Thank you, Delhi Police, very much
A Muslim cleric, Nurul Huda, flying to London from Delhi on May 12 was deplaned on suspicion of being a terrorist, arrested and then let off. It was a goof-up.
We live in a world of violent extremism. Terrorism is not directly attributable to Islam, but a potent minority kill and main in Islam’s name. Ultimately the root cause is not religion but geo-politics.
However, the growing mindset, that ‘if you are a Muslim, you could be a potential terrorist’, is dangerous. Such an attitude could end up compromising basic modern values of freedom, dignity and human rights.
Suspicion is a natural human response and law-enforcing agencies often solve the biggest of crimes through the ‘needle of suspicion’. If a theft is committed, suspicion is often the first step in determining who the thief could be.
In ordinary crime solving, police go by the “rule out, zero in” principle. This is the same principle doctors follow in making a diagnosis. Let’s understand how it works. If a patient complains of headache, a doctor first thinks of the 100 or so known “causes” of headache. The doctor then “rules out” causes that may be unlikely in a particular patient and begins to suspect which cause could be the most likely. He then zeroes in on the most probable cause.
However, there is a difference between a theft and an act of terror.
To call someone a terrorist or claim they have terror links is a serious charge. Such a charge should not be made without significant proof. Anyone charged with terror links should be able to know the basis of such a charge and its evidence.
I have repeatedly said that if counter-terrorism is seen to be harassing and driven by baseless intuition, then there is a danger of people identifying more with terrorism than with the government.
Coping with terror is indeed a terrible thing for all of us. However, people must realize that a beard and skullcap doesn’t make one Osama bin Laden. Millions of Muslims sport beards and wear skullcaps. And an overwhelming majority of them is peace-loving, law-abiding and loyal. Laden did not invent Muslim cultural identity. It did not begin with him, nor does it end at his doorstep.
Flying is becoming a hassle for Muslims in India. Three Muslims have been offloaded from flights in the past two weeks over terror suspicion sparked by religious bias. In all such cases, it was false suspicion. On May 5, a Spicejet flight made “priority landing” at Kolkata airport after a Muslim Russian couple — the woman was in a burqa — was found to be behaving “suspiciously” on board.
It is horrible to be “constantly under the scanner” just because of one’s religion. A man in a skullcap may certainly be promoting Islam, but that should be no reason to call someone a terrorist.
Huda was taken into custody and questioned all night because his phone conversation with his wife alarmed a fellow passenger. He is supposed to have said, “plane udne wala hai aur hum sab udne wale hain (we are about to fly).” Idiomatically, in Hindi that could also be construed as “about to blow up” or an explosion being imminent. Therefore, the panic.
Given the piquant circumstances, I think Delhi Police had enough reason to deplane him. We cannot afford to take risks. The police charged him with causing panic because he could not have been detained beyond 24 hours without being charged and formally arrested.
My feeling is that in this case, they were treading a cautious line. Without any hard evidence, they did not want to press a serious charge on him. At the same time, they wanted to hold him longer for more intensive questioning.
Do not forget, given that the police can be nasty, they could have exploited legal provisions to slap some terror-related charge or applied a non-bail-able provision against Huda. Yet, ideally they should have pressed no charge at all. I am not a great admirer of police ways. In this case, however, I think they acted rashly but not maliciously.
So, what can we do to minimize such harassing blunders? My appeal to Delhi Police is that they should not be driven by bias. Let me also caution the police that more such goof-ups could force Muslims to hit the streets. Not just protests, we would press the best legal minds and take the highest legal recourse to put offending investigating officers behind bars.
Also, it would not harm Muslims to be a little careful of what they say and how they behave, given the reality of terror. Be your normal self. And yes, keep that skullcap on and your fine beard flowing. Your being Muslim does not automatically make you a terrorist.