Saturday, August 23, 2008


The arrest of a number of suspects responsible for the serial blasts in Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008, and also earlier terror attacks elsewhere in India, has thrown up some very interesting facts about the growth of Islamic terrorism in India. These need to be analysed objectively so that an effective response can be developed to deal a terminal blow to this scourge not just in India but also in the rest of the world, including Pakistan.

According to conventional wisdom and vote-driven political dishonesty, a few Indian Muslims have been drawn to Islamic terrorism mainly due to economic deprivation, lack of education, comparatively poor representation in government jobs, and various anti-Muslim riots that have taken place over the years. As a result, India’s response to this challenge has completely missed the bus and remains confused and ineffective.

In the West too, some observers had hastily rushed to similar conclusions after 9/11 to explain the wave of violent terrorism which climaxed in mainland US on that day in a dramatic manner. However, this view was questioned by others, including Princeton economist Alan B Krueger, who found after carrying out a detailed analysis of a number of studies, that there is no correlation between material deprivation or inadequate education and the lure of terrorism. In his book, ‘What Makes a Terrorist’, Krueger in fact highlighted that most terrorists, whether Palestinian or those belonging to the Al Qaida, were reasonably well educated and held paying jobs. A person joining a terrorist organisation, he observed, “holds strong political views and is confident enough to impose an extremist vision by violent means.”

The Students Islamic Movement of India(SIMI), which the police claim is behind a series of terror attacks in India, almost mirrors Kruger’s findings. It was founded in 1977 with a mission to revive Islam in India and transform the entire country into an Islamic state. Its slogan is "Allah is our Lord, Qur’an is our constitution, Muhammad is our leader, Jehad is our way and Shahadat is our desire". Note that this charter was adopted much before the demolition of the Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya and other incidents which are now being played up by terrorists, media and politicians to explain the series of terror attacks that have taken place over the last few years all over India.

SIMI’s founder is Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqui, currently a professor of journalism and public relations at the University of Western Illinois. Its former general secretary, Nagori, who is believed to be the real force behind SIMI’s terrorist activities, also holds a Masters degree in Journalism.

This is what Nagori told Sayantan Chakravarty in an interview published in India Today in 2001: “Let me explain the concept of jehad as detailed in the Quran. It is not when an individual is harmed but when an entire community finds itself collectively persecuted that the cry for jehad is given. ... Warn. If nothing works then one is forced to revolt, take to arms....When we are told that there is a rashtrapita in Gandhi, and another great statesman in Nehru, we feel it is a direct attack on our fundamentals.”

Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog of Oxford University recently published a paper titled, “Engineers of Jehad”. Like Krueger, they also found that terrorists were mostly well educated. They, in fact, went on to highlight that “graduates from subjects such as science, engineering and medicine are over-represented among Islamist movements in the Islamic world.” Closer home, they cited the example that two of the three founders of the Lashkar-e-Toiba were professors at the University of Engineering and Technology at Lahore.

Nine persons, all SIMI activists, have so far been arrested in connection with the Ahmedabad blasts. Their backgrounds are pretty much in line with the findings of the above and more studies done in the West:

• Mohammad Sajid Mansuri. Graduate in psychology; was a marketing executive.
• Mohammad Usman Agarbattiwala. Graduate in commerce; post graduate
diploma in human rights
• Samsuddin Sheikh. Arts graduate; taught at Iqra Islamic School, Bharuch.
• Mohammad Arif. Graduate.
• Yunus Mansuri. Graduate
• Iqbal Kasam Sheikh. Graduate
• Gyasuddin Ansari. Graduate
• Remaining three studied till class 10, before starting own businesses.

A key suspect at large is Abdul Subhan who is also a graduate and has done a computer course from a Mumbai college.

Besides, the above mentioned individuals, the police have detained three doctors in connection with the blasts. A doctor from the prestigious AIIMS had also been briefly detained earlier, but was released after 28 hours as nothing incriminating was found against him.

It needs to accepted once and for all that the Islamic religious terrorism being carried out by SIMI and its associate organisations based in India and Pakistan is born out of their very fundamental and irreconcilable difference with every other religion, law, and societal and political process. Most of those who join them and take to this path of trying to implement the rule of Islam as interpreted by them, can easily be motivated to take to arms and kill. And to convince them to do so, real and imaginary grievances are also always available in plenty, like they are to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians etc.

But it must never be forgotten that these grievances are the excuse for indulging in terrorist activities. They are not the reason for them.

