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Hard questions from Glasgow

Friday 6 July 2007

Two years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed pride in the fact that no Indian had joined the global jihad of Al Qaeda. This, he told CNN, was “because India is a functioning democracy. We are a secular state where all sections of the community, regardless of the religion, caste and creed they may belong to — they can participate in our mainstream national activities.” Dr. Singh’s powerful words reappeared as a leitmotif in both media and policy analysis. But now, as it emerges that at least three Karnataka residents may have participated in car-bomb attacks targeting London and Glasgow, those comforting certainties have dissolved. Another shock is that the suspects arrested or detained by the police include several doctors — who are supposed to save, not take, lives. Among other things, communal conflict within India and the state’s poor record of dealing with it have provided recruits to terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Harkat ul-Jihad Islami. While these groups have in the main directed their energies at India, they are ideological partners and organisational affiliates of Al Qaeda. It ought to be no surprise therefore that some of those drawn to their cause in India were also willing to join in the dreaded organisation’s larger global project. Still the question remains: just what made three upper middle class Indian men who received privileged education participate in acts of terrorism against a society that nurtured them?

From the evidence so far available, anger against the war in Iraq seems to have motivated the authors of the car-bomb operations. If the profile of past terror cells is a guide, cultural alienation and experiences of racism may also have played a role. It will be facile, however, to attribute the actions of the cell to primal anger against the murderous war in Iraq. While anger against the U.S. and the United Kingdom is indeed widespread, the car bomb is not its dominant mode of expression. Western media reports often attribute Al Qaeda actions to “Muslim rage,” a misleading term that obscures the fact that the overwhelming majority of believers unequivocally reject the world view of Osama bin Laden’s organisation. Had the Glasgow cell’s members chosen, they could have joined in the global democratic movement against the war in Iraq. Instead they embraced a far-right vision of Islam that is anathema to most Muslims. Democracy, the Indian experience teaches us, is not a deus ex machina that will prevent individuals from turning to religion-based extremism, be it of the Islamist, Sikh or Hindu variety. Reflexive action by way of tightening immigration controls in western countries cannot possibly be the answer. The most stringent checks would have done nothing to stall the car-bomb offensive, for the Glasgow jihad cell’s Indian members were recruited within the U.K. Weakening Al Qaeda’s ideology by demonstrating that democracy works is a more durable solution. For that, the west will have to work at building inclusive societies free from Islamophobia — and India should look hard at its own, flawed record in nourishing and defending secularism.

See online : The Hindu

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