The Paradox of the New Jihadi

The local manifestation of a global pattern

It is hard to say, but it may well be that the Indian media prevented the Indian Mujahideen from setting off their tenth bomb. The earliest reports of the contents of their email made them appear merely dangerously confused. But as we learn more about what exactly they said in their email, it is clear that their message was not merely incendiary. It is, as Praveen Swami puts it, a manifesto for the “Indian Mujahideen’s Declaration of Open War Against India. Declaration of Open War Against India.” [via Sandeep]

Because that document has profound implications for India’s psychological preparation for the long war ahead, it is incumbent on the media and the government to make the entire document public.

Mr Swami’s article makes it abundantly clear that pattern of contemporary global ‘jihad’ has manifested itself in India. Now, terrorist attacks by Islamic groups are nothing new for India—but in the past these were linked to the secessionist movement and later, the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir; or any number of Pakistan’s extended jihadi apparatus, including the Dawood Ibrahim’s organised crime network. The difference between those attacks and the more recent ones is that whereas the former involved either foreigners or “hardcore” locals, the latter involve individuals and cells from a broader section of the India’s Muslim population.

Paradoxically, while many of the New Jihadis are home-grown, the reason for their energetic mobilisation is global. As the Indian Mujahideen say in their email, they are motivated by the belief that “we Muslims are one across the globe.” India, therefore, in the minds of the New Jihadis is but one front, their front, in the global jihad. While they cite the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Godhra riots as the reasons for their attacks—which their apologists are quick to ingest—the fact that their violence is directed against the Indian people and the Indian state, including Muslims who disagree with their ideology, suggests that these grievances are either excuses or propaganda slogans for their primary agenda.

At this point, it is common for the Indian debate to be hung up on whether injustice leads to terrorism or the other way around, but because the New Jihadis see themselves as part of a global religious war, it is reasonable to conclude that no amount of ‘justice’—short of the impossible goal of reordering Indian society along their demands—will convince them to halt their struggle. Such implacability makes it extremely easy for foreign interests to use the New Jihadis to pursue their strategic objectives. The old jihadis, for instance, could be controlled strategically by squeezing Pakistan. This approach won’t work too well against the New Jihadis.

What this means is that the only course open to India is to fight the New Jihadis to the finish. They have already declared war on India. Now, it is not that the Indian government is not fighting—it is, and it has notched some notable gains against SIMI in recent years. But because the entire debate of counter-terrorism has been coloured in the tired old colours of “communalism”, “secularism” and “minorities”, the Indian government, and the political establishment, has failed to mobilise the nation for this war.

Covering up Naxalism

The bias shows in a Chennai-based national newspaper

The Darul Uloom at Deoband is one of the most influential Islamic institutions in India. Since Deobandi militants have been responsible for much of terrorism and violence, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in India, it is natural to take notice when that institution organises an “All India Anti-Terrorism Conference”. According to the Indian Express the Deoband Declaration strongly condemned terrorism and urged “all Muslims to rise above sects and denominational differences to close ranks and fight terrorism”. Predictably, it blamed the government for unduly targeting Muslims “while letting Naxalites get away with their “acts of terrorism”.

The Hindu carries a report on the Deoband conference too. It starts with the complaint about Muslims being ‘hounded’ by intelligence agencies in the name of terrorism, mentions that the UPA’s “tilt” towards the West was assailed, cites the marginalisation of Muslims, calls India a “police state”, before finally telling us that the convention condemned terrorism. Conspicuously though, The Hindu’s report does not say anything about the Deoband gathering’s mention of Naxalites.

All newspapers—more or less—report what they wants their readers to hear. The Hindu hides what it doesn’t want them to know.

Never trust a man who reads only one book

For he is the worst among men

Captain Alatriste - Purity of BloodÍñigo Balboa y Aguirre, the thirteen year old narrator of The Adventures of Captain Alatriste, is being held in the secret dungeons of Toledo by the dreaded Spanish Inquisition. As he goes through the daily routine of being interrogated (spared the rack because he is not yet fourteen) he reflects:

Later, with time, I learned that although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst among them are those who, when they commit evil, do so by shielding themselves in the authority of others, in their subordination, or in the excuse of following orders. And even worse are those who believe they are justified by their God. Because in the secret dungeons of Toledo, nearly at the cost of my life, I learned that there is nothing more despicable or more dangerous than the malevolent individual who goes to sleep every night with a clear conscience. That is true evil. Especially when paired with ignorance, superstition, stupidity, or power, all of which often travel together.

And worst of all is the person who acts as exegete of The Word—whether it be from the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, or any other book already written or yet to come. I am not fond of giving advice—no one can pound opinions into another’s head—but here is a piece that costs you nothing: Never trust a man who reads only one book. [Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Adventures of Captain Alatriste: Purity of Blood p 159 (NYT review)]

Structural asymmetric secularism

Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University, “pinpointed asymmetrical secularism practised in India as a reason for Hindutva and went on to suggest that it is a structural problem with the Indian Constitution” and that “the asymmetry was not merely in discourse, but structured in the Indian Constitution that favours some religion over the other.”

The Indian variety

India Today’s S Prasannarajan refers to an “apt term to describe the official Indian secularism”. That term is “asymmetric secularism”. Speaking at a panel discussion at the launch of Tavleen Singh’s new book, Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University, “pinpointed asymmetrical secularism practised in India as a reason for Hindutva and went on to suggest that it is a structural problem with the Indian Constitution” and that “the asymmetry was not merely in discourse, but structured in the Indian Constitution that favours some religion over the other.”

Arun Shourie agreed with Dr Sharma and “suggested that individual-based policy planning is necessary for a secular state”. Salman Khurshid, on the other hand, said individual rights and rights guaranteed collectively to a group are both important for the functioning of a secular state and Constitution.

Is asymmetric secularism an oxymoron? In a strict sense, yes. As for Khurshid’s argument, it is hard to square group rights with equality of all citizens under the law. Such an argument holds up only if we accept that equality too should be asymmetric.

Update:Bibek Debroy in the Indian Express

Except where there are clear inequities in access to physical and social infrastructure in some backward districts and villages, deprivation is an individual concept. The apparent religious deprivation flagged by the Sachar Committee breaks down, once one controls for other variables like class and educational status. There should be legitimate resentment at UPA’s attempts to equate deprivation with collective caste and religious categories and this brings one to a difference between the two major political parties on what may be called a social-cum-political continuum, with ideology now focused on what one means by secularism. Does secularism mean rejection of religion for formulating public policy and neutrality across religions, or does it mean positive affirmation in favour of minority religions? [IE]