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Racism colours West's attitude towards Muslims


Between The Lines |

By Kuldip Nayar

Indian Muslims are surprised but feel gratified over the concern both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee have shown in the case of Mohammad Haneef who is under detention in Australia. This is how a pluralistic society like ours is expected to act. Yet, New Delhi has seldom taken such a stance in the past because it has generally assumed that if it is an act of terror, Muslims must be involved in it. Indeed, there are some bad eggs in every community. That does not mean that the entire community is rotten.

In some western countries, I suspect a bit of racism is getting mixed with the fear of terrorism in their attitude to Muslims. I saw it happening in the United Kingdom in 1990 when I was India's high commissioner in London. Racism was beginning to creep into British society. Every person from the subcontinent was called "Paki." Even sophisticated white Britons would freely use this term of contempt. I found to my dismay that the non-whites were tolerated, but not accepted. Muslims have come in handy for this prejudice to have a free run. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, in her last days as Prime Minister, told me that Islam was the biggest threat to the world after the death of communist Soviet Union. I imagined she meant Islamic fundamentalism. I shudder to think what new rules and regulations the British would introduce in the name of immigration. They are bound to be loaded against Asians. The bias would be evident.

Australia, I used to believe, cared for human rights and individual liberty. But the treatment meted out to Haneef has disillusioned me. It seems that when it comes to whites versus non-whites, the prejudice of the West ˇ˝ whether it is Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom ˇ˝ surfaces sooner or later. However, I have not been able to comprehend New Delhi's comment that Australia should be fair. It is a loaded remark. Many human rights activists and lawyers in Australia have held demonstrations in favour of Haneef. New Delhi, which has little compunction in violating human rights, does not know how to react to such matters.

Nonetheless, the involvement of well-educated and well-settled Muslims in the terror attacks at Glasgow and elsewhere is a matter of concern. Only a couple of years ago I felt proud telling Pakistanis and Bangladeshis that Indian Muslims had firmly rejected the extremists' call to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan. Nor would they go to any other country to support fundamentalists. Congress president Sonia Gandhi asserted at Oxford in 2002 that "Indian Muslims were not of an Al Qaeda bent of mind." The demolition of Babri Masjid and the massacre at Gujarat still torment Muslims in the country. They are old wounds which have not healed. Yet, Muslims do not reach for their gun to avenge the happenings. (The Combat has brought out a touching account of the aftermath of the Gujarat genocide.)

True, most Muslims are still away from the mainstream, but they have learnt to live with the situation when they have found the larger picture secular. My hunch is that the fundamentalists are reacting to what the West has been doing to the Muslim world in the last few decades. It feels as if the West is spoiling for a fight on the belief that the two civilisations, of Christians and of Muslims, are in the midst of a clash to establish which one is supreme.

The invasion of Iraq is seen in the same light. It is now beyond doubt that there were no weapons of mass destruction in the country and that the invasion turned out to be a massacre conducted by US President George W. Bush for the sake of oil. Had America tried to make amends for its aggression, the Muslim world would have felt that it was wrong in considering the West as an enemy. Some gesture by Washington to mollify Muslims is what is needed. New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown can break new ground in this regard instead of remaining America's poodle.

Palestine is also on the mind of the Muslims. They may not be able to do anything substantial to help the country. But Palestine is mentioned from every mosque pulpit all over the world. Nobody wants "to throw the Jews into the sea," words that were often used in the past. Israel is a fact which Muslims have come to recognise. Yet, there is no indication that Israel is prepared to go back to its original borders mandated by the United Nations when Israel was established. The proposal by the Saudi Arabian King on the vacation of territories in lieu of recognition deserves support. America should throw its weight behind the proposal. But it has not done so because the Jewish lobby is too powerful in the US Congress and too dominating in the financial quarters which dictate America.

The grievances that Muslims have, some real and some imaginary, do not mean that there is something wrong with the religion. Terrorism is not part of Islam and the call of jihad has been raised wrongly and goes against the tenets of Islam. Look at Turkey. It is an Islamic country. But one has not heard of Turkish terrorists. Not so long ago, a procession was taken out on the streets of Istanbul in support of secularism. But according to the European Union, Turkey's biggest drawback is that it is a Muslim country, the reason why Turkey is yet to find an entry into EU.

Even then, the sheikhs and the savants of the Muslim world should meet to devise ways to introduce "dissent" in Islam. Some reinterpretation of the dogmas is required. Democracy demands this. The right to voice differences should take place more visibly and more categorically. One can see this happening in Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In India, a committee of ulemas is taking stock of the laws and customs relating to marriage and divorce.

The Quran says: "Fight in the name of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not begin hostilitiesˇÄ" Terrorism is a deliberate act of killing the innocent, which is not sanctioned by Islam. What is disconcerting is that the Indian nation, nurtured in pluralism and tolerance, should have some people who place religion above the country. Probably, some doctors in Bangalore have fallen victim to this pernicious thesis. This is as much un-Islamic as anti-Indian.

Bangalore is a familiar dateline. Not long ago, reports of terrorism emanated from there. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba attacked the tightly guarded Indian Institute of Sciences one and a half years ago. I recall national security adviser M.K. Narayanan telling me one day before the attack that terrorists could strike anywhere, any time. He sounded helpless and resigned. Had he made the different agencies do their job, much about the terrorists in Bangalore and beyond would have been exposed.




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