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How to control terror

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March 14, 2006 14:31 IST
Last week's terrorist attack on the ancient Hanuman temple in Varanasi clearly shows that jihadi terrorists are bent on destroying India.

It must be asserted right at the beginning that terrorism can at most be 'controlled' and to claim that it can be totally eliminated is wrong. This is as old as the hills -- the Thugs, Zealots and Assassins have existed for thousands of years.

Terrorism is a manifestation of a sick mentality but like other human failings of greed, lust and fickleness, this is likely to remain with us and we have to learn to live with it.

The politicisation of the Varanasi incidents began even before the victims could be cremated. The first to jump into the fray was the Bharatiya Janata Party that announced, what else, another rath yatra. This is a bad idea. At a time when many Muslims are veering round to the view that jihadi terrorism is bad, this will only polarise Indian society on religious lines.

Varanasi reveals new terror network

The terrorists who carried out the Varanasi attack must be full of glee at the reaction from the BJP. Given its history, a rath yatra would strengthen the terrorists by generating a fear psychosis amongst the Muslims, driving them straight into the arms of jihadi forces.

At the other end of the spectrum, the so-called 'secularists' and their cohorts in the media, specially television, have mounted a pre-emptive campaign to blame the victims and brand even genuine outrage as 'communal'.

According to these 'worthies', any sense of hurt or anger is the monopoly of the 'minorities' and the majority must always be 'tolerant.'

It was amusing to see a television anchor frothing at pre-emptively condemning any 'reaction,' even a peaceful one, to the Varanasi outrage. By overreacting, the pseudo-secularists only fuel a sense of outrage felt by the average citizen. Citizens must be wary of these self-promoting journalists.

Muslims should reject these false gods who continue to promote a sense of 'victimhood' amongst them so that the politicians consolidate their vote bank.

What can be done now?

The first and foremost is the role that the Muslim clergy can play. Howsoever distasteful and politically incorrect it may sound, the fact is that most people involved in terrorist acts in India have been Muslims.

Incidently, great harm is done by the fatwa of 1803, issued by Shah Abdul Aziz and Haji Shariatullah, that declared that India was no longer 'Dar Ul Islam,' but 'Dar Ul Harb,' or enemy country. This was essentially a reaction to the defeat of the Mughal army in the Battle of Buxar in 1764 and Lord Wellesley's establishment of British rule over the Indo-Gangetic plains.

Politicising the blasts will help terrorists

The British have gone since 1947, but the Deoband seminary has still not revoked this fatwa. The consequences are that Muslim children in madarssas are taught that India, their motherland, is 'enemy territory'. This is not a matter of mere semantics and has adverse consequences for the Indian Muslim psyche.

Muslims have been asserting time and again that Islam is a religion of peace. Now is the time for the Muslim Personal Law Board and prominent seminaries like the Deoband seminary to issue a fatwa against terrorism.

If they truly believe in the peaceful nature of Islam, what stops the Ulema from issuing a fatwa that killing innocent shoppers in Mumbai, Delhi and now Varanasi and attacking temples is 'unIslamic,' and no true Muslim should take part or aid and abet such acts?

A fatwa against terrorists attacking places of worship

With one stroke this would remove religious backing from the terrorists and make their job difficult. Surely, this is more important an issue for the Muslim Ulema than the length of a tennis player's skirt or a dispute between two husbands and one wife, issues on which the Ulema have been liberally issuing fatwas.

One would also like the Uttar Pradesh minister who put a price on the head of Danish cartoonists to similarly put a price on the head of the terrorists who killed innocent worshippers and wedding guests.

It is indeed a matter of great pride for India that its Muslims have stayed away from the suicidal path of jihad. Indian Muslims have the capacity to be the role model for Muslims all over the world. There are indeed icons ranging from the President to sportspersons to artists, industrialists and scholars.

It is time that Indian Muslims introspect a little and see in which country other than India are they free to practice their religion, wear a burqa, beard, and pray as many times as they want, without fear of being gunned down?

Why don't they just take a look at Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, where more attacks on mosques and Imambaras have taken place in one year than have taken place in India in a decade?

If the Muslim clergy does not do this, then can one be blamed if the world calls terrorists 'Islamist terrorists'?

India's unending war against terrorism

Terrorism has many similarities with an insurgency.

Like an insurgent, a terrorist cannot operate without popular support. A terror strike needs local shelter, information about the target, vehicles to get away and help in procuring explosive material. All these activities are not normal and many people around can easily know what is afoot.

In Pune sometime ago, a Farsi instructor at the Defence Institute was arrested for having links with terrorists. He was even operating a mini firing range in a building in Kondhwa.

Is it possible that the people of the locality did not know about this? How valid is his family's claim that they were unaware of this?

The best way to control terrorism is to cut off terrorists from their support base.

To this end, a public-police partnership will go a long way. All over the country we ought to organise Mohalla (local area) Committees that should coordinate with the police and report any suspicious activity in their area. In cities, all cooperative housing societies should similarly be tasked to do this job.

Finally, a special law to deal with terrorism must be enacted.

It is well known that the fear of terrorist reprisals, their financial resources, support from rogue States and their ideological appeal make it extremely difficult to tackle terrorism under laws meant to deal with individual crime. It is due to this that countries ranging from Britain, the United States and France to Muslim countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan have enacted special anti-terrorist laws.

But in India, we withdrew POTA, the Prevention of Terrorism Activities Act. Unless there is a legal provision to punish the supporters and inciters of terror and hate, we can never control terrorism.

Goodbye, POTA

Hopeful signs: Today after many decades of 'separatism', Indian Muslims are joining the mainstream. Near 99 percent Muslims in India are patriotic Indian citizens who believe in peace. It is the one percent that needs to be controlled and checked.

But with a population of over 140 million, that one percent is also 1.4 million or close to 14 lakhs, a number more than the combined strength of the Indian armed forces.

Indian Muslims should give no quarter to this misguided one percent and foreign infiltrators. Consideration of religious affinity or kinship should not come in the way of doing one's duty as citizen.

Terrorists have no religion, and Indian Muslims must prove it by their action.

I must end with two personal encounters which show the kind of pluralism that we all can be proud of.

How to win the war on terror

Sometime ago while attending a wedding I was struck by the interesting sight of Muslim fakirs seeking donations for a dargah outside a Hindu marriage hall. Neither the fakirs nor the Hindus who donated to a good cause see it as odd.

The other day, while travelling from Mumbai to Pune by the Deccan Queen, I encountered a fakir with his green bandana and burning incense, similarly seeking donations from all and giving blessings of Allah to the mostly Hindu passengers.

The truth is that these fakirs have grasped the true spirit of Islam that calls for brotherhood and peace for all mankind.

Unfortunately, the so-called monopolisers of Islam have distorted the message by tagging 'Islamic' to all. So for them brotherhood is also confined to 'Islamic Brotherhood' or the tribe of 'believers' is also similarly confined to only 'Islamic believers,' both distortions of the message of the Quran. Much of the current problems can be traced to this narrow definition and tunnel vision.

In the crisis faced by Islam worldwide, Indian Muslims with their Sufi traditions and universalistic message of Islam can and should play a leading role.

As the world's second largest concentration of Muslim community living in a pluralistic society they could be a role model along with Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Ultimately, only the triumph of these communities offers the prospect of peace and control of jihadi terrorism.

Colonel (retd) Dr Anil Athale