Truth Has Two Faces: SIMI’s radicalism is of deep concern for Indian Muslims
By Javed Anand
Co-editor, Communalism Combat
Saturday, 13 September 2008
FILM-MAKER, OUTSPOKEN citizen with a conscience, and friend, Mahesh Bhatt has a way with words. This is what I learnt from him two years ago when we found ourselves holding two ends of a common problem: “You know, I have learnt from experience that it is not always the case that opposite a truth stands an untruth. Sometimes it can be one truth face-to-face with another.”
TEHELKA’s exposé of our intelligence agencies vis-à-vis SIMI hit the newsstands on August 16. As luck would have it, my article on SIMI too appeared in The Indian Express the same morning. Later the same day, the Gujarat police claimed to have made a major “breakthrough” in the Ahmedabad blasts case in July. It not only claimed to have uncovered clinching evidence against SIMI activists in the Ahmedabad case, but also indicated that the same outfit was also involved in the earlier blasts in Bangalore and Jaipur.
This conjunction of coincidences lent extra charge and meaning to both TEHELKA’s exposé and my article. A war of positions — so, whose side are you on? — is now raging in cyber space, a plethora of e-mail networks and sections of the Urdu media. While the TEHELKA report is being gleefully reproduced, to some of my detractors I am now a “so-called secularist”. The unkindest so far is the ‘Editor’s Cut’ by Shoma Chaudhury in TEHELKA of September 6.
But first things first: My huge compliments and a hundred salaams to Ajit Sahi and TEHELKA for holding a mirror before the mainstream media, offering yet another outstanding example of courageous journalism. Sahi’s detailed report, case-by-case, is a highly credible, damning account of the questionable conduct — shocking inefficiency, callousness or rank anti-Muslim prejudice? — of our intelligence agencies. Evidently, Judge Gita Mittal of the Delhi High Court who headed the special tribunal was of the same opinion. Why else would she slam the ban order in such transparent disgust?
The Supreme Court was quick to stay the ban on SIMI presumably on the basis of fresh evidence produced before it. What the apex court decides in due course remains to be seen. But for now, the investigating agencies must answer TEHELKA’s charge that scores of Muslims and their family members from across the country were subjected to midnight knocks, illegal detention, humiliating beatings, torture and jail: all on false charges and without a shred of evidence.
To this, I would add the charge I made in my article. Secular India practices discriminatory justice for which only one explanation is possible: anti-Muslim bias. Why else are the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu extremist outfits not under the antiterrorism scanner? In the last two years activists of these outfits have literally been caught red-handed, holding or accidentally blown up by “Hindu bombs” in several towns of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and MP. After the recent Kanpur blasts, add UP to the list. Why also the deafening silence of the state in response to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s call for Hindu fidayeen (suicide bombers)? If this is not shameful double standard, what else is?
Having said that, I also have something else to say. Had I written my piece after reading TEHELKA’s expose, I would have started my piece with huge compliments to Sahi and TEHELKA as I do now. But I would have proceeded to say all that I did in my article of August 16. And ended with deep regret that Sahi’s otherwise excellent investigation was sadly, and particularly from the Indian Muslims’ point of view, dangerously incomplete.
To begin with, both keep collapsing two separate issues into one. In the process I am accused of something that, if anything, they are guilty of. Are we talking of a court of law, whether a tribunal examining the legitimacy of a ban, or a trial in a court? If yes, it goes without saying that due process and the rule of law must be the only criteria for arriving at a judgment. No one, neither SIMI nor Bajrang Dal, neither Narendra Modi nor Bal Thackeray, can or should be banned or pronounced guilty without a fair trial.
FOR WHATEVER it is worth, the prime concern of the journal that I have been co-editing for the last 15 years — Communalism Combat — and the organisation that has been fighting for justice since the genocide in Gujarat in 2002 and of which I happen to be one of the founding trustees — Citizens for Justice and Peace — can be summed up in the words: equality before law, equal protection of law, rule of law, due process, justice for all. Again, for what it is worth, I have seen myself as a human rights defender for threedozen years. In all humility then, while one lives and learns, I don’t really need lessons in basics. But as far as I am concerned, what I have said above is no different in substance from what I wrote in The Indian Express: you can’t ban or pronounce SIMI guilty of terrorism without proper evidence and due process. It is not for nothing that I am so full of praise for Sahi and TEHELKA.
That takes us to the second issue. We are talking now of the ‘court’ of public opinion where you and I pass ‘judgments’ of a different kind all the time. Surely, it does not need extraordinary imagination or intellect to appreciate that the rules of the game here are different? Have we not ‘judged’ the Congress Party and the Delhi police ‘guilty’ of the carnage of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and rightly so? Have we not pronounced Bal Thackeray guilty of the pogrom against Muslims in Mumbai in 1992-93? And do we not hold Narendra Modi responsible for state-sponsoring the genocidal killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002?
Why, then, does TEHELKA continue to fight shy, constantly prevaricate when it comes to ‘judging’ SIMI in the ‘court’ of public opinion? Why is Sahi molly-coddling the “SIMI brave-hearts” in his piece, Terror has two faces? Why Chaudhury’s helpless lament: “It is impossible to entirely know what SIMI’s ideology was or has evolved into….”?
“It may perhaps never be known for sure what SIMI’s character and activities before the ban was — or what it has been since, for that matter,” writes Sahi. Really? An hour’s Google search, a little walk outside the halls where the tribunal sat in different cities, could have taken Sahi to the conclusion that enough about SIMI is already known. There is SIMI and there are the investigating agencies in Sahi’s account. Because, a third party, the Indian Muslim is missing, the story effectively ends up making SIMI synonymous with Muslims. The very thought horrifies me.
“Scholarly Internet sites holding forth on the organisation do nothing more than parrot the charge of the intelligence agencies,” says Sahi. He surely couldn’t be talking of Irfan Ahmed, an anthropologist from the University of Amsterdam, who, beginning in October 2001 spent a lot of time in India talking to people from the Jamaat-e-Islami and SIMI as part of his PhD research? Or of Yoginder Sikand, who lives in India and who has spent long years researching and writing high quality books, papers and numerous articles on Indian Muslims, their institutions and organisations? Both are easily accessible, in cyber space.
In a significant paper titled, Erosion of Secularism, Explosion of Jihad: Explaining Islamist Radicalisation in India, available on the Internet, Ahmed wrote: “SIMI’s radicalisation unfolded in direct response to the rise of virulent Hindu nationalism or ‘Hindutva’… As the assault on secularism by Hindutva — culminating in the demolition of the Babri mosque and accompanied with large-scale violence against Muslims — grew fiercer, so did SIMI’s call for jihad.”
And here are a few quotes from his article, The SIMI story, written in 2006: “As Hindu militancy increased in stridency, taking an ever-increasing toll of Muslim lives, the SIMI adopted an even more hard-line position, calling for Muslims to avenge the death of their co-religionists by following in the footsteps of the 11th century Mahmud Ghaznavi, who led several attacks into India and is said to have destroyed many Hindu temples. SIMI activists put up posters in several towns appealing to God to send down another Mahmud to take revenge for attacks on Muslims and their places of worship...” What is obvious is that the radicalism of groups like SIMI, on the one hand, and Hindu fascist groups, on the other, feed on each other, both speaking the language of hatred.
At a poignant moment, Sahi writes: “As I interviewed countless Muslims so weathered, I couldn’t but ask myself, ‘What if this was me? What if it was my brother, my father in jail?’” My deepest respect for the sentiment embedded in this statement. My great fear however, is that in today’s India, while Sahi, his father and brother are reasonably safe, someone with a Muslim tag is not. The latter, therefore, had better beware of the SIMI label. It’s a label that claims to speak for him, its a label that can unfairly damn him, his brother or father.
