New Age Islam Edit Bureau
30 Nov 2015
• When you kill in the name of my religion...
By Joginder Singh
• Fighting terrorism with the big boys
By Faisal Devji
• How to secularise secularism
By Dipankar Gupta
• Turkish President wants to drag Nato into a war against Russia
By Prem Shankar Jha
• Black Friday and the Syrian conundrum
By Kishwar Desai
New Age Islam Edit Bureau
30 November 2015
When you kill in the name of my religion...
By Joginder Singh
30 November 2015
The Islamic State’s murderous ways and the reign of terror that it has unleashed across the world have, once again, put millions of Muslims around the world in an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, position
The terrorist attacks on November 13 in Paris have have been described by President François Hollande as an “act of war” organised by the Islamic State terror group. Shootings and bomb blasts left 129 people dead and hundreds wounded, with many more injured. More than 150 raids have been done across the country, as the search by French Police for suspects, continues.
Raids have also taken place in the Belgian city of Brussels. For France, the war against Islamists isn’t new. In 1985 and 1986, bombs went off at iconic locations, like the Champs Elysées, and upmarket department stores, including the famous Galeries Lafayette. French intelligence eventually tracked down the perpetrator the Iran-linked Fouad Ali Saleh group.
In the years after 9/11, France launched a fresh assault on Islamist networks. Zacharias Moussaoui, the so-called ‘20th 9/11 hijacker’, was traced by French intelligence and eventually convicted in the United States.
Regrettably, terrorism is spreading all over the world, though it has existed in different forms for ages. For example, subjugating other countries to expand ones empire is also a form of terrorism. It is an indelible truth that those who live by the gun, will die by the gun.
Europe has changed its policy towards accommodating the victims of the Islamic State. Hungary has sealed its border with Serbia. The Polish Government has said it will reject the EU’s migrant quotas. Germany, in effect, has exited the Schengen travel area. Some other EU countries say they have run out of capacity to take more migrants. Europe seems to have split into the ‘compassionate west’ and ‘selfish east’. That, at least, is the overriding media narrative in the West.
There are no welcome banners for Syrian refugees The European Commission’s proposal for a centrally-agreed share of refugees among all EU states is running into strong resistance in Warsaw and Prague. The idea of sheltering refugees via compulsory quotas is proving particularly contentious.
Germany’s decision to issue a broad welcome to the refugees is being seen in central and eastern Europe as counter-productive and escalating the situation. It seems that Berlin’s invitation to refugees is almost a non-starter.
Even Japan, a well-off country, says it must look after its own before allowing in Syrian refugee Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has rejected criticism of a policy that has seen only 11 people being given asylum in the past year. Japan must improve the living standards of its own people before it can consider accepting Syrian refugees, according to Mr Abe.
The Islamic State has already claimed responsibility for the Paris attack, thus doing a great disservice to the otherwise fine Muslin community. When we, as individuals or as a group, choose an action, we also choose the consequences of that action. When you desire a consequence you should also take the action that will lead to it it. Jihadi terror attacks tarnish the entire Muslim community. Another small country, Mali, is also being victimised by terrorists.
The response of the world is worth quoting. The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a French-sponsored resolution, on November 20, calling on all nations to redouble and coordinate action to prevent further attacks by Islamic State terrorists and other extremist groups. The resolution says that the Islamic State “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and expresses the Council’s determination “to combat by all means this unprecedented threat”.
The US Congress is also pursuing legislative action to halt the Obama Administration’s Syrian refugee programme. This comes as a response to about half the country’s State Governors, mostly Republicans, who have said that they don’t want to take in refugees. The Governors fear another Paris-style attack as Islamic State fighters may get access to the United States by pretending to be refugees.
President Obama has said that the United States needs to “step up and do its part” in admitting Syrian refugees. He has also said that the issue of refugees and terrorism should not be equated in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. But few agree with him. Presidential frontrunner from the Republican Party Donald Trump invoked the idea of special IDs for Muslims and shutting down troublesome mosques.
