Should religion matter when counting the dead?

Should religion matter when counting the dead?

She wasn’t willing to be distracted by the answer that the attacks had affected the entire country. That the roll-call of death, as put out by Mumbai’s hospitals, included people of all religions—Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh.

Then came another call from ARY, a well-known Pakistani news channel that broadcasts in Urdu. How many Muslims, the journalist asked, had died in the Mumbai attacks?

Turns out that of the at least 183 killed at the multiple sites, 40 were Muslim. All of them were Indian.

The Pakistani journalists’ questions on the Mumbai attacks seemed to make it clear that Pakistan, even after 61 years of partition, had not fully managed to bury the ghost of the “two-nation" theory. That is, the partition of India and a separate homeland for Muslims was necessary because Muslims could not live in a Hindu-majority state.

Apart from the linkages with Pakistan—whether the terrorists were trained by Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, whether the Inter-Services Intelligence was involved in any way, or whether they were/are Pakistani nationals—the religious aspect of the terror attacks formed an important part of their narrative.

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Truth is that several Muslims—in India, Pakistan and around the Arab world—have argued that Islam has never condoned the killing of innocent people, that terrorists are terrorists first and last, and their actions cannot target an entire community.

Mumbai’s top clerics met on Tuesday to block the burial of the nine killed terrorists, with Maulana Sayed Moinuddin Ashraf, secretary of the All India Sunni Jamiat-Ulema, telling Reuters, “Such demons, they will not find an inch of land in any Muslim cemetery."

Added Syed Noori, another Muslim leader at the meeting, “Just because you call yourself Musa, Azim or Rehman, you don’t become a Muslim. These people who carried out such attacks cannot be."

And then there was Mehmood Madani, leader of the Jamiat-ulema-Hind, whose family of hereditary clerics founded the Deoband school at least a century ago : “If those involved in the heinous act are indeed Muslims or have acted in the name of Islam, I wish to tell them that what they have done is not only a war against humanity and the country but also a war against Islam."

If the Indian Muslim leaders quoted above are to be believed, then neither the motive nor the acts of terror undertaken by the terrorists in Mumbai can hold up. The Quran rejects terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. Moreover, if terrorism against people of other faiths is plain wrong, then the attack against Mumbai, in which people of all faiths were killed, cannot be exonerated. The question here, however, is not whether Indian Muslims have stood up, again and again, in defence of the Indian secular tradition, but how Pakistan’s Muslims, who belong to an Islamic republic, still look at the condition of Indian Muslims.

Truth is, the shock and the horror of Mumbai was also accompanied by the secret fear, on both sides, of the consequences of Muslims killing Muslims.

As far as India is concerned, there are enough problems within the country over the absorption of Muslims into the national polity. The politicization of religion by all political parties has aggravated this matter. Terrorist organizations such as the Students Islamic Movement of India or the Indian Mujahideen are said to have been accomplices in the 11 July 2006 Mumbai train attacks (seven modules for seven trains allegedly had one Pakistani and one Indian that placed the bombs) and elsewhere in India.

But Indian Muslims have certainly not been involved in the global jihad factory in the way Muslims from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and other parts of the Arab world have been in recent years. If the alleged Pakistani mastermind of the Mumbai attacks—a Pakistani national named Yusuf Muzammil of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in charge of Kashmir operations—has now expanded his operations to the rest of the country because the Lashkar feels that “Hindu India" must be brought to its knees, he has not been able to convert more than a handful of Indian Muslims to his cause.

Meanwhile, perhaps in deference to Western governments such as the US and Britain, New Delhi has refused to accuse the Pakistani government of being an accomplice in the Mumbai terror (the emphasis is on terror “groups" operating from Pakistani soil). New Delhi is keenly aware that its only hope of containing these terrorist groups is the elected government of Asif Ali Zardari. He is the only man who can bring the Pakistani army to heel.

Asking for 20 or 21 fugitives from Pakistan is only an example of the pressure New Delhi is applying. You don’t want us to go to war with Pakistan? Okay, tell the Pakistanis to give us Dawood Ibrahim (named in 1993 Mumbai blasts), or at least arrest a few people, including cleric Maulana Masood Azhar and Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed. Indeed, the last may be the only possible thing to do. The Americans are already putting pressure on Zardari who has said that if any Pakistani national is guilty, he will be tried. If Zardari is able to arrest Azhar or Saeed, Pakistan’s battle against terror, in collaboration with India, would have been joined.

Jyoti Malhotra is Mint’s diplomatic affairs editor and writes every week on the intersection of foreign policy, trade and politics.

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