Chaudhury worries over the fact that my article would reinforce the already existing “general English-speaking middle-class consensus on such issues”. I would urge both Choudhury and Sahi to ponder a moment over the fears of Indian Muslims. To quote Sikand again, “Muslim organisations… realised, as never before, that the aggressive confrontationist stance of groups like the SIMI could hardly serve the community. Rather, it had only made their situation as a beleaguered minority even more precarious.”
“Bigdi hai bahut baat, banaye nahi banti/Ab ghar ko baghair aag lagaye nahi banti” (The situation is so bad; no solution is in sight/What else can one do, except set one’s own house on fire). Words from the inimitable Mirza Ghalib, penned in a different time, a different age. So apt, when we talk of SIMI today.
Notwithstanding how Chaudhury quotes me, for me, too, the credentials of the investigating agencies are highly suspect. So pending a verdict from the courts, we have no means of knowing whether SIMI is already walking its talk: armed jihad and martyrdom. But… let the English-speaking middle-class make what it will of my article. My prime concern is the Indian Muslim, whose already-tortured existence is rendered even more precarious by SIMI’s self-destructive, pan-Islamic hallucination. My concern is the conspiracy of silence vis-à-vis SIMI of Muslim religious leaders and the Urdu press. It’s a concern I share with millions of Muslims across the country. What a pity that even TEHELKA, a journal I hold in high esteem, does not know they exist.
(Anand is General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy)
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008
Communalism Combat Cover Story October 2001
Why be shy about SIMI?
The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslim religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25-year-old history of SIMI, have they spoken out publicly against an organisation that is a declared enemy of ‘democracy, socialism, nationalism and polytheism’.
BY JAVED ANAND
Most Muslim religious and political leaders from India have condemned the September 11 terrorist attack on the US as "un–Islamic" but there is a widely held perception among non-Muslims that the public pronouncements notwithstanding, Osama bin Laden is a "hero" for a very large number of Muslims, whether globally or in India. The near universal protest of Muslim religious and political leaders against the September 26 decision of the government of India to ban the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), has, if anything, reinforced that feeling even among many secular non–Muslims.
On the face of it, this seems really unfair to India’s Muslims. For, after all, hasn’t their objection — if SIMI is banned, why not the Bajrang Dal, a Hindutva outfit all too ‘similar’ to the former in its aims, objectives and activity — also been voiced by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, communist parties and, lately, even Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, apart from any number of human rights groups.
But the moulvi sahibs and the siyasi netas among Muslims cannot wish away the problem.
The politicians’ objection to the ban against SIMI has largely to do with politics (both Mulayam and Mayawati have their eyes on Muslim voters in the coming UP elections, just as the BJP–led government’s selective ban on SIMI has more to do with its wanting a communal polarisation on poll eve than with SIMI’s alleged link with international terrorist outfits). Human rights groups protest has primarily to do with their objection, in principle, to the banning of any organisation so long as it does not cross constitutional bounds. Besides, there is the additional and legitimate concern over the implications of this singling out of SIMI (as against a simultaneous ban on the Bajrang Dal) for a religious minority that is already feeling battered and bruised. (See the accompanying piece by Teesta Setalvad).
The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslims religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25–year–old history of SIMI, have they spoken out publicly against an organisation that is a declared enemy of ‘democracy, secularism, nationalism and polytheism’.
For at least 10 years now, SIMI has been pasting stickers in large numbers in Muslim shops and homes, a thick red ‘NO’ splashed across the words, DEMOCRACY, NATIONALISM, SECULARISM, POLYTHEISM’. ‘ONLY ALLAH!’ exclaims SIMI’s punch line on the same sticker. The sticker leaves no doubt that for SIMI, any one who subscribes to the principles of democracy, secularism and nationalism, or believes in peaceful co–existence with polytheists, is not a Muslim, a follower of Islam.
You only have to visit SIMI’s website, to be greeted by the following message on its homepage: ‘Jihad our path’, Shahadat our desire.’ This is followed by the stern message for Muslims who are comfortable ‘Living under an un-Islamic order’ and a surah (Al-Nisa: 97) is quoted from the Quran: ‘Such men (read Muslims) will find their abode in Hell. What an evil refuge’.
The commentary on the above surah that follows reads: "Those people who had willingly submitted to living under an un-Islamic order would be called to account by God and would be asked: If a certain territory was under the dominance of rebels against God, so that it had become impossible to follow His Law, why did you continue to live there? Why did you not migrate to a land where it was possible to follow the law of God?"
In other words, an organisation that has had an impressive growth among India’s Muslims is teaching its youth that any idea of living in peace with Hindus and other non–Muslims in a secular–democratic India (‘un–Islamic order’) is a sure passport to Allah’s hell!
Very many Muslims in India and elsewhere will quote the saying of Prophet Mohammed that the ‘struggle against self for self-improvement’ is the highest form of jihad. But you have to be a fool to imagine that that is what jihad means for SIMI. Bear in mind that for this outfit, Osama bin Laden is "not a terrorist" and Kashmir is not an "integral part of India" and the picture is as clear as should be.
Around December 6, 2000 (the eighth anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid), SIMI plastered coloured posters in Muslim pockets throughout the country, praying to Allah to send another Mahmud Ghazni down to India. Whatever historians might think of Ghazni, SIMI is without any shred of doubt praying for a new destroyer of temples to be dropped over India!
While announcing its ban on SIMI, the Union government has claimed, among other things, that SIMI is linked to extremists and terrorists who are enemies of India. Given Hindutva’s dubious agenda, Union home minister LK Advani’s motives in the selective ban on SIMI are understandably suspect. But what about the fact that the Congress governments of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had asked the Centre to ban SIMI and Bajrang Dal simultaneously?
But Advani’s motives and evidence before the government apart, should anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the origin, worldview and activities of SIMI be in the least surprised if it turns out that SIMI has strong links with Islamic extremists?
As Sajid Rashid, editor of the Hindi eveninger Hamara Mahanagar published from Mumbai, pointed out in a recent searching and scorching column, SIMI was created by Jamaat–e–Islami (Hind) to carry out its work among students and youth. What does the Jamaat–e–Islami stand for? Sajid Rashid: "the core belief of the organization revolves around the proposition that Muslims should propagate Islam throughout the world and struggle to establish the Kingdom of Allah globally. The Pakistani and the Kashmiri wings of the Jamaat–e–Islami are fully committed to conduct such a jihad to meet their objective".
What about the Indian wing of the Jamaat? "The Jamaat–e–Islami (Hind) is non–committal on the jihad question, and claims to be against violence," writes Rashid. How is it that Jamaat India resembles its Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi counterparts in every respect except on the jihad imperative? One view says that the circumstances of India compel the Jamaat wing here to adopt a different tactical position.
Interestingly, those convinced of the Indian Jamaat’s bonafide distaste for extremist tendencies, point out that it is for this reason that over 10 years ago it snapped its relations with SIMI and created a new outfit – Students of Islamic Organisation (SIO). But the opponents of the Jamaat among Muslims ask why the Jamaat is content keeping the SIO as purely a paper organisation and point to the surprisingly cordial and fraternal equation that obtains between the rivals (SIMI and SIO) at the ground level. The Jamaat in Pakistan, as is well known is the ideological parent of all kinds of Islamic terrorist outfits in Pakistan, including the Taliban. The detractors of the Jamaat (Hind) claim that having given birth to SIMI, whose perspectives and programmes increasingly resemble that of Muslim extremist outfits in Pakistan, the public posture of "ideological difference" between the Jamaat and SIMI is merely meant to hoodwink the Indian state and public.