Some Muslims say they understand that the latest killing spree claimed by the Islamic State group has made has made many wary of their Muslim neighbours. Muslims living in Britain have suffered more than 100 racial attacks since the Paris incident. A report to the Government’s working group on anti-Muslim hatred, seen by The Independent, shows a spike in Islamophobic crimes by more than 300 per cent in the week following the Paris attack. Most victims of hate crimes in the UK were Muslim females, aged from 14 years to 45 years and dressed in traditional Islamic attire. The perpetrators were mainly white males between 15 to 35 years of age.
Some Muslims also feel the additional burden of having to justify and defend themselves and their community, and point out that their Islam bears no relation to that of the violent zealots. They worry that some non-Muslims can’t see the difference between them and Islamic State killers.
Many Indian Muslims have been caught in foreign shores and deported home, from countries like Turkey, the US and the UAE, for either supporting or participating in terrorist activities. A disproportionately large number of these cases are from Jammu & Kashmir. Of course, a large number of Muslims have nothing to do with such activities. But they, like other Indians, have taken the approach of letting sleeping dogs lie. Their approach is exactly like our political leaders they condemn such activities and then forget about it.
Fighting terrorism with the big boys
By Faisal Devji
India isn’t a serious target for al-Qaeda and now ISIS despite appearing on their imaginary maps. But instead of being thankful for this situation, a number of Indian journalists and policymakers seem anxious that the country be recognised as a victim of globalised terrorism, and so an ally of the Europeans and Americans fighting against it.
Indian columnists and television anchors have vied with each other to draw a connection between the recent Paris attacks and those in Mumbai seven years previously. They have, of course, been right to do so since the earlier attacks served as precedent for a novel form of militancy — one in which a whole city could be paralysed by the coordinated, yet random, killing of people held captive in places of entertainment and public passage. Even the blasts of 1993 had made Mumbai an experimental site of militancy, for they were the first serial bombings of a city and targeted not specific places or people but the metropolis as a whole. Featured as it is in Hollywood films as well as best-selling novels, Mumbai is India’s only globally iconic city and so provides an appropriate setting for terrorism. In fact, such attacks even contribute to the city’s glamour by adding the Leopold Café to every tourist’s list of must-see places in Mumbai.
Mumbai is not Paris
Despite its role as an easily accessible and internationally recognised site for terrorist innovation, however, Mumbai doesn’t belong in the same group as Paris, London, Madrid or New York as targets of al-Qaeda and now Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism. India isn’t a serious target for these groups despite appearing on their imaginary maps like so many other places. But instead of being thankful for this situation, a number of Indian journalists and policymakers seem anxious that the country be recognised as a victim of globalised terrorism, and so an ally of the Europeans and Americans fighting against it. This longing to join the all-white club of terrorism’s leading enemies can even be seen as a perversion of the older desire that India take her place among the great powers. Indeed, the British Prime Minister’s recent speech introducing his Indian counterpart to a largely Gujarati audience at Wembley Stadium made precisely this link.
Shared threat of terror
Shifting uncomfortably between craven supplication and post-colonial paternalism, David Cameron promised Britain’s help in making India a permanent member of the UN Security Council. But he also claimed that in addition to possessing virtues like democracy in common, the two countries also shared terrorism as a threat to their existence. This is of course false, as apart from murdering British or Indian citizens, such attacks can at most threaten only the electoral prospects of governments unable to prevent them. By mentioning the shared threat of terrorism, Mr. Cameron was in effect appealing to what he may have imagined was an anti-Muslim audience of Hindus, though they seemed rather taken aback by his insinuation. Narendra Modi, too, ignored his host’s dog whistle politics and explicitly included Muslims in his description of India’s dynamism.
David Cameron’s invocation of terrorism in Wembley was disingenuous since in common with the British press, he rarely includes India in any discussion of militancy. Whatever his motives, correct about Mr. Cameron’s stance is the recognition that however novel and destructive its manifestation there, Islamic militancy in India continues to be defined by politically conventional causes rather than global ones. Involved in a bombing campaign some half a dozen years ago, the Indian Mujahideen, for example, were obsessed with avenging what they saw as the persecution of Muslims in their country, but had no vision of a future outside the Indian nation state. The Kashmiri militants of the 1990s, for their part, wanted autonomy, independence or a union with Pakistan and were never interested in caliphates or battles outside India. Similarly, Pakistan-sponsored groups are focussed on the conflict between the two states rather than some global war.
