10 Aug 2008,
In my initial days of interaction with the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), I ignored the clear indications of extremism, indulgently attributing them to the over-enthusiasm of youth. If they had their way, they would put everyone in purdah , I was warned. But they were hardly likely to have their way, I laughed.
This was in the mid-'90s.
Some time then, a SIMI member asked me why, since I wrote so much about Muslims, I didn't convert to Islam. I had so many doubts about my own religion, it was hardly likely that I would accept another faith, I replied. "But that's because your religion is so imperfect, sister," came the rejoinder. "Islam is perfect, it has a solution for everything."
The cocky youngster who made this audacious comment laughs embarrassedly now at the memory. He left SIMI soon after it plastered the walls of Mumbai's Muslim areas with the infamous poster, 'Waiting for Ghaznavi' which had as a backdrop the Babri Masjid's domes dripping blood. This was to mark December 6, 2000. Why Ghaznavi, I'd asked him. "These have been printed by the central leadership, I can't understand why," he had replied, obviously ill at ease.
But the youngsters hanging around SIMI's office in Kurla weren't ill at ease at all. For them, Ghaznavi was a hero, not just because he broke idols and thereby served Islam, but also because he raided Somnath to liberate the devdasis enslaved there by the priests. Seeing my skepticism, they named certain historians and alleged such 'truths' were never taught to Indians in school.
What about the inflammatory potential of such a poster? That was a stupid question, because this was March 2001 and they'd just successfully inflamed passions in Mumbai over the burning of the Quran in
The futile end to a life full of promise - that's what you achieved by this protest, I told the SIMI youngsters angrily. Of course they were unrepentant. They had diligently performed their duty of alerting their community about the injustices being done to their faith. The 17-year-old had become a shaheed for Islam. How come they never thought of taking out morchas for the other injustices done to their community? Why didn't they join the campaign to get justice for families devastated by the 1992-'93 riots? What about fighting the discrimination their community faced in admission to schools, in jobs?
"Let Muslims in
That was the essence of SIMI. They didn't feel they belonged to
The continuous targeting of Muslims, not just by the BJP, but also by the 'secular' State since 1984, the sell-out of established Muslim politicians, the promising start of SIMI as a religious counter to communism and consumerism - all this made Muslim elders go out of their way to shield SIMI from the consequences of their acts.
The Ghaznavi poster was a turning point. But before that, within SIMI, the disenchantment had begun. Its senior cadre in Mumbai had resigned, publicising SIMI's growing jehadi thrust and ISI influence. Muslims would have completely distanced themselves from the new SIMI - had they found the State committed to curbing the RSS after it banned SIMI. Gujarat 2002, the arrest only of Muslims after every bomb blast, the blackout of the RSS' terrorist acts, and the recent