Within India and globally, too, an as yet small group of Muslims have started going backwards tracing the lineage of the Jamaat–e–Islami to the Deoband school (in India) that is rooted in the not more than 250–years–old rigid, and orthodox Wahhabi sect, and forward to claim that today’s ‘Islamic terrorists’ are nothing but the most extreme version of Wahabbism.
Within days of the attack on America, the British Muslim, Hamza Yusuf (see his interview earlier in this issue) had declared, from the lawns of the White House soon after a meeting with President Bush: "Islam was hijacked on that September 11 2001, on that plane as an innocent victim". But, others like the American Muslim Nuh Ha Mim Keller are arguing that in fact Islam got hijacked nearly 250 years ago. To recall Keller’s piece (see earlier in this issue): "Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral".
Every culture, every religion, every society has its lunatic fringe. Indian Muslims can no more be blamed for the SIMI types in their midst than Hindus held responsible for the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. But as Ziauddin Sardar puts it in his piece (see earlier in this issue): "All good and concerned Muslims are implicated in the unchecked rise of fanaticism in Muslim societies. We have given free reign to fascism within our midst, and failed to denounce fanatics who distort the most sacred concepts of our faith".
It will not do for Indian Muslims to speak out against the ban on SIMI. Fairly or otherwise, the entire community will get implicated if Muslims fail to denounce the fanatics and the ‘fascism’ in our midst.’
The SIMI Story
By Yoginder Sikand
15 July, 2006
The identity of those behind the bomb blasts that shook Mumbai recently remains unclear. Some claim Hindutva terrorists were responsible, while others suspect the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-i Tayyeba or the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIM) or a combination of both. In the meanwhile, scores of suspected SIMI activists have been detained by the police.
Whether or not the SIMI was behind the blasts will be known only after a fair and impartial investigation. Yet, the fact remains that groups like the SIMI, although representing a tiny fringe of the varied landscape of Islam in India, do pose a grave threat not only to the country as a whole but, equally, to the Indian Muslims as well. In a sense a response to growing Hindu fascism and deadly anti-Muslim pogroms, SIMI-style radical Islamism helps feed Hindutva forces, leading to further communal polarization, with all the consequences that this has for the country's welfare and that of the Muslims themslves, already a beleaguered and marginalized minority. In the wake of the Mumbai blasts and the allegations of SIMI involvement, many Indian Muslims are now wakening up to the need to denounce not just Hindutva chauvinism but similar Muslim groups, such as the SIMI, as well that speak the language of conflict, hatred, violence
Established in 1977 and banned by the Government of India in 2001, the SIMI's vision of Islam derives from the voluminous writings of the Islamist ideologue, Sayyed Abul 'Ala Maududi, founder of the Jama'at-i Islami. For Maududi, as for the SIMI, the mission of the Prophet Muhammad is seen principally as having been the struggle to establish true monotheism or tauhid. This is taken to mean not just the worship of the one God but also, and equally importantly, the rule of the one God. Political power, in other words, is seen as central to the Islamic mission. All man-made systems of law are condemned as 'false', even Satanic, and Muslims are reminded that unless they actively struggle to be ruled in accordance with the shari'ah their commitment to and faith in Islam is not complete and remains suspect. Struggling to establish the Islamic state, the Caliphate or khilafah seen as a duty binding on all Muslims, and one that the Muslims of India, despite being in a minority, must abide by. Muslims who are 'comfortable living under an un-Islamic order' are warned that they shall be consigned, rather uncharitably, to Hell.
In the absence of the khilafah, the SIMI believes that Muslims cannot lead their lives fully in accordance with Islam. The khilafah is seen as a divinely ordained order and also as the only solution to the many problems of not just the Muslims alone but of all humankind. It is envisaged as a pan-Islamic polity, for all Muslims are said to belong to the same nation (qaum, millat). Islam, in the SIMI's interpretation, does not recognize any national differences, and all Muslims are brothers to each other. Hence, they must be ruled by a single khalifa. Nationalism is seen as a false 'idol', and one devised by the non-Muslim 'enemies of the faith' to divide the Muslims and thereby weaken them. National, as well as racial, regional, linguistic and sectarian identities are seen as a sign of 'ignorance' (jahiliya), which is vehemently opposed to Islam, and represent major hurdles in the path of establishing the rule of a single khalifa over all Muslims.
In line with the general Islamist understanding, the SIMI sees Islam as a 'complete programme', providing detailed instructions on all matters, from the most intimately personal to collective affairs such as the state and international relations. Thus, secularism, even in the form of state neutrality vis-à-vis religion or the separation of religion and state, is seen as inherently anti-Islamic, for to choose not to be ruled by God's laws is a sign of rebelliousness against Him. Likewise, democracy is also condemned, for to be ruled by man-made laws instead of the shari'ah is tantamount to the unforgivable sin of shirk or associating partners with God. All ideologies and religions other than Islam are condemned as false and sinful (taghuti) and their adherents as 'rebels against God'. All non-Muslims are branded together as kafirs, and no distinction is made among them. Muslims are exhorted to give up the ways of the 'unbelievers' and to inculcate an unrelenting hostility to 'un-Islamic' culture and to fully abide by the path of the Prophet. Because the 'enemies of God' are expected to show stiff resistance to Islam, violent jihad is to be waged, if need be, against those who put hurdles in the path of the struggle for establishing the khilafah. Islam thus comes to be seen as a militaristic political programme.
This understanding of Islam and the SIMI's methods of realizing its vision of the Islamic polity make no room for the particular context in which the SIMI operates, where Muslims are a relatively small and insecure minority. It is as if to contextualize the faith and that demands that it makes upon the faithful would be tantamount to cowardice, hypocrisy or deviation from Islam or even amount to apostasy. The fact that to actively and openly struggle for the establishment of an Islamic polity in the Indian context would certainly invite stiff opposition from other communities is recognized, but the trials and tribulations that this would mean for Muslims are, it is insisted, to be welcomed as a true test of their faith and commitment and to have always been the lot of the true believers, from the Prophet's time onwards. As Shahid Badr Falahi, President of the SIMI, once put it, 'The Qur'an itself says that the kafirs will naturally oppose the Muslims. If through any of our actions the kafirs are agitated this itself is a proof that what we are doing is right [.] We have deliberately adopted the policy of the Prophet in this regard. If this drives the enemies of Islam to anger we cannot help it'. An unflagging commitment to a combative and extreme understanding of the faith is thus seen as a sign of faithfulness to the Prophet, and for activists of the SIMI this is indeed a major source of the movement's appeal, faced as they are with a sense of being completely besieged.
The SIMI was floated by the Jama'at-i Islami Hind in the late 1970s. Although it was intended to work among Muslim students to create among them what it saw as 'Islamic consciousness' and to engage in peaceful missionary work among non-Muslim students, a succession of events occurred immediately after the founding of the organization that forced it to take an increasingly hard-line position. The young SIMI activists seem to have relished controversy and sensationalism, seeing it as an opportunity to present their vision of Islam as the ideal 'solution'. Being free of the control of the more moderate and experienced older leaders of the Jama'at, whom they saw as effete and too moderate, the young leaders of the SIMI drifted in the direction of a growing radicalism. In 1979, less than two years after the SIMI was established, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran and in Pakistan, the military dictator Zia ul-Haq set about imposing Islamic criminal laws by force. The
SIMI voiced its opposition to the Soviet invasion, welcomed the Iranian revolution, seeing it as the first step in the eventual global revival of Islam, and wholeheartedly supported Zia's 'Islamization' policy. Gradually, as a result of events abroad and the consciousness of Muslims being an increasingly threatened community in India, the SIMI's rhetoric grew combative and vitriolic, insisting that Islam alone was the 'solution' to the problems of not just the Muslims of India but of all Indians as such and, indeed, of the whole world.