Naturally, there are and will always be Indians who gravitate towards global forms of jihad, but they don’t form a coherent group, and seem to be put to the kind of menial tasks that Indians and other Asians tend to do in West Asia more generally. Then there are those who appear to live vicarious lives as jihadis, like the mild-mannered, young professional in Bengaluru who was discovered some months ago to be running the most bloodthirsty web forum dedicated to the war in Syria. He, too, seemed to have no interest in attacking India, and like so many of those attracted by ISIS, was more concerned with the threat supposedly posed by the Shia and other sectarian minorities. If anything, then, global forms of jihad become popular in India for reasons having to do with internal cleavages within Islam rather than some undying enmity towards Hinduism or Christianity.
Sectarianism as trigger
The importance of sectarian violence may even signal the coming apart of Islam itself as a category, one that in any case only dates from the 19th century. For Islam is a term that appears a couple of times in the Koran, and for most of Muslim history does not seem to have named any kind of singular or unified entity like a religious system but instead a set of attitudes or practices. Hastened by political and economic problems in different parts of the world, the unmaking of Islam gives rise not only to unprecedented levels of sectarian conflict, but to atheism, conversion to other religions and new forms of Muslim devotion as well. This is the bigger picture within which the issues tearing apart Muslim communities as well as bringing them together in new forms need to be placed. Sectarianism then may well be the entry-point for global forms of Muslim militancy in India.
Globalised forms of militancy have only taken root where the state is failing, as in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq, or where it is despotic, as in Saudi Arabia and Syria. A third case involves European countries, where neoliberalism has reduced the state and its politics to a kind of management, and that too one often delegated and outsourced to the bureaucracy or private sector. The European Union for instance, while it is indubitably a political entity, is unprecedented in that apart from a currency, it lacks every other sign of sovereignty, and has therefore to be managed by central banks rather than governed by representative institutions. In this situation, “culture” often comes to take the place of old-fashioned politics as a site of contestation, something that at the domestic level produces both Muslim identity politics and the opposite demand for a secular national culture, as well as the famous “clash of civilizations” at the international one.
While India is not immune to the politics of culture, the state continues to dominate social relations there in such a way as to define, if not produce, all forms of resistance as well. But by the same token, it limits such resistance so that Islamic militancy in India remains conventional and bizarrely even “nationalist”. Yet, while the procedures of anti-Muslim violence generally remain visceral, low-tech and highly traditional in their confinement to the riot form, that of anti-Hindu violence now relies upon bombs and other remote-controlled means of killing at a distance. And while this pattern of high-tech violence might result from the lack of popular support as much as the disparity of numbers and power involved, it also indicates the way in which Muslim forms of terrorism appear to be gravitating towards those deployed by globally dispersed jihadis. And yet they remain tied to the nation-state, which thus becomes both the cause and cure of militant Islam in India.
(Faisal Devji is Reader in Indian History and Fellow of St. Antony’s College in the University of Oxford.)
How to secularise secularism
By Dipankar Gupta
November 30, 2015
Secularism, as we know it, is an idea whose time has gone. When home minister Rajnath Singh says that it is an overused term, and several people nod in sane agreement, the season has surely come to burn the leaves.
Religious tolerance, in its purest form, is hardly a bankable commodity on a social scale. Nowhere in the world have people become tolerant because of lectures on secularism. Humankind is flawed at the start, for no matter where we are, or how developed we are, we always believe that people other than us are intrinsically inferior.
Asking for tolerance is much like whistling for the moon; yet, in practice, actions against intolerance might work if you whistle for the police instead. Ultimately, secularism is not about the milk of human kindness, or about tolerance, but about an intolerant law that will not tolerate public intolerance. It is only when the administration gets flaccid on this count that our spontaneous tendencies surface, but we nearly always rush to the wrong address for help.
The one wrong address, for a very long time, was the Congress party, but there were others too. The more the administration gave in to violence against minorities, the more it talked about secularism as tolerance; just words, nothing in deed. As legal action did not follow with the right kind of vigour, the term pseudo-secularism gained credibility. It was all talk, as neither side had any intention of calling in the cavalry to implement the law.
