Religious extremism

Why a photo showing Tamil Muslims in support of ISIS is more troubling than any IB report

ISIS speaks the language of Sunni supremacy, and it is this that appeals to some young Indian Muslims.

In the late 1990s, about a decade after terrorism first bespattered the Kashmir valley, champions of secularism in India would point out that Muslims from the rest of the country had never felt the need to join cause with the violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam in the northern state. Though the call for a holy war had drawn young Muslim men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Central Asia, not one of the Indian security forces that operated in Kashmir had captured a Muslim terrorist from West Bengal, say, or Bihar. This to many was sure-fire indication that the Indian polity was healthy and secular – a sign of the successful assimilation of a previously troubled minority.

Yet even then the argument seemed conceptually weak. The call to holy war in Kashmir could be ignored because the Bhojpuri or Malayali Muslim was as much of an outsider to Kashmir as a Hindu from Bhopal. The non-participation of Muslims in the violence in Kashmir was perhaps better read as an indication of the distance of that struggle from their daily lives – there was no emotive plank in the Kashmiri’s appeal to holy war. A generalised call to protect your religion or to fight with your religious cohorts is not sufficient to draw a peaceful person to violence. It needs sharper focus. And not just for Muslims: this is the reason LK Advani was ignored in the early 1980s but became a tidal political force later in the decade, radicalising hundreds of thousands across India when he fixed upon the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.

The first instance of Indian Muslim terror – in the definition that we have come to know it, causing wanton civilian death, targeting symbols of the state – were the 1993 bombings orchestrated by the Mumbai mobster Dawood Ibrahim, which he said was a response to the Hindutva attack on the Babri masjid. There is no doubt that the destruction of that mosque devastated the Indian Muslim community, who had suffered through numerous riots, and caused their own. But until then they had felt the state would protect places of worship important to the community. The numerous terrorist acts that have followed indicate the alienation many young Indian Muslims feel.

Yet it is more pertinent today to address the insidious radicalisation of Indian Muslims taking place from within. All over the nation, Muslims are preaching and being taught ever more codified versions of Islam. It is important to disassociate this radicalisation with terrorism – beards and burqas are a fair barometer of violence only in the imagination of some Western media. But it is also important to see these acts of terrorism as the sharp tip of a broader push within the community towards radicalised Islam. The surge in popularity of a Saudi-promoted brand of orthodox Wahabbism – a branch that has a venerable history in India, growing as a reaction to the saint veneration and shrine visitation that Islam in South Asia borrowed from Hinduism – has not been adequately documented.

Muslims in both Pakistan and India are turning away from the less doctrinaire interpretations of Islam that once typified the religion on the subcontinent. While everyone should of course be free to choose their own degree or investment in faith, it is also essential to note that fundamentalists of every religion teach fear and disapproval of the outgroup, and are thus harmful to democratic society and convivial living.

This push has been visible for more than a decade now, perhaps more for closer observers. And it could well be a response to the popular projection, within Muslim communities, of a Western war against Islamic beliefs. But even anti-Americanism among Muslims does not answer one question: why is it that fewer Indian Muslims were drawn to the jihad call of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Kashmir, than it seems are already being pulled towards ISIS?

A photograph has been doing the rounds of the Internet of a large group of young Tamil Muslims clad in black ISIS t-shirts. On the Internet it is being brandished by Hindu nationalists as justification for their narrow parochialism, but it should worry every citizen of India. Tamils have nothing to do with Iraq or Syria. Then why this adherence to ISIS over Al-Qaeda, indeed over the jihad in Kashmir?

The answer lies in ISIS’ rallying call. The politically savvy and militarily capable self-named Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has astutely positioned his struggle as one against not the West but against Shia overreach. While many have characterised his ideology as pan-Islamist, it is in fact pan-Sunni. He seeks to create a Sunni state stretching across West Asia and the subcontinent. Needless to say, Shias will have at best subsidiary part in it.

The violence against Shias that has destroyed any claims Pakistan had left to secularism is an expression of an age-old animosity that goes to the very heart of the Islamic faith. It has been a source of conflict in every Muslim country. It is also the fault-line of the current battle in Iraq.

Sunnis are about 85% of India’s Muslim population. The ISIS t-shirts being worn by those young men in Tamil Nadu are not a reaction to Hindutva fundamentalism or Western political aggressions. They are a means of asserting Sunni pride. The photograph does not suggest to me that these men will join the jihad in West Asia. But it does suggest to me that the Sunni-Shia divide will continue to excite violence long after Western nations have ceased to be a perceived enemy of Muslims.

 
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Five of the world’s most incredible magic tricks that went wrong

Even the best planned illusions are often unpredictable and can have unfortunate consequences.

Magic has a special hold on our imagination, especially when magicians and illusionists perform death-defying tricks. But magic, much like life itself, is unpredictable. These are some of the world’s most audacious magic tricks that show how even some of the best magicians often miscalculate the risk:

The bullet catch. In this trick, a bullet is fired at a magician on stage who appears to catch it in his mouth. The bullet, before being fired, is marked by a member of the audience to ensure that it is the same bullet that’s caught by the magician. The bullet catch has been described as the most dangerous magic trick in the world and around 15 magicians have reportedly died performing it.

The Chinese water torture cell. In this illusion, the magician, with feet locked in iron restraints, is lowered face first into a glass tank filled with water in full view of the audience. The magician then has only minutes to undo the restraints and escape before drowning. Many magicians have attempted variations of this trick, and as recently as 2015, an escape artist called Spencer Horsmann nearly drowned when he failed to escape.

Buried alive. Legend has it that this illusion has its origins in India. There are many variations of the trick with the essential feature being that the magician is trapped underground in a box. In a famous 1999 event, the American magician David Blaine was buried in a Plexiglas coffin for seven days. He survived the trick but many others have not. Joe Burrus, an American magician attempted the trick in 1990 and died when his coffin broke underground.

Sword swallowing. This ancient art involves the magician inserting a sword or other sharp metal objects down his or her throat and into the stomach. Many variations have been performed with magicians swallowing long swords, multiple swords, bayonets and even hot swords to make it more dramatic. It is estimated that over 25 magicians have died performing it since the 19th century.

Death-defying escape under the sea. This magic trick was first performed by the Indian magician PC Sorcar Jr in 1969. Sorcar was sealed in a mail bag and locked in a wooden crate that was strapped with steel, welded, chained and thrown into the ocean. Sorcar managed to escape from the crate within 90 seconds and became a legend. In 1983, an escape artist called Dean Gunnarson performed a similar stunt in which he was handcuffed, chained and nailed into a coffin that was immersed into a river. The stunt went wrong, and Gunnarson had to be rescued by his support crew and resuscitated back to life.

Despite the best preparations, magic tricks can go awry and leave families without financial security. The video below takes the lens of humor but drives the point home.

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While the chances of encountering an inept street magician or trying death-defying stunts are rather slim for most people, given the unpredictability of life, we can’t be too certain of what the future holds. It’s important to invest in a good insurance plan that can protect your family from adverse circumstances. The PNB MetLife Mera Term Plan is a comprehensive and highly flexible online term plan that lets you customize it to your needs. To learn more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of PNB MetLife and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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