The collaring of the Ahmed brothers, Kafeel and Sabeel, in the Glasgow terrorist incident and the forceful intervention in the Lal Masjid complex in Islamabad ordered by General Pervez Musharraf, are linked symbiotically by the Saudi connection that no one seems to be talking about.
The Ahmed brothers, as Farukh Dhondy pointed out in the aftermath of Kafeel’s action, are essentially Saudi Muslims except for their passports. Their parents —Maqbool and Zakia Ahmed— both doctors who reportedly served long years in the desert kingdom and there, presumably, picked up the symbols of their faith—long beard in the one case and hijab in the other, even as their sons acquired something far more dangerous—the closed mind and the unventilated world-view of wahabi Islam that may have done the followers of the Prophet proud in the founding years of that religion but, in the 21st century, are a liability for individuals and a threat to a composite state such as India.
Switch now to the Lal Masjid shoot-out. The intransigent Islam preached there by Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi killed by Pakistani security forces and his older brother Maulana Abdul Aziz, who preferred life to “martyrdom” and escaped certain death by taking to burqa and high heels, is inspired by the wahabist ideology. By itself, this strain of Islam would not have the traction in large parts of South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia but for the vast sums of money dispensed generously by numerous trusts controlled by the Saudi government and funded from that country’s oil revenues. The aim being to spread wahabi norms and values in foreign lands. Curiously, the over-austere and strict desert Islam of the wahabi sect (which takes the Quran quite literally) has put down roots as easily in the dry and desiccated environs of Waziristan and the Pashtun-dominated North West Frontier Province and southern and eastern Afghanistan as in the tropically lush Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Thus, you have the burgeoning ranks of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyaiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad igniting endless violence in the forked arc—Kabul-Bannu-Kandahar and Kabul-Jalalabad-Peshawar-Kashmir and elsewhere on the one hand, and the malcontents of the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) stirring up the communally peaceful Krishna-Kaveri basin regions on the other.
Since General Zia ul-Haq’s days, the Pakistan army has deliberately encouraged the Saudi-funded wahabists to establish hundreds of madrasas all over the country. These help feed, clothe, indoctrinate and prepare the cannon fodder for the jihad and act, moreover, as a foil to the modernist political parties seeking the return of the army to the barracks and as a social pressure cooker valve—the poorest sections of the Pakistani society happily send their sons (and, increasingly, daughters) to these traditional schools because they are spared the expense of raising them. This last, as retired ambassador Javid Hussain argued in a recent article in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, leaves the military with more of the national resources to spend on itself and less on the education of children and other social welfare programmes.
The Simi activists are into venting manufactured grievances. If their case is that Indian Muslims, at the bottom of the social ladder, enjoy few rights and get little out of the state, then, hey, welcome to the democratic reality!
There are a host of other equally marginalized groups, in the main, because they are not politically mobilized or savvy, do not get the state’s attention they think they deserve and, hence, feel aggrieved. For the Simi activists—many of them well educated—to seek succour in wahabi Islam and in radicalizing Muslim youth is to spawn another generation of illiterates and incompetents incapable of making it on their own in the modern world. After all, learning the Quran by rote is not going to enable young persons to serve in multinational corporations, design software, or join the civil services.
Musharraf has apparently seen the error of the Pakistan army’s ways and has decreed that all madrasas henceforth will be monitored and no extremist Islam taught. The Indian government, a perennial laggard, is likely to soon update madrasa syllabi to include English, mathematics and computer science.
But, what of the Saudis? The Intelligence Bureau has for many years now tracked the charitable trust monies being funnelled into the construction of mosques and madrasas involved in hate mongering in sensitive areas in the South, and along India’s borders with Nepal and Bangladesh. It is the Indian government, weakened by its mistaken view of secularism and sapped of will to do anything decisive in any sphere, that has failed to stop wahabism riding on the Saudi monies in its tracks and allowed extremist Islam to flourish to the extent it has. The question then is, if the ruling Sauds of Arabia are responsible for the problem of Islamist terrorism most everywhere, will Washington not be better advised, and the world better off, by affecting a “regime change” in Riyadh?
Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org