This process got its ribbon-cutting start when Indira Gandhi introduced “secularism” in the Constitution, much as one would a totem pole. It was revered from far but far from revered; caste politics and Sikh killings owe their origin to her brand of politics. Over time, and this had to happen, a full scale war of words ensued. This kept the fur and spittle flying, but the need to buckle down and punish the guilty never really surfaced.
Secularism, therefore, is not about good and bad people, but about an unflinching law that won’t brook public demonstrations of intolerance. It is never love, nor the urge to be hugged; secularism is just to make sure that ordinary people can lead ordinary lives without fearing what tomorrow might bring. When the law is on your side you don’t need eyes in the back of your head.
It is the law, not irreligiousness, or shutting up the church, that makes us secular. In fact, Henry VIII was hardly secular because he flouted the Pope, divorced and re-married. If the Vatican did not approve of his behaviour, it could go fly a kite. From this historical act a rather simplistic idea grew that secularism was about separating church from state.
Yet, one cannot cast Henry VIII as secular just because he defied religious authorities. Religious persecution continued in Europe, not because the church said smell, go, hunt and kill, but because it was now the king who issued such diktats. The unquestionable authority of the priests was now replaced by that of the king. Truth was still being handed down from above and the subjects continued their weary lives as subjects.
It is only with democracy that secularism truly appeared. This is not because we suddenly became good, and traded in our cruel hearts for loving ones. What made the real difference was that there were now legal penalties for communal and religious violence. Did all of this begin because those who birthed democracy were personally tolerant, packed with moral rectitude and goodwill? Far from it!
What had changed was the need for massive numbers to overthrow monarchy and absolutist rule. A population divided by religion and sects was far too fragmented to topple the king; a united front was essential for this purpose. It was out of this seedling that citizenship emerged, but it had to toil its way up as it kept getting stamped upon. Massimo d’Azeglio, a mid-19th century scholar, put it nicely when he said: “Now that we have made Italy, let us make Italians.”
Secularism becomes a habit when the law works systematically, and without exception, against sectarian intolerance. It is this legal intolerance of intolerance that teaches us to be civil and not moral science in a classroom, nor sweet and inconstant political talk. Though it might still hurt to tolerate and make room for other communities, it would hurt a lot more to break the law. Take the law out of the frame and see hatred spew out in religious spirals even in advanced, “civilised” democracy.
Across time, intolerance is spurred by social and economic insecurity. When jobs are scarce, when one’s self-esteem has got a hiding, we start blaming other communities and see all kinds of evil in them. How is this best combated, with words or with deed? Recall post-Partition’s hot and heady mood, and yet how Nehru succeeded in keeping religious passions from taking over our just born democracy. He succeeded, in large measure, because he promised jobs, dams and steel mills. He hardly talked of pure tolerance, or even secularism; he just did it.
If secularism and pseudo-secularism are bandied about freely, and abusively, today it is because partisans on both sides are clueless on how to develop our economy. This is bipartisanship for you, Indian style!
Turkish President wants to drag Nato into a war against Russia
By Prem Shankar Jha
Nov 30, 2015
Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian warplane on November 24 has set off a chain of consequences that could easily spin out of control and lead to a war between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) and Russia. According to the Turkish government’s letter to the president of the United Nations Security Council, two SU-24 jets were in Turkish airspace for a period of 17 seconds as they traversed a tongue of Turkish territory 1.36 miles in breadth, at a point 1.15 miles from its tip. The Turkish authorities warned the pilots to change course and fly south 10 times, but they ignored the command and flew on, whereupon a Turkish F-16 was ordered to shoot one of them down.
The Russian version of events, confirmed by the pilot who survived the attack, is that the two planes were returning from a bombing mission a good way further east and were passing south of the tongue of land when they were attacked without any warning. The missile hit the aircraft from the rear, taking them by surprise.
From the details of the incursion given by Turkey, The Telegraph, London, has calculated that the planes had been flying at 283 miles an hour, a third of their maximum speed. This confirms that none of the four pilots in the two planes knew that anything was amiss, and makes Turkey’s claim of sending repeated warnings suspect.