The reason, as has been already stated, is the uncompromising non-acceptance and intolerance of any other way of life or belief. If this basic fact is understood, the Islamic terrorism that India, indeed the world, is facing can be tackled more effectively and without loss of focus.

India’s experience in Kashmir for over 60 years should leave no one in any doubt that when faced with Islamic non-acceptance of non-Muslim political authority when Muslims are in a majority, economic and monetary sops yield no dividends whatsoever. Increasingly unreasonable demands for these will be made all the time for practical reasons. But, giving into them repeatedly will not help at all. On the contrary, it may lead to greater hardening of stance as every concession is projected as a ‘victory’ for Islam and an under-pressure ‘defeat’ for its opponents.

Economic measures have worked and will work well in most other situations. But when the issue is a basic and almost elemental clash of various ideologies and beliefs, based on an interpretation of Word of the God who says to his believers that there is no other God but Him, they will not.

It is not just India which is facing this problem. Even the Islamic state of Pakistan is under threat by such elements. For that country perhaps the threat is much greater. Pakistan created armed Jehadi groups to covertly execute its state policy of “bleeding India by a thousand cuts” and acquiring “strategic depth” for itself by literally usurping Afghanistan. Thanks to Osama bin Laden, this political tool has morphed into an almost pure jehad waging war with the non-Islamic world. As a result, Pakistan’s favoured weapon has, unfortunately for the country, turned right back on it to convert Muslim Pakistan itself into a real Islamic state, like Afghanistan was before 9/11.

In Pakistan, Muslims are not a minority who have grievances against the state. In fact, no other religious group has even a voice in that country’s affairs. Yet, it has all but lost the Frontier to “pure Islamic” rule which is now threatening to overrun the whole country.

The one and only real food that can sustain Islamic terrorism is “success”. Osama bin Laden has become a role model for Islamic terrorists because of the dazzling success he achieved by executing 9/11 and then evading all efforts to capture him. The Taliban had similarly achieved success in Afghanistan, first by driving the Soviets out and then by establishing what Laden had described as the only pure Islamic state in the world.

Those major successes are sustaining the religious motivation of terrorists engaged in a similar war in India and elsewhere, and are helping draw fresh recruits. It needs to be reiterated that it is the educated and well off individuals who are leading Islamic terrorism everywhere. Laden himself is a post graduate and belongs to a very rich Saudi family. Their aim is unambiguous and purely religious. It does not matter whether they are living in the affluent West, in a ‘non-Islamic’ Muslim country or in any other Muslim minority country. Therefore, efforts by non-Islamic governments anywhere to defeat Islamic terrorism by giving economic and political sops within the existing non-Islamic structures of state will not yield any results.

The only real way to dry up recruitments to various terror groups like SIMI is to deny them success. 9/11 and Afghanistan would not probably not have happened if the US had not forgotten about the region after pumping in tons of money and weapons into Pakistan to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. To deny success, stringent measures need to be put in place before the problem becomes too large to handle easily.

In India, fortunately, the base of terror is still small. This is the time to deal a mortal blow to it. It will be a monumental blunder if it is allowed to grow unchecked. Unfortunately, India’s politicians can barely see beyond votes. That is why, despite UN reports indicting India for not putting any anti-terror mechanism in place, India’s politicians have doggedly refused to take any step which might cost them Muslim votes, even though there is sufficient reason to believe that, bar the shouting, a vast majority of Muslims will actually be pleased if this cycle of violence and death is stopped before it explodes.

Unfortunately, when leading politicians like Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Yadav criticise any action taken against the unapologetically anti-national SIMI and its terror wing, the state is rendered impotent. Perhaps such leaders do not even realise that when they say that SIMI is a secular organisation, they unwittingly give it legitimacy, which is a vital food that will immeasurably help it to attract more people into its fold. With such "successes" being given to them by the enemies of their version of Islam for free, in an absolutely lax political, judicial and security environment, what more can Islamic terrorists ask for?

It is time for India’s politicians to put their heads together in a completely bipartisan manner to take on and defeat the scourge of Islamic terrorism without any further delay. Implementing the Sachar commission and similar reports to improve the lot of Muslims in India is fine, if that is the objective. But, if any party is doing it in the fond hope that such measures will help kill Islamic terrorism, it is making a monumental blunder. Only when this elementary fact is understood by those in power will real, concrete steps be possible. Till then, terrorists will have a free run.
Readers may also like to read:
1.'Tackling religious terrorism in a democracy.'
2. Islamic terrorism: Muslims in India like Jews in Nazi Germany?
3. 9/11 to 9/19: beads on a string that needs to be cut