This growing radicalization of the SIMI was not looked upon favourably by top leaders of the Jama'at, who had been working to present a moderate image of their organization, seeking to dialogue with people of other faiths and to promote democracy and secularism in the face of the rapid growth of militantly anti-Muslim Hindu organizations. Jama'at leaders demanded that the SIMI work under the Jama'at's over-all command, but the SIMI refused. Accordingly, in 1982, the SIMI separated from the Jama'at, which then revived its own students' wing, the Students Islamic Organisation. Yet, both the Jama'at as well as the SIMI continued to share a commitment to a common vision, as developed by Maududi, differing only on the question of the precise tactics and strategy needed in the Indian context to bring Maududi's vision to fruition. Following its separation from the Jama'at, the SIMI expanded considerably, setting up branches in various parts of India. It published several periodicals in different languages and formed its own publishing company to propagate its message of 'Islamic Revolution'. By 2000, the SIMI had some 400 full-time workers or Ansars and 20,000 sypmathizers or Ikhwans, in addition to a cell for young children aged between 7 and 11, called the Shahin Force. It also established a special wing to work among madrasa students and 'ulama, the Tahrik Tulaba-i 'Arabia. Most of its activists and members belonged to lower-middle and middle-class families living in towns and cities. It appealed to a class of Muslim students that saw themselves as, in some sense, deprived, for whom its message of the 'superiority' of Islam over the 'decadent' and 'immoral' West and 'polytheist' Hindus struck a welcome chord.
The SIMI's evolution from the 1980s onwards was dictated almost entirely by events taking place in India and in the wider world, these being interpreted as attacks directed against Islam and Muslims by the 'enemies' of the faith. Inevitably, then, the SIMI was driven to an increasing radicalism that won it support among a small number Muslims in India who saw themselves as increasingly beleaguered, victims of both Hindu chauvinism and the Indian state that was seen as representing essentially 'upper' caste Hindu interests. The SIMI organized protest demonstrations against attacks on Muslims, both in India and elsewhere, which provided it publicity as well as possibilities for new recruits. It sought to intervene in and generate public support for its stand on other issues of major concern to the Indian Muslims, such as efforts to do away with the separate Muslim Personal Law, moves to dilute the Muslim character of the Aligarh Muslim University, and the Hinduisation of textbooks in government-run schools. Its activists were also involved in relief work among Muslims affected in anti-Muslim violence, which helped bolster the image of the organization as being seriously committed to the rights of the Muslims. It also provided other services such as libraries and free coaching classes for Muslim students from poor families.
The SIMI sought to propagate its message through mass contact programmes, lectures, seminars and rallies as well as through its abundant literature, mainly the writings of Maududi himself. A regular feature was its special week-long campaigns aimed at creating an awareness of the Islamic 'solution', in which, inevitably, the intention was to 'prove' that Islam alone had the solution to all problems afflicting humankind. Thus, for instance, in 1982, the SIMI organized an 'Anti-Immorality' week, in the course of which 'social evils and general immorality' were condemned and 'immoral' literature was publicly burned. In 1983 the Kerala unit of the organization held a special 'Anti-Capitalism' week, in which it was sought to be stressed that the 'Islamic economic system' alone could provide genuine social justice. In an effort to win the support of 'low' caste Dalits in its attacks on Hinduism, in 1994 the SIMI organized the 'Anti-Varna Vyavastha' week all over India, in the course of which, through public lectures and the distribution of leaflets and posters, it was stressed that the salvation of the Dalits lay in conversion to Islam, demanding, rather simplistically, for an 'immediate end to the caste system'.
Although a forceful champion of what it called 'Islamic Revolution' ever since its inception, the SIMI witnessed a further radicalization of its rhetoric from the 1990s, until, by 2000, the organization was proclaiming the need for Muslims to engage in armed jihad in India. The radicalization of the SIMI since the 1990s must be seen in the context of, and as a response to, the growth of Hindu militancy, particularly in the north Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the SIMI also had a noticeable presence. The destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992 and the subsequent massacres of Muslims in various parts of India proved to be a major watershed in the history of Hindu-Muslim relations in India. While some Muslims now insisted that the only way forward for the Muslims was to work together with Hindus to isolate both Hindu as well as Muslim militant groups, some fringe others, such as the SIMI, stressed that the time had now come for Muslims to wage jihad against the Indian state or the Hindus, as, it argued, their lives and their faith were now under grave threat. As Shahid Badr Falahi, the President of the SIMI, asserted, the Muslims and Islam were now being targeted by Hindu militants in league with agencies of the state. Hence, he declared, 'It is high time that Muslims organize themselves and stand up to defend the community'.
By early 1991, the SIMI had begun mobilizing Muslims to struggle against Hindu militants, censuring Muslim leaders who advised restraint or dialogue. In February 1991 the SIMI organized the 'Babri Masjid' day all over India, holding demonstrations against the efforts of Hindu militants to destroy the disputed mosque in Ayodhya. SIMI leaders issued appeals to the Muslims to 'stop thinking in defensive terms' on the question of the mosque and the growing wave of attacks on Muslims. Its rhetorical opposition to the campaign led by Hindu groups to destroy the mosque made for an increasing popularity of the SIMI, and indeed it was only after the SIMI took up the issue of the mosque, organizing meetings in various parts of the country to oppose the Hindu militants' campaign, that it really emerged as a significant force to be reckoned with, albeit in small pockets, having hitherto been restricted largely to a few towns of Uttar Pradesh. Carrying on with its campaign to generate mass support for its position on the mosque, in September 2001 it organized a large conference at Mumbai, attended by some 25,000 students from various parts of India. At the conference it was stressed that the time had now come for Muslims to 'turn to Allah', to engage in 'missionary work' (da'wat) and to launch jihad.
Following the destruction of the Babri mosque and the subsequent massacre of Muslims in large parts of India, the SIMI concluded that there was no hope for Muslims in seeking to dialogue with Hindus or the government because, in its view, both had turned irrevocably hostile against them. In a letter sent to various Muslim leaders and 'ulama, a top SIMI leader, 'Abdul 'Aziz Salafi, insisted that the Muslims should make it clear to the government of India as well as to Hindu militants that the Muslims 'would now refuse to sit low'. He insisted that Muslims could no longer trust various 'secular' parties to guarantee their rights and that they should now 'establish their own political identity'. Four years later, the SIMI spelled out precisely what it had in mind. In a statement issued in 1996 it declared that since democracy and secularism had failed to protect the rights of the Muslims, there was no alternative left for the Muslims but to struggle for the establishment of the khilafah. It appealed to non-Muslims to recognize that nationalism and westernization were not the solution to the manifold problems facing the country, the only answer to which, it argued, was what it called the Islamic political order. It insisted that with the establishment of the khilafah, all racial, linguistic, caste and communal antagonisms would automatically be resolved and true equality and justice established. The break from the Jama'at's policy of gradualism was thus made irrevocable and complete.