After studying the doomed aircraft’s heat signature, US officials have also confirmed that it was hit in Syrian territory. So even if the planes had strayed, the Turkish F-16 fired upon the doomed plane knowing well that it was leaving their territory. The only way this could have happened was if the pilot had explicit or standing orders to shoot down any non-Nato plane that entered Turkish airspace, irrespective of its course and intention. After Russia’s entry into the war on the Islamic State (IS), a non-Nato plane could only be a Russian aircraft.
Nato member Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border, threatening a major spike in tensions between two key protagonists in the four-year Syria civil war. (AFP)
That does President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plan? Is it to draw Nato into the war in Syria? And if that is so, is he acting on his own or, as the Russian foreign minister suggested, in concert with some members of Nato?
While the second is unlikely, the first is a near-certainty. For Erdogan has been bent upon ousting Syria’s secular Baathist regime and imposing Turkey’s control on the country through a hand-picked Sunni surrogate, ever since the start of the Arab Spring. He has felt emboldened to do so because this is a goal he shares with the US, the European Union and, most importantly, Israel, whose control over US foreign policy cannot be underestimated.
In October last year, Turkey had offered to sweep the IS out of Kobani but only on condition that it was allowed to continue to Damascus. US President Barack Obama had baulked at that but informally agreed to Erdogan’s demand for a no-fly zone to keep Syria out of Kobani and the Syrian border region. Since then the US-led coalition has bombed the IS targets in Iraq, but steered clear of, and, therefore allowed it to consolidate its hold on larger and larger parts of Syria. With the IS totally dependent upon Turkey for its survival, Erdogan believed that he was halfway to his goal.
But Russia’s entry into the war against the IS has changed all that: Its goal is to clear the way for, and provide air cover to, the Syrian army to destroy the IS.
For Erdogan, the turning point may have come when Russia joined France in striking deep inside the IS’ core areas and, in particular, against the IS’ lifeline, the oil tankers that daily carried thousands of barrels of Iraqi and Syrian oil to refineries in Turkey. Moscow estimates that in five days its planes have destroyed 3,000 tankers. This single act has not only destroyed the IS’ financial base but also exposed Turkey’s complicity in ensuring its survival.
With every likelihood that the Vienna peace process could end with a united Syria under Assad, at least temporarily, Erdogan seems to have decided to stake everything on one last throw of the dice. This has required creating a crisis and invoking Article 5 of the Nato agreement to force it into the war that will follow.
That is why Erdogan followed up the shooting down of the SU-24 by contacting not Moscow but Nato headquarters in Brussels to drum up support for his action.
A confused western alliance has not only given him this, but by asking both countries to avoid escalating the conflict after Turkey has fired the initial shot, managed to shift the onus for doing so to Russia.
Moscow is willing to oblige Nato only up to a point. It has moved its advanced guided missile carrier ‘Moskva’ closer to Lattakia (Syria), and is shipping S-400 anti-aircraft missile batteries, capable of tracking 60 targets at a time, to its bases in Syria. Its intention is obviously to interdict Turkish planes from even approaching within missile range of Russian planes. It is doubtful whether their use can be confined within the Syrian border.
Should even one missile land, or one Turkish plane be shot down, inside Turkey, Erdogan will invoke Article 5 of the Nato agreement. The rest of its members will then have to choose between war and letting Turkey down. In 1914 when confronted by German support for the Austrian invasion of Serbia, the ‘Allies’ chose war. It remains to be seen whether they will know better this time.
Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and author
Black Friday and the Syrian conundrum
By Kishwar Desai
Nov 29, 2015
In a democracy, going to war is no longer a unilateral decision as the Opposition needs to be convinced. And thus the protests, fearing a repeat of the intervention in Iraq and Libya, continue.
At the risk of sounding frivolous, it was noticeable that the headlines here have been equally divided between airstrikes in Syria and shopping on Black Friday.
But to the deep disappointment of high street stores, which had seen fistfights last year on the Thanksgiving weekend, this year online shopping stole their glory. Nonetheless, Oxford Street was bedecked like a bride and some of the surrounding area converted into a glittering pedestrian walkway, enticing reluctant Internet addicts to the high street.
