First Person | Our Own Battles

Indians fighting in Iraq should be a wake-up call to the government

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

It is official now. Four Indian men are in Iraq fighting alongside ISIS against the Iraqi government. According to the note left behind by one of them, they are not fighting a jihad as ordained by their religion. But why did they think that this was an appropriate jihad for them? Courtesy: a part-time evangelist.

In the day time he ran his small business and in the evenings he sermonised; exhorting brain-dead youngsters, desperate for a purpose in life, to do something great for Islam. Curiously, why didn’t they think of going to Gaza?

Since both the sermoniser and the sermonised had long ago given up any use of their respective brains, the only thing that they could think of doing for Islam was what required brawns. In Iraq, not only they’d get their shot of adrenaline, they would even do something great for the cause of Islam. Double whammy!

How did this come about? Whose failure is it that young Muslim men, instead of planning a life of domestic/economic bliss have volunteered to die for somebody else’s cause?

Of course, the immediate failure is of the families and the community, which failed to inspire its youth or fill it with hope for the future. But this is a limited blame; because a large number of Muslims in India don’t really know better. They don’t live, they survive; each day as it comes. Since they don’t have a long term view of their lives, their intellectual capacity is also severely limited. They don’t trust their own judgement and depend on religious preachers.

It is because of this blindness of the majority that theologians like Maulana Salman Nadvi can get away by claiming that they have asked Saudi Arabia to raise an army of Sunni faithful to fight the Shiite militias. Who knows, some idiots would even line up outside his house volunteering their services.

For this reason, the larger failure is of the government. For it has repeatedly failed to harness the energy of the youth and channelise it in a productive direction.

Nearly a decade ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proudly claimed in a meeting with his British counterpart that despite having the second largest Muslim population in the world, no Indian is part of al Qaeda’s brand of global terrorism. He repeated the same assertion in his meeting with the US President. Today, it is a hollow claim. Because after having made this claim, while the government went to sleep, the insidious elements, both within and from outside the country started to work on this young, partially aimless (and hence agitated) population, using every day slights and prejudice as motivators.

One of the biggest contributors to this drift has been the police. Irrespective of the state, police’s discrimination against Muslims have attained historic proportions. Maybe not because of its own prejudices; but the temptation of rounding up a few Muslim boys after an incident and forcing a confession out of them has been too great to resist. Especially, when it seldom attracts disapprobation; and can easily get them gallantry awards.

The disproportionate focus on terrorism and the subsequent anti-terror laws further created conditions for community profiling and marginalisation of the Muslims. State somnolence has also led to average people viewing Muslims with suspicion. It started with Kashmiris but gradually became a blanket prejudice against all Muslims. Put together, all these factors, in various measures, reinforce a sense of victimhood amongst the Muslims, making them even more inward-looking and dependent upon semi-literate clergy.

Is it any wonder then that the Maharashtra high court recently observed that victims of custodial deaths in the state appeared only to be from the minority community? But do we really need the courts to tell us this?

Indians fighting in Iraq should be a wake-up call to the government that it needs engagement at multiple levels with the community and not only with the self-appointed religious leaders. But once again it appears that the government will raise the bogey of global terror hitting at India and create further conditions for community profiling. A counter-terror academy with a police training wing and a think-tank is nothing but another layer to the already crowded policing and investigative organisations, many of which step on each other’s toes. More layers will lead to greater opacity.

Instead of creating new institutions, the government needs to initiate and support a process of community policing. Steps should be taken to remove the mistrust between the police and the Muslims. Once, there is greater trust, local community leadership, like mohalla committees, must be created with some degree of autonomy to look after social and economic welfare of the people in that particular locality. With the responsibility thrust on them, they can work towards keeping an eye on their youth, ensuring that none go astray. Of course, they will not tattle against their own to the state, but surely they will report outsiders to the police. That itself would be a beginning.

But for this, the government must stop scaring the people by warning that we are threatened by global terrorism. The roots of our terrorism lie across the border, and probably the solution too.


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