As Hindu militancy increased in stridency, taking an ever-increasing toll of Muslim lives, the SIMI adopted an even more hard-line position, calling for Muslims to avenge the death of their co-religionists by following in the footsteps of the eleventh century Mahmud Ghaznavi, who led several attacks into India and is said to have destroyed many Hindu temples. SIMI activists put up posters in several towns appealing to God to send down another Mahmud to take revenge for attacks on Muslims and their places of worship. In 1993, the arrest of a Sikh militant is said, at least so Indian sources claimed, to have revealed a 'Pakistani conspiracy' to unite Sikh and Kashmiri Muslim activists along with SIMI members to allegedly 'create disorder in India'. By this time the SIMI was alleged to have developed links with Islamist militants in Kashmir. It is said to have distributed posters and audio cassettes extolling the militants, and exhorting the Indian Muslims to follow in their path. In 2000 the arrest of a Chinese Muslim from Xinjiang and his SIMI accomplice at the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh is said to have provided the Indian police vital information on the SIMI's contacts with Islamist groups in western China struggling for independence. Indian authorities also alleged that the SIMI had established links with Osama bin Laden. In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in September, 2001, SIMI activists organised demonstrations at several places in India, castigating America as an 'enemy of Islam' and 'an agent of Satan', and lionizing Osama as a 'true mujahid' and a 'hero fighting the non-believers'. Posters hailing Osama and supporting the Taliban, including extolling the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, were put up in several towns, and Muslims were exhorted to 'trample over infidels'.
Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Centre, and emboldened by the Western concern about Islamist militancy, on 27 September, 2001 the Government of India declared the SIMI a banned organization under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. In the wake of the ban, the government arrested most of the top leaders of the SIMI, along with scores of its activists, closed all its offices, froze its banks accounts and seized all its assets. The two-year ban was notified by the Union Home Ministry after the governments of the states of Uttar Pradesh,
Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh pushed for its proscription in the wake of allegations of the organization's involvement in incidents of inter-communal strife. The ban was sought to be justified on four counts. Firstly, the SIMI's alleged links with militant Islamist groups in Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistani secret services agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. Secondly, its alleged links with pan-Islamist militant organizations and its agenda of working for the establishment of a 'global Islamic order'. Thirdly, its role in promoting inter-communal rivalry, hurting the religious sentiments of people of other faiths and allegations of its involvement in violent incidents.
Lastly, its involvement in allegedly working to destabilise the country, promoting secessionism and denying the basis of the Indian Constitution through its virulent opposition to nationalism, democracy and secularism. SIMI leaders rebutted all these charges, insisting that they had always abided by peaceful and democratic methods and that their work had all along been limited only to 'character building'. Its President, Shahid Badr Falahi, insisted that the SIMI was totally opposed to 'any violent or terrorist activities'. Muslim and even some secular and leftist organizations were quick to protest the government decision,branding it as partisan and blatantly anti-Muslim. It was pointed out that the government had no firm evidence of the SIMI's involvement in violent incidents. The ban was said to be yet further confirmation of the government's anti-Muslim policy and it was argued that if the government were really serious about tackling terrorism it should have also banned Hindu terrorist groups, which have a long history of involvement in anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence. It was alleged that the government's move was motivated by political compulsions, in order to present itself as defender of the Hindus. That the government chose to ignore these criticisms was a clear indication that in the war against terrorism a consistent policy of double standards would be adopted. The message that was conveyed was that the government had different yardsticks to deal with Hindu and Muslim militants, the former treated as nationalists' and ardent patriots and the latter as 'enemies of the nation.
For Muslim organizations this came as little surprise, and although feeble protests were made, it was realized, as never before, that the aggressive confrontationist stance of groups like the SIMI could hardly serve the community. Rather, it had only made their situation as a beleaguered minority even more precarious. As to whether or not the SIMI was actually behind the recent Mumbai blasts it is too early to say. In the absence of clear evidence it would be unwise to rush to any conclusion. Yet, what is obvious is that the radicalism of Islamist groups like the SIMI, on the one hand, and Hindu fascist groups, on the other, feed on each other, both speaking the language of hatred. A consistent mass struggle against both forms of terrorism, Muslim and Hindu, and insisting that the state take vigorous action against both, is the only way to ensure that the recent events in Mumbai are not repeated.
SIMI and the cult of the Kalashnikov
By Praveen Swami
Wednesday, Nov 28, 2007
India’s largest Islamist movement emerged in a toxic landscape suffused with communal hatred.
“Mohammad is our commander; the Quran our constitution; and martyrdom our one desire,” ran the principal slogan of the Students Islamic Movement of India.
Although it was proscribed in 2001, the outlawed organisation remains the largest platform for radical Islamists in India. Last week’s serial bombings in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi, the evidence so far available suggests, were organised by networks raised from SIMI’s ranks. So, too, were at least half a dozen recent attacks in States as far apart as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Despite SIMI’s emergence as one of the principal threats to India’s internal security, neither the history nor objectives of its cult of the Kalashnikov is well understood.
Like many other South Asian Islamist movements, SIMI’s genesis lies in the Jamaat-e-Islami. Established in 1941 by the influential Islamist ideologue Syed Abu Ala Maududi, the Jamaat-e-Islami went on to emerge as a major political party in Pakistan, fighting for the creation of a Shariah-governed state.
In India, however, the Jamaat gradually transformed itself into a cultural organisation committed to propagating neoconservative Islam amongst Muslims. It set up networks of schools and study circles, devoted to combating growing post-independence influence of communism and socialism. A student wing, the Students Islamic Organisation, was set up in 1956, with its headquarters at Aligarh. As Muslims in north India were battered by communal violence, the Jamaat moved away from Maududi’s hostility to secularism. It began arguing that the secular state needed to be defended as the sole alternative was a Hindu-communalist regime.
SIMI was formed in April 1977, as an effort to revitalise the SIO. Building on the SIO’s networks in Uttar Pradesh, SIMI reached out to Jamaat-linked Muslim students’ groups in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Kerala. From the outset, SIMI made clear its belief that the practice of Islam was essentially a political project. In the long term, SIMI sought to re-establish the caliphate, without which it felt the practice of Islam would remain incomplete. Muslims comfortable living in secular societies, its pamphlets warned, were headed to hell.
Winds from the west gave this ideology an increasingly hard edge. Its leadership was drawn to the Islamist regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan. SIMI threw its weight behind the United States-backed mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union and the socialist regime in Afghanistan, and the forces of Sunni reaction in West Asia. “SIMI’s rhetoric,” scholar Yoginder Sikand has recorded, “grew combative and vitriolic, insisting that Islam alone was the solution to the problems of not just the Muslims of India, but of all Indians and, indeed, of the whole world.”
Alarmed at this course of action, elements of the Jamaat leadership sought to distance themselves from SIMI. Others in the Jamaat, incensed at what they saw as the organisation’s betrayal of Maududi’s authentic Islamism, resisted the moderates. In 1982, the Jamaat formally distanced itself from SIMI, but both organisations in practice retained a cordial relationship.
Part of the reason for SIMI’s spectacular growth after 1982 lay in the support it gained from Islamists in West Asia, notably the Kuwait-based World Association of Muslim Youth and the Saudi Arabia-funded International Islamic Federation of Student Organisation. Generous funding from West Asia helped it establish a welter of magazines — Islamic Movement in Urdu, Hindi and English, Iqra in Gujarati, Rupantar in Bengali, Sedi Malar in Tamil and Vivekam in Malayalam — that propagated the idea of an Islamic revolution. SIMI also set up a special wing, the Tehreek Tulba e-Arabiya, to build networks among madrasa students, as well as the Shaheen Force, which targeted children.
Much of SIMI’s time was spent on persuading its recruits that Islam alone offered solutions to the challenges of the modern life. In 1982, for example, it organised an anti-immorality week, where supposedly obscene literature was burned. A year later, in an effort to compete with the left in Kerala, SIMI held an anti-capitalism week — but held out Islam, rather than socialism, as the solution. SIMI also worked extensively with victims of communal violence, and provided educational services for poor Muslims.