Meanwhile, the debate on Syria continues with the Conservatives backing airstrikes and Prime Minister David Cameron all set for targeting the “fanatics” and mass murderers who slaughtered the innocent in France. But the Labour Party remains disunited on this and it will be interesting to see if their leader, Jeremy Corbyn allows a free vote. According to opinion polls, UK will soon be at war against the death cult that stalks Syria.
But in a democracy, going to war is no longer a unilateral decision as the Opposition particularly needs to be convinced. And thus, the protests outside Parliament, mostly fearing a repeat of the intervention in Iraq and Libya, continue. So London streets are terribly crowded right now — between protesters and shoppers.
For the first time, post the France attacks, security in crowded areas has become an issue. Even whilst entering a theatre to watch a play, we had to queue up to be frisked. This is a new phenomenon, but a sign of the times we live in.
The play we saw is highly recommended — Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
It is a straightforward production based on the life of the composer/lyricist Carole King who sold her first song at 17 and then went on to compose some of the biggest hits in recording history. Who doesn’t remember I Felt The Earth Move Under My Feet or You’ve Got a Friend?
Katie Brayben in the lead role has just won the prestigious Olivier award (2015) for the best actress in a musical, while Lorna Want, playing her friend and fellow composer Cynthia Weil, received the Olivier award for best supporting actress. The awards are very well deserved. Particularly for Brayben. Hers is a complex role in which she effortlessly moves from being a highly talented but introverted composer, to a self-confident performer. Carole King had also composed for some legendary singers such Aretha Franklin. And yes, also the Drifters, the Monkees and the Shirelles. Many of these names belong to musical history now and so it was hugely entertaining to see actors playing entertainers from the ’60s and ’70s with their big bouffants, stylised mannerisms and tight clothes, gliding across the stage Remember when we danced to the Locomotion? Whoops! Does that make me ancient?
This is a really enjoyable, aspirational production. Not only does it commemorate the life of a very talented woman, it also recounts how she finds a whole new dimension to herself after her marriage breaks up. Do watch!
Last weekend, I was in an argument on BBC One, over the legacy of the empire. This is a fraught question for so many of us. Coming, as we do, from a former colony is there anything we can celebrate about it?
For me, working on the Partition Museum, many of the questions raised in the debate are very crucial ones.
More so, after we viewed a fascinating exhibition running right now at the Tate Britain, called “Artist and Empire” in which, through physical representations — maps, paintings or sculpture — the view of the Empire (almost always from the side of the ruler) is evoked. The exhibits obviously range from the adulatory to the purely informative. But it was interesting to see how little independent expression of art existed for the subject state. All artistic talent was harnessed to depict either the glory of the empire, or the various interests of the rulers. Of course, much of this provides invaluable information today. But in each painting or work of art, there is obvious deference to the empire. Even in extenuating circumstances such as when the sons of Tipu Sultan are being handed over as hostages to the British, deliberately pleasant atmospherics have been injected into an exploitative situation and one child is even shown smiling in the painting.
The depiction of glory and bravery are all clearly attributed to the British rulers. The exhibition covers quite a lot of the art being created in India (as also America, Africa, Australia, and other colonies) but apart from commissioned portraits of some of the Maharajas, no Indian is shown in any position of power. As Paul Gilroy, professor at King’s College, London, states in his foreword to the exhibition, “The boundaries between the exotic, the everyday, the anthropological and the aesthetic are severely twisted.”
Perhaps it is only natural — because art and creativity has for long been subservient to the state. Patronage was important then, as now, to survive.
There have been a series of farewells, for the High Commissioner Ranjan Mathai, as he leaves, and his successor (fellow author and friend) Navtej Sarna takes over. It is rare that journalists host government officials and so, we especially savoured the dinner by the Indian Journalists Association at the Bombay Brasserie. Despite it being a really busy season, many non-journalists also came, including minister and diaspora champion, the charming Priti Patel and billionaire and philanthropist Gopichand Hinduja.
Post script: Somehow, post-Diwali, London always becomes unusually busy. As the days grow shorter, the desire to socialise increases exponentially!
Kishwar Desai is an award-winning author