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Home-grown jihad in India

Home-grown jihad in India

Barely 16 months after Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people and brought life to a standstill in Mumbai, the city is again in the news for the wrong reasons. On Sunday, police announced the arrest of two suspected Islamic militants accused of plotting to bomb a nuclear reactor, the country’s leading petroleum company and a popular shopping mall. Predictably enough, the authorities stressed the alleged terrorists’ links with Pakistan. They were apparently in touch with a handler in Karachi code-named “Uncle."

But by now Indians ought to be less alarmed by the established fact that their Western neighbour is a leading sponsor of terrorism, and more by the mounting evidence that there is no shortage of disaffected Indian Muslims willing to wage war against their own country. Abdul Lateef Rashid and Riyaz Ali, the men accused of the plot, are Mumbai natives. Their arrest follows last month’s bombing of a bakery popular with students and foreigners in Pune that killed 17 people. As in the aborted Mumbai plot, officials suspect the involvement of Indian nationals in Pune acting in concert with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

For the longest time, India has both cherished and promoted the myth that its problem with radical Islam, the extreme interpretation of the faith that seeks to order the state and society by Shariah law, is entirely imported.

Unfortunately, the truth is much less neatly packaged. While Pakistan, and to a lesser degree Bangladesh, do indeed provide succour and sanctuary to radical Muslims battling India, India itself has hardly been immune to the wave of radicalism that has swept through Muslim communities from Morocco to Mindanao over the past 35-odd years.

Take the Indian Mujahideen, a home-grown terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for bombings in five cities that have claimed around 150 lives since 2007. The group is an offshoot of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, which espouses the world view of the subcontinent’s most influential radical ideologue, Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903-79), founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Maududi, like his contemporaries, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sayyid Qutb in Egypt and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, believed that it was the duty of Muslims to strive to impose God’s law, Shariah, on earth. He believed that Islam is an innately revolutionary ideology, and warfare in its cause an exalted form of piety. Not surprisingly, Maududi’s ideological heirs in the Indian Mujahideen have vowed to spread their faith across India, wage jihad against “infidels", and replace democracy with “God’s government".

Apart from giving space to radical Islam in its noisy polity, India has also allowed a culture of grievance to take root among Muslims. Rather than celebrate the opportunities afforded by India’s secular state, open society and vibrant economy, the majority of Indian Muslim leaders and a largely leftist intellectual class speak the language of victimhood and espouse quotas in government jobs and Parliament. For its part, a violent and intolerant Hindu fringe has given radicals a powerful recruitment tool.

While pressurizing Pakistan to give up its sponsorship of terrorism and getting India’s law enforcement officials to bear down are necessary measures, the country must also search for a deeper cure. To begin with, Indians ought to look beyond the neighbourhood to view radical Islam as a global phenomenon. The country also needs to foster a cohort of Muslim intellectuals who spend at least as much time examining problems within the community as they do hyperventilating about Hindu nationalists. Finally, when elected politicians pander to fundamentalist Muslim leaders—as is common in large parts of the country—the bureaucracy, the courts and the press must hold them accountable.

India’s long war with radical Islam won’t be won overnight, but it’s about time the country at least started viewing it clearly.


Edited excerpts. Sadanand Dhume is a columnist for WSJ.com. Comment at otherviews@livemint.com

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