Moat around the minorities



The Indian Muslim community is worried about the possible advent of a Narendra Modi government — and understandably so given the unanswered questions regarding the 2002 Gujarat riots.

However, any future government of India should perhaps recognise that the Indian Muslim needs protection from an external ideological threat. That doesn’t get too much public interest here, but it does cause the odd ripple of concern in the country’s intelligence and security establishment.

Let us praise the Indian Muslim. He and she have brilliantly resisted the siren call of pan-jihadi terrorism. Despite being the third-largest Muslim population in the world (yes Pakistan is now home to the second), no Indian Muslim who was raised in an Indian milieu or was not a nouveau convert has joined the ranks of al Qaeda.

Other than Kashmiris, almost none have joined Lashkar-e-Taiba or other azadi militant groups. In fact, there is a complete lack of support among most Indian Muslims for the Kashmiri separatist movement. The Indian Mujahideen have been the first genuinely domestic Islamist militant group — and it is important to realise their growth arises from failures of the Indian state: Babri Masjid and the 2002 riots.

Indian Shias have been a model minority. They are a key intelligence source about developments in Iran. Many have voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Some community leaders have taken money from Saudi Arabia and Iran, largely impoverished mullahs who are happy to tell the Indian police about what is happening. Indian law and order officers say the Indian mullahs even warn them of such foreign dabbling. There is little doubt that at least some of the odd bursts of Shia-Sunni tension in the country have, in the past, been caused by external financing.

Which is why what is happening in Syria and Iraq should concern India.

It is now clear that the latest wave of Islamist militancy afflicting West Asia and Northern Africa is markedly different from the Osama Bin Laden-inspired stuff. It is far less interested in attacking the United States or the West in general. It is not even particularly interested in a global jihad.

The new militants are much more focussed on sectarian conflict. The Syrian and Iraq civil wars have become bloody and brutal struggles between Sunnis and Shias. They have even become marked by struggles between Sunnis and Sunnis. The resurrection of the concept of takfir — that there are people who are outwardly Muslims but who are actually false and impure in their beliefs — rationalises a never-ending cycle of ideological violence against other Muslims.

This is now infecting the Arab and African Muslim worlds.

India, home to the second largest Shia population in the world, needs to take preventive action against this theological virus to ensure its Muslim populations remain estranged from the path of terror.

The Syrian-Iraq virus would be terrible for the country because its first manifestation would be intra-Muslim sectarian conflict. There would be some who think this is a good thing and they would be terribly wrong.

The madness infecting the Levant and Mesopotamia, if it came here, would result in Shia-Sunni clashes and attacks against moderate Sunnis. Inevitably it would polarise both Muslim communities in India and generate a new breed of intolerant and violent militancy that would pose a threat to the fabric of secular India.

What is happening in Syria and Iraq may never make it here. But watch out if it begins to infect the Persian Gulf. Already recruiters for the jihad in Syria have been caught trying to entice Indian origin Muslims in the Gulf and Southeast Asia. Indian-origin Muslims largely from the United Kingdom have been found fighting in Syria. No Indian citizens however.

And that is the way it should remain — a state of affairs that may require some proactive government movement in New Delhi.

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