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No immunity for Indian Muslims

The probable involvement of two Indian doctors and an engineer in the latest terrorist strikes in the UK should finally put an end to the ludicrous, but long-held, fiction that Indian Muslims are somehow mystically immune to mobilisation by international Islamist terrorism.

It was a major tactical error on the part of the Indian establishment to invest so much political and emotional capital in the international projection of this flawed notion, and the irrational sense of shock and disappointment that is currently being widely articulated is a direct consequence of this miscalculation.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the country have categorically rejected extremist Islam and the rising tide of violence associated with it.

However, it has long been the case that this insidious ideology has won at least some adherents among Indian Muslims, and these elements have engaged in terrorism on Indian soil over an extended period of time. There was, consequently, no rational constraint – other than the absence of specific mobilisation to such an end – that would necessarily exclude the possibility of their involvement in acts of terrorism abroad.

Regrettably, news relating to these bombings has been greeted with a new hysteria, with many analysts feeding the myth of an ubiquitous al-Qaeda making sudden inroads onto Indian soil.

The fact is, al-Qaeda has and can have little direct role or involvement in India. Al-Qaeda affiliates – members of the Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front – including the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami – have long operated in India and will continue to do so.

Drumming up panic over al-Qaeda’s ‘arrival’ in India distracts from the realities and imperatives of the ground: intelligence and enforcement agencies need to focus on any Islamist terrorist group that has actual capacities to provoke and execute terrorist acts here, not on monsters largely conjured out of an international fiction.

Unless there is clear evidence of operational links between al-Qaeda and Indian groups – links that result in a manifest augmentation of capacities to engage in terrorism – invoking the al-Qaeda bogey serves no useful purpose.

Current reports suggest that the Indians involved in the UK bombings were probably recruited and motivated not in India, but during their stay in the UK itself. This is no ground for complacency, and extreme vigilance is needed to ensure that comparable processes of mobilisation and recruitment do not become entrenched here.

On the other hand, there is an urgent need to monitor the Indian diaspora for subversive elements and activities, including the periodic movement of Indians abroad into the home country.

There is a tremendous need to understand radical Islamist sub-cultures, both within India and abroad, in order to discover why Muslim youth from the most extraordinarily diverse backgrounds have been susceptible to recruitment in the current ‘global jihad’.

Generalised examinations of the ‘real nature of Islam’ and the ‘unique culture’ of Indian Muslims cannot help us understand the pernicious group dynamic that dominates secretive extremist and terrorist organisations.

Intelligence must penetrate this sub-culture in all its manifestations, not only the tightly knit ideological and terrorist core, but the wider network of front and sympathetic organisations that comprise the broader recruitment base of this nucleus.

(Published in Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai, July 07, 2007)





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