SIMI’s polemic appealed to the growing class of lower-middle class and middle-class urban men who felt cheated of their share of the growing economic opportunities opening up in India. Hit by communal bias and educational backwardness, this class of disenfranchised youth was drawn to SIMI’s attacks on Hindu polytheism and western decadence. The organisation’s claims that there could be no justice for Muslims in any system other than a Shariah-based order resonated with communities battered by decades of communal violence, often backed by the Indian state. As Sikand perceptively noted, the organisation provided “its supporters a sense of power and agency which they were denied in their actual lives.” By 2001, SIMI had over 400 Ansar, or full-time workers, and 20,000 Ikhwan, or volunteers.
It wasn’t until 1991, though, that SIMI began its turn towards terror. Soon after the tragic events of December 6, 1992, and the pogroms which followed it, SIMI president Shahid Badr Falahi demanded that “Muslims organise themselves and stand up to defend the community.” Another SIMI leader, Abdul Aziz Salafi, demanded action to show that Muslims “would now refuse to sit low.”
What that meant in practice was self evident to some SIMI members. On the first anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, SIMI-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives Jalees Ansari, Mohammad Azam Ghauri, Abdul Karim ‘Tunda’ and Mohammad Tufail Husaini — the last now wanted for his possible role in the November 23 serial bombings in Uttar Pradesh — carried out a series of reprisal terror strikes across India. Their organisation, the Mujahideen Islam e-Hind, is thought to have been a precursor to the Indian Mujahideen, which claimed responsibility for last week’s attacks.
Growing numbers of SIMI members followed in their footsteps, making their way to the Lashkar, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami training camps, but SIMI leaders continued to insist their organisation itself had nothing to do with terrorism. Its polemic, however, became increasingly bitter. In a 1996 statement, SIMI declared that since democracy and secularism had failed to protect Muslims, the sole option was to struggle for the caliphate. Soon after, it put up posters calling on Muslims to follow the path of the eleventh-century conqueror Mahmood Ghaznavi, and appealed to god to send down a latter-day avatar to avenge the destruction of mosques in India.
By the time of SIMI’s 1999 Aurangabad convention, the ground-level manifestations of this ugly polemic were only too evident. Many of the speeches delivered by delegates were frankly inflammatory. “Islam is our nation, not India,” thundered Mohammad Amir Shakeel Ahmad, one of over a dozen SIMI-linked Lashkar operatives arrested in 2005 for smuggling in military-grade explosives and assault rifles for a planned series of attacks in Gujarat. Among those listening to the speech was 1993 bomber Azam Ghauri who, by the accounts of some of those present, was offered the leadership of SIMI.
When 25,000 SIMI delegates met in Mumbai in 2001, at what was to be its last public convention, the organisation for the first time called on its supporters to turn to jihad. Soon after the convention, Al Qaeda carried out its bombings of New York and Washington, D.C. SIMI activists organised demonstrations in support of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, hailing him as a “true mujahid,” and celebrating the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
No idle polemic
It was by now clear this was no idle polemic. Just eight months earlier, eight SIMI workers had been arrested for attempting to bomb the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s headquarters in Nagpur. Investigators discovered they had trained with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in Pakistan. Soon after, evidence surfaced on SIMI cadres’ links with Uighur secessionists in China, and Islamists in Bangladesh.
Writing in 2001, in an article published just after the convention, the commentator Javed Anand recalled seeing stickers pasted “in large numbers in Muslim shops and homes, a thick red ‘NO’ splashed across the words DEMOCRACY, NATIONALISM, POLYTHEISM. ‘ONLY ALLAH!’ exclaims SIMI’s punch-line.”
By the time SIMI was proscribed, it had become clear even to the most obtuse these slogans were being drawn in blood with Kalashnikovs and RDX.
Proscription, though, has done little to disrupt SIMI’s networks. Several key leaders succeeded in escaping ill-planned police sweeps against the organisation, and continued to work out of camps in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Some States flatly refused to cooperate with police action against SIMI, pointing to the Union Government’s failure to act against Hindu fundamentalist groups involved in violence, like the Bajrang Dal.
As early as 2002, SIMI operatives Sayeed Shah Raza and Amil Pervez were arrested in Kolkata with large supplies of explosives. In 2003, Intelligence Online reported that as many as 350 Indians working in West Asia had been recruited by SIMI sympathisers to fight the United States. SIMI’s name again featured in investigations of the 2006 serial bombings in Mumbai, when key suspects, notably Rahil Ahmad Sheikh, turned out to have had past links with the organisation. In Uttar Pradesh, too, SIMI linkages were thrown up in investigations of the 2005 serial bombings — just as they have been in the course of the most recent attacks.
Fighting SIMI, it is clear, will take more than arrest warrants and intelligence work: a coherent strategy to clean up the toxic political landscape from which it arose is desperately needed.
Sorry Safdar Nagori, you are just a megalomaniac-turned-terrorist, not a Mujahid by any reckoning
By Sultan Shahin, editor, NewAgeIslam.com
In his confession statement, former and now detained chief of the so-called Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is reported to have said: “it is not when an individual is harmed, but when an entire community finds itself collectively persecuted that the cry for jihad is given. If nothing works then one is forced to revolt, take to arms.”
One doesn’t need a degree in Psychology to see that this is the language of a demented megalomaniac, a sort of Hitlerian, Fascist personality, which doesn’t care a fig about what his actions are going to mean to the humanity or what he claims to identify with and represent, i.e. “his community”’. Too much of a megalomaniac, in his psychopathological delusions of grandeur, he apparently doesn’t have the humility – taught so repeatedly by Islam’s Holy Book and Prophet’s traditions - to ask himself: “Who has given me the authority to decide that my community is persecuted and we have no option but to take up arms against the state and the country’s secular democratic constitution, that too, a constitution that gives us more rights – including the right to organise our personal life in accordance with our religious laws - than that of any other non-Muslim majority country in the world including all the democracies in the West.”
We cannot, of course, expect this infantile narcissist, to have the analytical powers to see that we Muslims in India are freer to live our life and practise our religion than not only those in the Western democracies, but even in Muslim countries like Turkey and so-called Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. It is nobody’s case that Muslims have no problems in India. Who doesn’t? Don’t Hindus have problems? Fewer government jobs for Muslims, as the Sachar Commission says? Yes, but who instituted the Sachar Commission? And, then, aren’t people in private businesses, even small-time businesses, better-off than government servants? Communal killings? Yes, but who fights on our behalf, to secure for us justice? Police harassment? Well, have you forgotten poor Arushi’s parents and a host of other victims of police misconduct, indeed general bureaucratic nonchalance, incompetence and worse? Of course, we have a host of problems and each one of us has complaints with virtually every one in the administration. But we all have those problems, not Muslims alone. And the only way out is that we all get together and seek to sort our problems in a civilised manner.
Is it my case, then, that Muslims have no minority-specific problems? No, that is not what I am trying to say. Minorities and weaker sections all over the world have specific problems. Don’t the religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and indeed even in western democracies have problems specific to them? They all do. Indeed, weaker sex in our own families too suffers from discrimination and even persecution sometimes. But do we, as a community, care a fig what happens to minorities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all countries run by Muslims and calling themselves Islamic states? Not to speak of religious minorities, even Muslim sectarian minorities or ethnic minorities or any other weaker sections are not safe in any of these countries and have hardly any constitutional rights to be able to fight for the redressal of their grievances.
