October 22nd 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: JI's blood-stained prints on the Bali bombings

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Howard's biggest gamble since the GST

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Public outcry against human cloning

NEW ZEALAND ELECTION: How Helen Clark snatched victory

CLIMATE: Don't get steamed up over Arctic melting

ISLAM: Why Indian Muslims reject extremism

SCIENCE AND RELIGION: The rise and rise of Intelligent Design

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Too many crooks spoil the broth / Turkey's EU membership and some masterful wedge politics by Austria / Cultural revolution / Look back in anger / Marriage of science with home economics / The decoy ducks

SCHOOL FUNDING: Giving parents greater choice

DRUGS: New cannabis strategy urgently needed

MEDIA: Media authority blasts Ten's 'Big Brother Uncut'

OVERSEAS TRADE: Australia trading at a loss - myth and reality

ENERGY: US Pushes for energy self-reliance

Media cover-up of Saddam's WMDs (letter)

Rural Australians betrayed (letter)

Embryo vs. adult stem-cell research (letter)


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Why Indian Muslims reject extremism

by Dr Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, October 22, 2005
Samuel Huntingdon famously warned a few years ago about the risk of a resurgent Islam clashing with Western civilisation. Dr Sharif Shuja argues that, as India's experience shows, such a clash need not be inevitable.

Certain Islamic religious schools (madrassas) in Pakistan have been accused of being breeding grounds of terror, preaching violence and terror.

Some madrassas - such as the Manzoor-ul-Islam madrassa in Lahore, which has links with the banned militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed - have been found to be brainwashing young men into becoming mass murderers.

Indians are fortunate that, despite outbreaks of terrorism occurring in different parts of their country, their seminaries and madrassas are not considered to be doing anything similar to what appears to be going on in some of the madrassas in neighbouring Pakistan.

Terrorist attacks

Those who have been charged with terrorist attacks have generally come from outside India's borders.

B. Raman, former additional secretary in the Cabinet secretariat of the Government of India, has observed:

"India has 35,000 madrassas, as compared to 8,000 only in Pakistan. Whereas the madrassas in Pakistan have become centres of concern to counter-terrorism experts because of their role in promoting fanaticism and terrorism, those of India have not so far come to the adverse notice of international counter-terrorism experts."

Christopher Blanchard, an American analyst, in a document titled Islamic Religious Schools - Madrassas: Background, prepared in February 2005 for the US Congress, describes Pakistan as a country where some madrassas are a potential safe haven for terrorists.

He puts the number of madrassas in Pakistan at 10,000, higher than the number stated by Raman; but also identifies other countries, such as Indonesia and Qatar, where madrassas may be engaged in similar activities.

India, with its much larger Muslim population and many thousands more madrassas than Pakistan, is nowhere mentioned in his paper.

Why are there no Indian Muslims in al-Qaeda? There are no easy answers, but there is one probable reason. This is the assurance of a level-playing field for all citizens in India because of the success of its democratic system.

During the recent celebrations in Moscow, marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, President George W. Bush introduced his wife Laura to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, describing him as the leader of the "most fascinating democracy in the world" and pointing out that al-Qaeda hadn't been able to recruit a single Indian Muslim.

A recent Washington Post (July 20, 2005) editorial noted that India's "large and tolerant" Muslim population "may serve as an ally against Islamic militancy".

It is noteworthy that a majority of terrorists come from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and some of the North African countries. What is common to all of these countries is their lack of genuine democracy.

The contrast with India is obvious. India's democracy ensures that all segments of public opinion are routinely aired. India, although predominantly Hindu, is a secular state with a vibrant, multicultural democracy.

One of the reasons why al-Qaeda has gained ground among youths in the Middle East and elsewhere is that it portrays Muslims as an oppressed community. But this is far from the truth in India, where Muslims have excelled in several fields.

For instance, Bollywood today is full of successful Muslim film stars (Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Amir Khan, Shabana Azmi and Saeed Mirza), so much so that Pakistani artists too are coming to Mumbai to try their luck in Indian cinema.

In modern art, it is impossible to ignore the pivotal importance of M.F. Hussain. In business, the richest Indian is Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro Ltd, who happens to be a Muslim.

Sporting achievements

The 18-year old tennis player Sania Mirza became well known when she entered the third round of the Australian Open, but went down to Serena Williams. She is an Indian equivalent of Tiger Woods.

Mohammad Azharuddin, Irfan Pathan, Mohammed Kaif and Zaheer Khan are too well-known in cricket to need recounting.

Moreover, to enjoy acceptance and recognition, these stars don't have to hide their Muslim religion or wear their patriotism on their sleeve.

The list could be greatly expanded, but the point is obvious.

A significant modern Muslim intelligentsia has crystallised in varying fields, including academia (such as Irfan Habib and Mushirul Hasan), literature and journalism (Faiz Ahmed Faiz and M.J. Akbar).

Praful Bidwai, a prominent Indian commentator, says:

"This intelligentsia is qualitatively different from the old Muslim aristocracy. It is an accomplished group of self-made liberal middle-class professionals with a secular and universalist outlook.

"These are not Muslim intellectuals, as such. They are intellectuals first, Muslim second, by birth.

"The winds of modernisation and secularisation are sweeping through the larger Indian Muslim community to a far greater extent than is recognised."

Muslim role models

The point is that, when an average Indian Muslim sees Shah Rukh ruling over tinsel world, or Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan spearheading the Indian cricket team's pace attack, or Sania Mirza bringing glory to India in the international tennis circuit, or Azim Premji emerging as a business tycoon, he not only feels proud of his community but also hopes to emulate them. They are his role models.

The fact that there is no glass ceiling in India and that any talented individual can rise to the top irrespective of his background - Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or whatever - eliminates the sense of desperation and deprivation which drives people to embrace extremism.

In the last year, nothing has confirmed India's fairness as a society more than the fact that the country today has a Muslim as its president, a Sikh as prime minister and a Christian of Italian origin as president of the Grand Old Party of Indian independence (the Congress Party) - each of whom belongs to minority communities.

It is this unique tradition of social harmony and democracy that has kept Indian Muslims away from the path of insensate violence and saved them from falling into al-Qaeda's trap.

  • Dr Sharif Shuja is research associate at Monash University's Global Terrorism Research Unit.

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