By Ashish Khetan
23 July 2013
The sharp political reactions to Shakeel Ahmed’s tweet are yet another proof of our incapacity to have a soul-searching debate on the subject of religious extremism and its offshoot, terrorism.
What is it that is so deeply rotten in our social fabric that is driving so many of our youth onto the path of wanton violence?
Who was behind the bombs that were designed to kill only the Hindus—in Varanasi temples, in Jaipur marketplaces, in the streets of Ahmedabad and on the local trains in Mumbai?
Who wanted to kill the Muslims in Malegaon, in Mecca Masjid and on the Samjahuta Express?
What were these bombers trying to achieve?
What was their motivation?
Are these attacks just ordinary criminal acts that need to be dealt within the realm of mere legalities?
We as a people like to deal in platitudes. A terrorist has no religion. Terrorists are nothing but criminals. All acts of terrorism are against humanity. These are the standard explanations we have been dealing in all along.
It’s comforting for the Muslims to hear their community leaders tell them that Atif Ameen was innocent. That Indian Mujahideen is a creation of the IB. It’s reassuring when their leaders place the blame for every malaise afflicting the Indian Muslims to a source outside their community.
It’s comforting for a majority of the Hindus when their leaders tell them that no Hindu could ever be a terrorist. That Sadhvi Pragya and Aseemanand are victims of minority appeasement politics. That the RSS members arrested for making and planting bombs are being persecuted because of their religious ideology.
It’s comforting for most of us when after every terror strike our politicians accuse Pakistan for sponsoring carnage in our country.
If great nations are forged on the idea of truth and justice, then it's time to ask: are we a great nation?
Shakeel Ahmed’s tweet may be clumsily and inadequately worded but it’s not far from the truth.
One of the prime reasons behind the coming together of a few extremely radicalized and alienated Muslim youth to form the Indian Mujahideen was the Gujarat carnage. It reinforced their own radical ideology and helped them in recruiting other impressionable Muslims for the cause of ‘jihad.’
It will be illuminating for both the Hindu and Muslim communities to know what the arrested Indian Mujahideen suspects have told their interrogators about their motivations.
It will be enlightening for the Muslim community leaders to know what these accused have to say about Atif Ameen and his accomplices. What they have revealed about the conspiracy behind a string of blasts carried out between 2003 and 2008. About the plot behind planting bombs in temples, designed to go off at the time of ‘Aarti’, bombs that were made to kill innocent Gujaratis in Mumbai local trains and in Zaveri Bazaar. About bombs that were planted on Tuesday, an auspicious day for many temple worshippers. Bombs that were designed to go off during the time of Friday Namaaz so Muslims don’t get killed.
It will be illuminating for the Hindu nationalists to know what arrested RSS workers have said about the conspiracy behind the blasts of Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express. It will be illuminating for the Hindus to know why only followers of RSS and radical Hindutva groups like Abhinav Bharat decided to bomb mosques and Muslim neighbourhoods. It will be illuminating to know the full truth of Gujarat 2002.
The quest for truth and justice cannot be left to the police and the courts alone. It has to start with each of us.
Shakeel Ahmed shouldn’t backtrack as he seems to be doing in the wake of all-round condemnation. He should instead say the following:
Acts of terrorism have no place in any civilized society. It’s against humanity; it’s against the tenets of Islam and Hinduism. Religious extremism—whether of the majority community or of minority—is against the idea of India.
Both the politics of Hindutva and the doctrine of militant Islam militate against the founding values of our nation. We chose to be a secular republic. We chose to give equal rights and equal justice to our minorities.
While it’s true that there are elements in Pakistan who have been sponsoring and funding terrorism in our country, it’s also true that they have been finding willing allies in a handful of Muslim youth of this country.
While it’s true that riots had occurred before 2002 as well, the Gujarat riots are a festering wound for many of our fellow Indians.
It’s the organized nature of the killings, the tacit state support and the complete subversion of justice system that sets the 2002 riots apart.
Many of the Indian Mujahideen suspects took to terrorism to avenge the Gujarat killings. They targeted temples and Hindu neighbourhoods. In retaliation, a handful of RSS workers decided to bombs mosques and kill innocent Muslims. The police instead of finding the real culprits went after innocent followers of SIMI and Ahle Hadith. Scores of innocent Muslims were wrongly implicated in blast cases. Many are still facing farcical trials. The prejudiced and unjust state action is an attempt to discredit and malign the whole community causing further alienation and resentment.
We need to break this vicious cycle of religious violence, communal hatred and injustice. We need no less than a truth and reconciliation commission. Those who have blood on their hands need to face the full might of justice. But let’s also try and eradicate the root causes of all religious violence.
Let’s work towards restoring the faith in our democracy, in our criminal justice system and in our capacity to dispense justice for all.
Ashish Khetan is founder of the website www.gulail.com