Can religious minorities even so much as build their worship places in Saudi Arabia, a country which is the birth place of Islam and whose ruler calls himself the custodian of Islam’s two holiest places? Nagori and others of his ilk talk of Jihad. But do they know what Jihad is all about? Have they even read or understood the Holy Quran? Let me take some of your time and educate them a little. When God allowed Muslims to fight in the way of Allah, thirteen years after the advent of Islam, He had the grace to explain why this was being done, as so far the Muslims in Mecca had just been asked to practice patience and perseverance in the face of intense persecution on account of just their faith. This explanation has several points and I have dealt with them in other articles, but the relevant point for us now is the following.
Allah said, as recorded in the Quran (22.40):
If Allah did not check one set of people by means of another there would surely have been pulled down temples, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid His (cause); for verily Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might (Able to enforce His Will).
Well-known and perhaps the most universally respected exegesist and commentator and translator of the Holy Quran Yusuf Ali explains:
This was the first occasion on which fighting-in self-defence-was permitted (22.39). To allow a righteous people to fight against a ferocious and mischief-loving people was fully justified. But the justification was far greater here, when the little Muslim community was not only fighting for its own existence against the Makkan Quraish, but for the very existence of the Faith in the One True God. They had as much right to be in Makkah and worship in the Ka'ba as the other Quraish; yet they were exiled for their Faith. It affected not the faith of one peculiar people. The principle involved was that of all worship, Jewish or Christian as well as Muslim, and of all foundations built for pious uses. (22.40)
So clearly, Muslims were allowed Jihad in the sense of Qital -- fighting with arms as against struggling against one’s own ego and society, etc. in an ideological sense, the primary sense of Jihad -- not just to defend Islam and their own survival as a religious community, but mainly to defend religious freedom per se, the religious freedom of all peoples regardless of their religion. Now does this not make it our duty to fight for the religious rights of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Muslim countries first before talking about religious freedom in India and other secular democracies?
But have we ever demanded the rights of Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc. to be allowed to build their religious places in Saudi Arabia and have them protected in other Muslim countries? I must have very high hopes from my community, too high hopes perhaps, even to be asking this question. One frail lady – well, not so frail really – Taslima Nasreen talked, just talked and wrote about the mistreatment of religious minorities in Bangladesh. She should have become our hero; she was doing what we should have been doing, but no she becomes a hate figure for us. We don’t even want our country to grant her the permission to live in here in exile, hounded out as she has been from this so-called Muslim country of her birth. We want to hound her out of here too. Our elected representatives throw rotten eggs on her person, or worse, try to harm her physically. We take no action; don’t even oppose this vandalism and feel no shame in calling ourselves Muslims. Do we even know what it means to be a Muslim?
I sometimes wonder how many of Muslims, among those who seem to have so many complaints and grievances in India, would like to go and live in a so-called Islamic country? Would Shabana Azmi, for instance, want to go and live in a somewhat liberal Pakistan, not to speak of the nations of complete darkness and pre-Islamic Jahiliya like Saudi Arabia and Iran? I am perhaps being unfair to drag someone like Ms Azmi in this discussion. She has every right in our country to make the kind of complaints she did and pass observations of the kind she did, except that she chose a very wrong time to do that. The present time is not the time for sensible people like her to come out and make statements that seem to buttress the arguments of the likes of Safdar Nagori.
But in a sense her complaints also reveal the freedom that Muslims enjoy in this country. Have you heard a prominent Pakistani Hindu complaining? Well, do you know of any prominent Pakistani Hindu? We did hear of a Hindu having been elevated to the position of a chief justice of Pakistan Supreme Court recently. And that was great and unexpected and very pleasant news. But can you imagine a Hindu citizen of Pakistan ever becoming the president of the country, even if that were just a ceremonial position? In fact, that will perhaps be constitutionally impossible.
So, Safdar Nagori, and the likes of you, I want to tell you, that yes, we have problems, like the rest of India, indeed the rest of humanity, and we are trying to sort them out in our own bungling ways. We know there are no short cuts, ever, anywhere, in anything we humans undertake. You want to proclaim and establish an Islamic state and an Islamic caliphate. But you must be nuts, really. Which Islam are you talking about? Can you tell me, please? Saudi Islam, which has destroyed all our beloved shrines and signs of even the Prophet’s and Sahaba-e-Karam’s and Khulafae’s Rashedeen’s very existence? Or Pakistani Islam, which doesn’t even allow Muslims feeling safe in going to a mosque to pray, where devout Muslim mothers have started restraining their children from going to mosques to pray as they can’t be sure that they will come back alive? Wahhabi Islam, surely, that must be what you mean, but now there are so many strains of Wahhabi Islam itself. Pray which Islam do you mean, when you say Islam, and can you be sure that even if your particular version of Islam is victorious it will not split and cause further bloodshed in the cause of a new version of Islam?
Dear Nagori, do please consider the possibility that you are nuts and leave us alone. But I must have too high hopes from you, as I have from my community. Could we have asked Hitler and Mussolini to act with sense? Hardly. So, we, the members of the larger society, which wants to live in peace and prosper and solve its problems in its own lazy way, have no option but to keep you and your colleagues and followers under restraint. Some innocents also will suffer in the process, as perhaps some already have. But the responsibility for that rests squarely with you, and the likes of Ahmad Bukhari who want to make political capital out of this, are doing no service to the community they claim to serve. There are times when at least temporarily, even the political opportunists and time-servers should suspend their normal activities and keep quiet in the larger interests of the society.
The author can be reached at editor@NewAgeIslam.com
Exclusive to Rediff.com: SIMI chief's shocking revelations
Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
August 21, 2008 23:56 IST
From a moderate start to a dreaded terror outfit, the Students Islamic Movement of India has come a long way.
Though the theories attached to the shift in stance by SIMI are relatively old, Safdar Nagori, the most prominent face of the banned outfit, said in his confession statement before the Madhya Pradesh police that SIMI had decided to intensify operations in India in 2001 after it had been banned by the then National Democratic Alliance government.
Nagori in his confession statement admitted that he and his men had undertaken a massive recruitment drive. In the process, they recruited several youth to the outfit following which training was imparted to each of them. He said that the idea was to transform SIMI into a militant outfit.
The confession is very much on the lines of the interview given by Nagori prior to the outfit's ban.
In the interview, he said it is not when an individual is harmed, but when an entire community finds itself collectively persecuted that the cry for jihad is given. If nothing works then one is forced to revolt, take to arms.
Nagori said that he was an extremist and not a fundamentalist and his actions were never on the basis of religion.
"I was pained and angered by the atrocities against Muslims worldwide and the turning point was the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots only made matters worse," he said.
Giving details about the training programme, Nagori said that nearly 25,000 SIMI activists met in Mumbai in 2001 and this was the first time that the call for jihad was given.
The meeting also hailed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as a true warrior. Prior to Nagori's arrest, there were 400 active SIMI members known as the Ansars and 20,000 Ikhwans who were ordinary members.
The training programme for SIMI began in Jammu and Kashmir. They trained along with the Hizbul Mujahideen. Following this, the selected cadres were assigned to major terror operations in the country.
Further, he also gave information regarding a training camp in Choral, Madhya Pradesh. He confessed that the training camp in Choral was unique and was used to train different classes of militants for different kinds of operations.
Nagori also spoke at length about the manner in which the SIMI split into two groups, thanks to differences of opinion. He said during his interrogation that the main reason for the split was due to ideological differences between his faction and the Misba-ul-Islam faction.
While the Islam faction wanted the SIMI to have a more moderate approach, Nagori pressed for a more aggressive view. Nagori made the same claim during his narco-analysis which was conducted in Bengaluru recently.
