which IS has managed to woo supporters in India. Ahad was intercepted by Turkish authorities last year on the Syrian border and deported earlier this year after authorities suspected him of seeking to enter the Syrian battlefield.
At the opposite end of the nation, in the Kashmir Valley, Kamil Wada spoke to The Hindu about how his older brother Adil had travelled to Syria, with authorities noting that he may have got radicalised by an Australian Islamic group after a visit to that country.
As Indian intelligence agencies continue to grapple with the “foreign fighter” question, an issue that has long been front and centre for the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, it behoves the government of Mr. Modi to more effectively address societal forces that make the isolation, demonisation and ultimate radicalisation of minority communities more likely.
Unless there is a concerted effort to neutralise the impunity of extremist elements that regularly engage in anti-Muslim violence, there may be little to halt the drift of a few members of an overwhelmingly moderate community into the arms of IS radicals.
In the present climate of hostility, a vicious cycle is likely, as there are groups that would happily seize upon the insidious presence of the IS in India to paint the entire Muslim community with the broad brush of negative propaganda or worse.
To have any hope of success in this context, anti-radicalisation strategies of the government must foster a sense of physical security, democratic space and cultural sensitivity towards traditions of minority communities while adopting a no-nonsense, intelligence-based crackdown on the shadowy menace of the IS.
December 4, 2015
Nayantara Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi award after the horrific incident in Dadri, which prompted her to complain about the “vanishing space for diversity”, about “people being killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology” and about the Indian environment getting “worse and worse in the past 15 months”. By implication, the astonishing allegation was that there were far fewer communal incidents before this evil period. Several other artistes suddenly felt perturbed by this “rising intolerance”. It is also perhaps just a coincidence that this avalanche of anguish started and ended with the Bihar elections. Just when one thought this unfortunate trend was over, Aamir Khan made his “quit India” remark because his wife had started feeling “unsafe”. It requires serious consideration: Has India really become intolerant, particularly in the past 15 months? Are religious minorities now unsafe? Are they being systematically targeted and marginalised?
If one swallow does not a summer make, one Dadri does not make a country of 1.24 billion people intolerant. The clamour over banning beef, the disruption of Valentine’s Day celebrations, the chopping-off of a professor’s hand and the banning of the works of Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie are isolated, regrettable incidents and are not indicators of a nation’s intolerance.
A nation is intolerant when its constitution and institutions are intolerant. The Preamble to our Constitution declares India to be a secular republic. In Aruna Roy vs Union of India (2002) and S.R. Bommai vs Union of India (1994), the Supreme Court declared secularism to be part of the basic structure of our Constitution; it held that secularism denoted the positive concept of equal treatment of all religions. In the language of Gandhiji, it meant “sarva dharma samabhava” — equal respect for all religions.
Muslims constitute about 13.4 per cent of India’s population. In several states, Christians constitute a high proportion of the population. Article 25 of our Constitution confers on all persons, including non-citizens, a fundamental right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion — a right that is exercised effectively to convert people to another faith every day. Articles 29 and 30 constitutionally protect the language, script and culture of minorities and give them the right to establish educational institutions of their choice. Can the same be said of countries that systematically target churches and individuals of other religions? Are we anywhere near Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, requires schools to block 25 per cent of the seats, free of cost, in favour of economically and socially backward students, including Scheduled Castes and Tribes. But this mandatory requirement does not apply to schools run by a minority community. Thus, a Ramakrishna Mission school has to allocate 25 per cent seats to poorer students free of cost but a St Anthony’s school or an Al-Akbar matriculation school need not do so. Such exceptions can be made only in favour of minority educational institutions under Article 15(5) of our Constitution.
And nothing manifests India’s tolerance for the views of the minority community, even if they are contrary to the laws of the land and the prevailing practices and customs of modern societies, more than the famous Shah Bano case. Married in 1932, Shah Bano, a Muslim woman, was thrown out of her home after 43 years of marriage. Three years later, in 1978, her husband divorced her by an irrevocable talaq. In 1979, the magistrate granted her a princely maintenance of Rs 25 per month (yes, that’s correct), which was enhanced to Rs 179.20 by the Madhya Pradesh High Court and later upheld by the Supreme Court in 1985. This triggered a storm of protest by the Muslim community; it was claimed to be an interference with their religion, which did not require the husband to provide for any maintenance beyond the period of iddat after the talaq. Iddat is a period of three menstrual cycles. Both Houses of Parliament then passed the ironically titled Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, which took away the rights of divorced Muslim women to claim maintenance under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Parliament effectively overruled a Supreme Court judgment and restored the law as desired by the spokespersons of the Muslim community. And it is only the tolerance and respect for minorities, particularly Muslims, that has restrained our lawmakers from enacting a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens despite a mandate under Article 44 of the Constitution.
