A news report the other day referred to Saudi Arabia’s interest in facilitating dialogue between Al Qaeda-Taliban and Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is a bit like Don Corleone desiring to mediate between his henchmen and their victims. Saudi Arabia is widely regarded as the locus genesis of most terrorism in the world today, its petrodollars spreading the virulent form of salafi Islam (propagated by the likes of Osama bin Laden) and the ideology of jihad that many Indian Muslim scholars claim undermines the traditionally tolerant, sufiistic Islam of the subcontinent.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

Since partition, while the number of Muslim proselytes has not markedly increased, in part because of the charged political atmosphere attending any conversion, the population of Muslims in the country has grown manifold owing to the demographic burst and, courtesy the imperative of some political parties in enlarging captive vote banks, the steady influx of Bangladeshis across the laxly-policed borders in Assam and West Bengal. (The most aggressive missionary activities today can, however, be attributed to various cash-rich US-based Christian Protestant churches, which deem the impoverished Indian masses fit for religious “harvesting".) But the emergence of Muslim radicalism is conspicuous. The explanation that Indian Muslims feel frustrated, their aspirations supposedly thwarted by an insensitive system, begs the question whether they are, objectively speaking, any worse off than the vast Hindu underclass which suffers as much from rank bad governance and delivery of social welfare benefits. And, if not, then whether they are justified in taking recourse to violence? The irony, of course, is that the educated Indian Muslim youth, who ought to be guiding their community into the national mainstream, are proving to be bad examples as jihadis.

At the root of the problem is the concept of jihad. Colonel Jonathan Halevi, an Islamic scholar and former adviser to the Israeli foreign ministry, identifies four kinds of jihad: “Al-jihad bi-al-Lisan", or spreading jihad by the tongue or pen, i.e., by preaching; the more personal “Jihad al-Nafs" relates to self cleansing, ridding oneself of sins; “Al-jihad bi-al-Nafs" requires sacrificing oneself in the cause of Islam which, presumably, is what motivates suicide bombers; and “Al Jihad bi-al-Mal" concerns financing jihad or raising funds for Muslim warriors waging jihad.

There is a practical impulse in all religions; in Islam, the Quran provides for merit to Muslims who provide resources for jihad against non-believers — merit half as much as won buy a warrior sacrificing himself in battle. Thus, it transpires that the ruling Sauds in Riyadh, the emirs of the Gulf, and petty criminals grown big, such as Dawood and company, all alike salve their Muslim conscience and win points for piety by liberally funding jihad through Islamic charities. That these charitable institutions propagate the jihadist philosophy, fan discontent, and end up destabilizing countries with large Muslim populations, such as India, may even be a goad to these charity-givers to do more of the same. Unless they run up against strong, no-nonsense states. Then, as happened in 2002, the Saudi government, under pressure from the US, cut off funds, for instance, to the Al-Hamrain Foundation, which was found diverting monies to Islamic extremists active in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia.

In India’s case, there is no such predicament for the newly rich Bedouin and the criminals to face. They can continue racking up religious credit by funnelling vast amounts into building madrasas for producing jihadis. The Indian polity seems defenceless, lacking the will to issue warnings and, if ignored, take punitive military and other actions against culprit states, monitor the inflow of dual-use funds, and establish mechanisms for strict financial accounting and oversight of end use to ensure foreign charity is not transmuted into terrorism at home.

The absence of a hard-edged policy of retribution aside, at the centre of the abominable state of affairs is the rickety Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act of 1960s vintage. No Indian government in the last 50 odd years has updated or reformed it. This, despite RAW and the Intelligence Bureau repeatedly urging changes in the law to make it more relevant and to endow it with teeth.

More relic than useful, this Act is incapable of tracing what funds from where are used for which purpose, and for punishing those misusing them. According to intelligence officials, the end use of some 70% of the incoming Islamic charitable contributions running into hundreds, if not thousands, of crores of rupees a year — no one is sure — remains unknown and untraced.

‘Secular politics’, as it obtains, is to blame. If fingering the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a proven den of extremists, for the recent Delhi bombings occasions so much brouhaha, can Union home minister Shivraj Patil be faulted for restricting himself to natty suits and anodyne statements? The Congress party-led coalition regime, which barely survived the nuclear deal-related trust vote owing to unparliamentary shenanigans, could be prevented from staying the final few months in office if Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh are displeased. On such a thin reed does the internal security of the republic rest.

Bharat Karnad is professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com