He said that SIMI did give it a try to sort out the differences and they met at Ujjain. Nagori found that he had a majority of the members supporting him. This is when he decided to breakaway and carry forward the outfit with his ideology.
Nagori also spoke about his idea of recruiting more educated youth into the outfit. He said that persons from an IT background were preferred and in this regard a technical cell was also started. He said the idea of recruiting persons from an IT background was because these persons could remain low key and they were excellent planners.
Nagori also mentioned about the Shaheen Force, an all-woman wing of SIMI. He explained during his confession and narco-analysis that women could convince their children easily to take the SIMI route and hence he had decided to float this wing.
He felt that women could help boost the membership of SIMI
An interview with Ajit Sahi of "SIMI fictions" fame
Ajit Sahi, a journalist with the weekly Tehelka, recently created a storm with his investigation of cases of scores of innocent Muslims languishing in jails falsely accused by the police of being members of the outlawed Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and of being behind a string of bomb blasts and other terror acts across India.
In a series of articles recently published in Tehelka he has exposed the lies of the police and argues that this is part of a premeditated campaign to wrongly implicate and harass Muslim youths and demonise the Muslim community. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about his investigations and startling revelations.
Q: What made you take up the issue of SIMI activists and those accused of being associated with the banned group?
A: For some years now, the Indian media has been awash with stories about the SIMI being allegedly behind a spate of bomb blasts across India. It's like SIMI here, SIMI there, SIMI everywhere. I have been working with Tehelka for just six months now but I have been a journalist for over two decades, starting with the Indian Express , and that has taught me to distrust the stories put out by the police, by the administration, by the government. Governments lie, and this is irrespective of whether they are formally democratic or dictatorial. It's in their DNA, as it were. So, when the police continued coming out with stories about SIMI activists being involved in all these bomb blasts, my first, instinctual response was to smell a rat. I knew these stories had to be questioned because what the media was reporting was essentially based on what was being dished out by the police and the intelligence agencies.
So, the first thing I did was to contact a Delhi-based lawyer who was defending SIMI in the courts. From him I got the basic facts of the case, of the various charges of the government against SIMI. The government banned SIMI on what it said were urgent grounds, but these were only vague allegations, not on any solid proof. To take one bizarre instance: The background note accompanying the ban notification on SIMI says that one of the reasons for the ban is that among SIMI's stated purposes is the propagation of Islam! How can that be cited as a ground for banning an organisation? Surely, the Constitution of India provides every religious group, including Muslims, the right to propagate its faith.
The situation is really Kafkaesque. The law has it that the ban on any banned organisation can be challenged in a tribunal but then, it adds, only an office-bearer or member of the said banned organisation can do so. But the same law says that a member of a banned organisation can be liable for up to three years' imprisonment! So, then, how can the ban be at all contested? This struck me as bizarre, and so I decided to go further into the issue, particularly since almost all other media persons were simply toeing the government's and the police's line. And my investigations showed that scores of innocent Muslim youth have been picked up by the police and wrongly accused of being terrorists. This menacing trend continues unabated.
Q: So, then, what did you do next?
A: I travelled along with the members of the Tribunal dealing with the ban on SIMI, and from the end of May till the middle of July this year I visited numerous places, including Trivandrum, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Udaipur, Bhopal, Aurangabad, and Mumbai—places which the Tribunal was visiting. In addition, I went on my own to Bhiwandi and Ahmedabad, and met a number of former SIMI activists. Meeting people in all these places and going deeper into the facts of the case, I realised that scores of innocent Muslims were being wrongly and grossly unfairly framed by the police and the state apparatus for being allegedly behind various bomb blasts. Under Indian law, you are presumed innocent until you are proven guilty, but this principle has been completely violated in the case of these people, in the case of hundreds of innocent Muslims who have been picked up by the police and tortured by them and forced to make false confessions. In not a single case has it so far been conclusively proven that SIMI activists have been involved in terrorist offences. There is no merit in any of these cases.
As I said, I discovered to my horror that the charges against these innocent Muslim youth were based on confessions before the police, and we all know how these confessions are made. There is routine torture of the most barbaric kind, forcing the detainees to admit to the false accusations against them. According to the Indian Evidence Act, enacted by the British over a hundred years ago, no confession given to the police can be even presented to the court, let alone be used as evidence. The British knew that the police would resort to torture to force people to confess to crimes they had not committed and so made this law to prevent this sort of thing. But this is precisely what is happening in these cases. No other proof is being presented. According to the law, only confession made before a magistrate can be accepted, but in these cases months go by without the accused being presented before the courts, during which they are routinely tortured by the police and generally falsely implicated.
Q: How do you see this wave of arrests of Muslim youth across the country? How do you explain it?
A: Obviously the intention is to further reinforce hatred against Muslims, to justify the denial to the community of its dignity, of its right to exist with respect.
Q: Who, then, do you think the real culprits are?
A: Look at the record of the past fifty years. The police have killed scores of innocent people, wrongly branding them as terrorists.
Q: What you say about many of the implicated Muslim youth, including some former SIMI activists and members, might be true. But, surely, you would agree, the SIMI's pan-Islamist ideology, its call for a global Caliphate, its radical rhetoric and so on, are problematic, to say the least?
A: The Constitution of India allows for groups to be pan-Islamic, pan-Christian or pan-Hindu or whatever. That itself is not a criminal offence. I am a Hindu. I believe that the Gita is a divine revelation, and I regard it as superior to the Indian Constitution, which is a human creation. Am I not within my rights to say that what I believe to be God's word is superior to man's word? Can you send me to jail for that? The same holds true for Muslims or others. I believe that Hindus and Muslims are the eyes of India, without either of them India will die. Much though the Indian elites want a homogenised India created in their image, India will die the day that happens. I'll never become a Muslim myself. I'll die a Hindu. But, still, it is my belief as a Hindu that Hindus and Muslims are equally my brethren. As a Hindu, I believe that my religion, my dharma, commands me to stand by the truth, by my Muslim brethren against whom vicious canards are being spread and who are being unfairly targeted by the police and the state as 'terrorists'.
I am not a social activist. I am just a simple journalist. Doing these investigations into the SIMI affair and exposing the heaps of lies of the police and the state about the blasts and the arrested persons has made me feel purposeful as never before. I am 42 now, and so far I have been chasing money and highly-paid jobs. But now, after going through all this in the course of the investigations I have been doing into charges against innocent Muslims, I have more clarity as to my purpose in life.
Q: And what is that?
A: It's the purpose that every decent journalist should have: to investigate the truth. I have to speak out the truth and expose the lies that the government and its agents are so blatantly spreading.
Q: As you rightly point out, literally hundreds of Muslims are being wrongly branded as terrorists and arrested indiscriminately across the country for terror acts that might actually have been done by other agencies or groups. In such a situation, what hope is there for justice?
A: Things have become so bad now that even hope from the courts seems unlikely. Many judges are extremely communal and heavily prejudiced against Muslims. I don't think we can expect anything from the judiciary. There's this magistrate in Bangalore whom I interviewed who says that because one person who was nabbed had a dollar on him he has international links! Can you imagine!? It is easy to wake up a sleeping person, but almost impossible to do that to someone who is awake. Going by how things presently are, I don't think Muslims can expect justice from the government or the police either.
At this critical juncture, I think it is vital that Muslims do not lose courage. I think the only way is to stand up against this wave of oppression and engage in non-violent resistance against oppression. History shows that the oppressed have always stood up to injustice and Muslims will, and must, do that, in solidarity with people of other faiths, like myself, who are extremely concerned about what's happening.
Ajit Sahi can be contacted on email@example.com. Ajit Sahi's articles on the SIMI issue can be accessed on the Tehelka website www.tehelka.com