The selective expression of anguish by many Indian intellectuals is distressing. Looking back, not one artist complained about the extreme intolerance in the Kashmir Valley that drove out thousands of Kashmiri Pandits. Did anyone protest against the desecration of temples in the Valley? Is that less worthy of condemnation than the attack on churches?
The outcry against “rising intolerance” is wholly unjustified. Indeed, India has had an unfortunate track record of communal riots before and after Independence. But no one can deny that everything has been done by every Central and state government to protect the rights and privileges of all minorities. The right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our Constitution does not, unfortunately, impose the duty to carefully examine the facts and the law before saying or doing something that causes serious damage to the reputation of India. The unfortunate existence of a few intolerant Indians does not make India intolerant — a distinction that our highly sensitive artistes, including Aamir Khan, deliberately choose to ignore.
Dec 04, 2015
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, gives his annual state of the nation address in the Kremlin in Moscow. (AP Photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syrian conflict has been welcomed by some as a moment for the Kremlin to “come in from the cold.” Russia’s conflict with the Islamic State, the argument goes, has aligned the country’s interests with those of the West. Even Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane does not seem not to have deflated this optimism.
Indeed, at a recent press conference, US President Barack Obama again urged Putin to join the alliance against the Islamic State. And French President François Hollande billed his recent visit to Moscow as an effort to build a broad international coalition against the terrorist group.
At first blush, the idea that Russia is a natural ally against Islamist terrorists seems to make sense. The country has suffered horrific terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists, including the bombing in November of a plane above the Sinai Peninsula, which killed 224 passengers and crew, nearly all of them Russian. Around 20 million Muslims, most of them Sunni, live within the Russian Federation, and the country’s security officials report that some 7,000 fighters from the former Soviet republics and Russia have joined the Islamic State.
On deeper examination, however, it becomes clear that an anti-terror alliance with Russia is wishful thinking. Putin has not gone into Syria to defeat the Islamic State. He has intervened to save the regime of Russia’s client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin may sometimes give the appearance that he is ready to abandon Assad, but ultimately he will defend him. Leaving Assad to his fate would be a sign of weakness – and thus anathema to Putin.
Ordinary Russians may be in danger of attacks by Islamic extremists, but they pose little threat to Putin or his allies. Russia has indeed suffered a number of terrorist attacks, including the 2004 Beslan massacre, in which 334 people, most of them schoolchildren, were killed. In nearly every case, the response to the attacks was brutal, inept, and costly in terms of civilian lives lost. And yet the Putin regime has emerged unscathed each time. Indeed, terrorist attacks at the turn of the century solidified public opinion against Chechen rebels and gave Putin the public support he needed to raze Grozny, Chechnya’s capital.
Putin’s confidence in dealing with terrorism reflects the design of Russia’s security state. Russia spends more on internal security than it does on national defense. It has interior ministry troops, federal security agency (FSB) special forces, OMON (mobile special service) troops, military intelligence troops, and a vast network of internal spies and informants. Regime opponents are not allowed to run for office, their rights to demonstrate are restricted, and they are subject to a legal arbitrariness in the courts. Citizens have virtually no protection from wiretaps or the interception of their electronic communications.
Every society must balance civil rights against national security. Putin’s Russia has swung to one extreme of the spectrum, while the United States and Europe (despite the protests of civil libertarians) have chosen to occupy the other end. Indeed, Russia is an example of the upper limit of what state power can do to control terrorist activity. It would be a rare extremist group that had not been infiltrated with an informant who reports to Moscow. There is even evidence that those who carried out the Beslan massacre were infiltrated by Russian intelligence. Moreover, any terrorist group knows that their operations will be met with the most extreme use of force. In Beslan, for example, Russian special forces used thermobaric weapons.
As the reaction to the attacks in Paris illustrates, the seemingly random murder of 130 civilians has monumental resonance in the West – especially when the religious and ideological motives are difficult to understand. But the Kremlin places a lower value on human lives than Western societies do. In Putin’s calculations, the loss of lives in extremist attacks is unwelcome, but ultimately acceptable if it does not threaten the regime.
The Russian people might be horrified and frightened. But the Russian regime is primarily concerned with its own survival – and with how it might use the public’s horror to its benefit. Working with the West to combat the Islamic State serves neither of those purposes.
Paul R. Gregory, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a research associate at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, is a professor at the University of Houston.
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