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Islamic India

WAFA BAHAI –Women (2000)

The West’s selective reading of history


Shortly after the first world war, the French literary critic and historian Henri Massis (1886-1970) preached a crusade against the dangers threatening European values and thought – largely identified with those of France, in his mind. He wasn’t entirely misguided: across the world, colonised nations were in revolt. He wrote: “The future of western civilisation, of humanity itself, is now under threat... Every traveller, every foreigner who has spent any time in the Far East agrees that the way in which the population thinks has changed more in the last 10 years than it did over 10 centuries. The old, easygoing submissiveness has given way to blind hostility – sometimes genuine hatred, just waiting for the right moment to act. From Calcutta to Shanghai, from the steppes of Mongolia to the plains of Anatolia, the whole of Asia trembles with a blind desire for freedom. These people no longer recognise the supremacy that the West has taken for granted since John Sobieski conclusively stemmed the Turkish and Tartar invasions beneath the walls of Vienna. Instead they aspire to rebuild their unity against the white man, whose overthrow they proclaim” (1). These fears are resurfacing today in a very different context, also marked by a series of cataclysmic events: the end of the cold war, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and above all the restructuring of the global order in favour of new powers, such as China and India. Various authors, many of them highly regarded, have picked up on


The Pakistan connection:linking Islamabad to Mumbai page 4 Lost hope? Obama’s impotence in the face of Pentagon policy page 5

The East in the eyes of the West: twists on history page 6 Greeks riot as trust in politicians and institutions breaks down page 7

the Manichean view of history as an eternal confrontation between civilisation and barbarism as they excavate the roots of what Anthony Pagden calls the “2,500-year struggle” now bathing the world in blood. Pagden has taught in some of the world’s most prestigious universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. The picture he paints of world history is a crude one: “A flame had been lit in Troy which would burn steadily down the centuries, as the Trojans were succeeded by the Persians, the Persians by the Phoenicians, the Phoenicians by Parthians, the Parthians by the Sassanids, the Sassanids by the Arabs, and the Arabs by the Ottoman Turks... The battle lines have shifted over time, and the identities of the antagonists have changed. But both sides’ broader understanding of what it is that separates them has remained, drawing, as do all such perceptions, on accumulated historical memories, some reasonably accurate, some entirely false” (2). Despite this minor reservation about “entirely false” memories, Pagden’s vision is a binary one whose founding event was the confrontation between the Greeks and Persians as described by the Greek historian Herodotus. According to Pagden: “What [Herodotus] is concerned to show is that what divided the Persians from the Greeks or the Asians from the Europeans was something more profound than petty political differences. It was a view of the world, an understanding of what it was to be, and to live, like a human being.

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Counter-terror:policies that strike fear into the heart of democracy page 11 House trap:how property is losing its pull page 12

Ideology or folly? The powerful influence of Ayn Rand page 14 Wage on the wire:sending salaries home to Africa page 16

There is growing Islamophobia in India as the BJP’s systematic policy of hate,and terrorism,claimed in the name of Islam,converge.Meanwhile Muslims’ traditional ally,Congress,in power for four years,has done littleto address their poverty and disadvantage.So how will they vote in this spring’s national elections?


Aweek after the Mumbai attacks, the Congress party, which heads the ruling coalition of India, surprised everyone by winning three out of five states, including New Delhi, in partial state elections. Congress seemed tired after four years in power and was reeling after Mumbai and the economic crisis. Yet it prised the important tourist state of Rajasthan from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), even though the BJP was certain it would pick up votes after Mumbai by stressing the government’s security failures. “The BJP put out full-page ads with the word ‘Terror’in big bold letters with splashes of blood around it and ‘Vote BJP for security’,” said Javed Anand, a writer, activist and secular Muslim. “A lot of people were worried, including us. But the BJP’s hate tactics didn’t work; people voted for bread-and-butter issues.” That also explained the success of the Dalit (outcast communities) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which went from 5% in 2003 to 14% on 15 December in New Delhi. It was founded by the charismatic Kumari Mayawati, who became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (population 170 million) in an unprecedented alliance between Dalits, uppercaste Hindus and Muslims. No one knows if the results will be repeated in the general elections this spring. But at least, with the BJP blocked, the communal clash desired by the hardline Hindu right did not take place. However, Muslims are still worried. On 7 December, maulanas, muftis and ordinary Muslims held a silent rally in Mumbai to mourn the dead, express outrage at the “collapse of the entire system of governance, and denounce all organisations engaged in mass murder”: from al-Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkare-Taiba, to local Indian groups. “Not in our name”, they said (1). They organised rallies in other Indian cities too – Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Indore, Hyderabad, Delhi. Muslim clerics refused to allow the bodies of nine terrorists killed in the attacks to be buried in their cemeteries, saying the men were not true Muslims. The Mumbai attacks captured world attention by targeting western symbols – even though most of the 163 killed were Indian – but they were only the latest of the terrorist acts in recent years. In 2008 alone, explosions across the country killed 200 and injured thousands: in Assam, where there is a strong separatist movement, 64 died in October; before that came Delhi (19 dead), Malagaon (five dead) (2), Ahmedabad (49 dead), Bangalore (two dead) and Jaipur (63 dead). Accusations were made not against Pakistan (the usual suspect), but against the so-called Indian Mujahideen and SIMI, the now-banned

Students Islamic Movement of India. The media increased suspicion and fear, quoting leaks from police or intelligence and failing to verify facts or attribute sources. Muslims and the secular left-leaning intelligentsia expressed concern at claims of the many “masterminds”, the hundreds of Muslims being rounded up, reports of torture and confessions secured as evidence. They are especially perturbed that the main suspects are not the bearded graduates of madrasas, but young people with modern, secular educations. “We have no political consensus in India on vital issues such as terrorism,” said Obaid Siddiqui, professor of media studies at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university and a Muslim. “And our politicians are dishonest. As a result there is a crisis of legitimacy.”

To counter Islamophobia

In an attempt to avert the worsening Islamophobia, the Darul Uloom religious seminary at Deoband issued a fatwa denouncing terrorism last February (3). Then it held a conference in Delhi at the end of May, at which representatives of all the main Muslim organisations signed up to the fatwa. The name “Deoband” inspires awe among Muslims and ranks next to Cairo’s al-Azhar in prestige. Most of India’s Muslims are Sunni and many of these follow the Deobandi school of thought. Deoband is an unremarkable town in Uttar Pradesh, six hours from Delhi, in rich agricultural land of grain and sugar cane. Women work the land, treading cane husks to use as fuel, and piling disks of cow dung along the roads on which oxen and wooden carts compete with expensive tractors. The high white domes of the seminary’s imposing marble mosque buildings tower above the daily bustle. The Darul Uloom educates 3,500 students for the 13 years it takes each to graduate; 800 are chosen for admission each year from 10,000 applicants. There are no tuition fees. Adil Siddiqui, public relations director, showed me round the maze of buildings, including the open kitchens where grain was being ground into flour. “The local agricultural workers have a special attachment to us and donate grains for the boys.” The boys have rigorous Islamic studies, but also bookbinding, IT proficiency – there is much pride in the small room from which the Darul Uloom sends its fatwas to the world in English and Urdu ( – and other languages, including Arabic. Although the Koran is recited in Arabic, the explanations are in Urdu: “Urdu is our language of learning,” explained Zain ul Islam Qasmi, deputy to the grand mufti; “We have a strong attachment to it.” Their graduates

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