Two pieces of news from London seem to have caused surprise and anguish in India. First, that doctors are involved in terrorism. Second, that they are Indian doctors at that. Logically, there is nothing strange about either development. What bears remarking is that both draw attention to a problem nearer home that only believers can address. No one else can prevent a societal schism that may find 13 per cent of India’s population pitted against the rest.
Let’s take doctors first. There are good doctors even among Britain’s subcontinental immigrants, but it is silly to imagine that the entire medical profession is immune to passions and prejudices that afflict the rest of humanity. Dr Crippen, hanged for murdering his wife, is a legend. Dr Radovan Karadzic’s genocide reflected Serb Orthodox Christian animosity towards Bosnian Muslims. The infamous Dr Josef Mengle, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death”, must have shared the prevalent view of Jews. Indeed, doctors comprised the largest single group in the Nazi Party. Many others like them justify quoting Luke 4:23, “Physician, heal thyself.” The involvement of doctors in British terrorism only confirms that fundamentalism is not an exclusively working-class phenomenon.
Surprise at Indians (two in Britain, one in Australia) being implicated is equally ingenuous. Every time I hear people boasting that the world’s third largest Muslim community has not produced a single terrorist, my thoughts fly to the butchery in Jammu and Kashmir, Bombay train explosions, attack on Parliament House and similar outrages all over the country. India rightly argues it was the victim of terrorism long before 9/11 aroused global revulsion. Now is the time to face up to the implications of that plea.
Kashmir secessionists are not the only killers. We have known Khalistani militants and rebels of many ethnicities in the North-east — Naga, Mizo, Bodo and the United Liberation Front of Asom. Now we have Maoist massacres. If they are not terrorists, who are' If truth be told, India has been foremost in producing terrorists. Their impact was not felt globally only because in murder as in manufacture, the home demand is so enormous that export loses its lure.
It’s like the Kandla, Falta and other free-trade zones not even registering internationally because entrepreneurs found it more rewarding to cater to local buyers. Today’s bigger and more sophisticated special economic zones are expected to make an impact on world trade. Investment will be from abroad, so will customers. India’s death industry has similarly graduated to globalization.
The boast about not producing terrorists really means there are no Indians in Guantanamo Bay. Beyond that, it suggests that Khalistani, Maoist and the various Northeastern rebels are not terrorists. It further implies that the violence committed in the name of Kashmir — which is the only domestic terrorism we admit to — is always and exclusively the handiwork of foreigners. Either that, or Kashmiris are not Indian! Yes, Kashmir militants may be instigated, trained, armed and financed from across the border. But barring Pakistanis and a handful of Chechen, Afghan and other soldiers of fortune, they are sons of the soil. Indian agencies would not otherwise speak of recruitment in madrassahs in this country or of a string of training camps in Pakistani Kashmir for disaffected or indoctrinated youth from this side of the line of control. They are desi, desis with a monstrous complex, a blunted conscience and an all-consuming loyalty to a cause that overwhelms all sense of right and wrong, but desi nevertheless.
However, desh, in this case, must be interpreted generously. Therein lies the rub. Because of the politics of geography, south Asia’s Hindus are contained mainly in one country. But south Asia’s Muslims are just that — the subcontinent is their oyster. They straddled all three countries long before the May explosion in Hyderabad’s Mecca mosque killing 11 people was blamed on a local who triggered the blast from Bangladesh.
Borders are disappearing, if ever they existed for believers. Palestinians, Jordanians, Iraqis and Iranians commit fundamentalist crimes in Britain. If Pakistanis predominate, it is because they constitute the largest single group among Muslim immigrants. Their response to international and subcontinental issues makes the task of counter-terrorism more difficult for the British authorities.
Birmingham boasts the largest number of Punjabi-speaking Mirpuris from Pakistani Kashmir outside Mirpur. They are in the forefront in providing local support for al Qaida and the various Pakistani jihadi organizations that are members of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front. Britain’s nearly 400 mosques are funded largely by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan plus local contributions. Most are headed by clerics of Deobandi or Wahabi origin.
The four men recently convicted in London for the abortive July 21 2005 bombing were Eritreans from the Horn of Africa. But they had been indoctrinated in the same Pakistani seminary attached to Islamabad’s Lal Masjid as Shehzad Tanweer, the young British Muslim 7/7 suicide bomber. Further stressing the indivisibility of Islamic society, Pakistani newspapers reported “several Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Centre of India, the All India Sunni Board and the Ulema Council of India, sent a joint statement to the British High Commission in New Delhi condemning” Salman Rushdie’s knighthood.
What concern, one may ask, is it of these Indian organizations what the Queen of England chooses to do with one of her subjects. The all-important answer is that they and the subject are part of the seamless ummah, which ranks above the lesser identity of the nation state. Nirad C. Chaudhuri tells us of the Muslim boy in Kishoreganj, who had never left his village, claiming dates, which he had never seen, as his favourite fruit. He was affirming his internationalism. Shehzad Tansweer was “proud to be British” but that did not stop him from striking against the British state at the call of the ummah.
There are exceptions to every rule. The late Abu Sayeed Ayyub, sometimes signing himself Abu Sayeed Ayyub Datta, born in an Urdu-speaking family but an accomplished writer in Bengali, a trained physicist who taught philosophy, would angrily refute any suggestion of an extra-territorial identity. English-speaking Indians, he countered, were more “international” than Indian Muslims.
Ayyub had found his niche. Not everyone does. In 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto saw a confusion between East Bengal’s loyalty to language and religion. On the other hand, a Deoband rector, Husain Ahmad Madani, spoke of muttahida quamiyat, united nationality, allowing of no conflict between India and Islam. Today, some Indian Muslims, especially in Malaysia, reject the Indian prefix. I have known some in Europe making a similar political statement by calling themselves Hyderabadi. Some Singapore Sylhetis are genuinely confused because Sylhet has been part of Bengal, Assam, East Pakistan and Bangladesh.
But beyond the politics and complexities of history lies an affirmation of internationalism, and therefore a rejection of national icons like Vande Mataram. It is tempting to look for socio-economic reasons. Rajinder Sachar’s findings last year in effect upheld the Hunter Education Commission’s 1884 verdict that “there is in fact now in Calcutta hardly any government office where a Muslim can hope to get anything more than the job of a guard, peon or attendant.”
One suspects though that deprivation exacerbates — not creates — the problem. Knowledge of what creates it might also point to solutions. A well-known Muslim commentator, a moderate — but what that means in Islam I have no idea — said recently that terrorists were not born in madrassahs but in Palestine’s refugee camps. Can those camps so powerfully influence middle-class Bangaloreans like Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed in England and their cousin Muhammad Haneef in Australia' Such sophistry shields and excuses criminals. It also exposes the callousness of those who should be the natural leaders of their community.
Non-believers cannot even begin to understand these conundrums. Only sane believers of courage and goodwill can do that. Do they exist' And are they listening'