April 25, 2009

Islamic extremism in India

Source: The International Institute For Strategic Studies
Strategic Comments – Volume 15, Issue 3 – April 2009

Rise of home-grown terrorism

In March, India announced that its prestigious cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL), would move to South Africa, citing security fears during the country’s elections, which also take place in April–May. Organisers were most concerned about a ‘spectacular’ like that in Mumbai in 2008, or an attack similar to that on the Sri Lankan cricket team recently in Pakistan.

Islamic activists demonstrate in Hyderabad, calling for the reconstruction of the Babri mosque, whose destruction by Hindu mobs in 1992 helped to radicalise Indian Muslims
But the move also focused attention on the rise in home-grown Indian jihadi terrorism. Although it long insisted that Islamic extremism had not developed among its Muslim communities, India is now having to accept that a small section of its 160-million-strong Muslim community – the second largest after Indonesia’s and accounting for 14% of the largely Hindu population – has become radicalised.

The next government will need to take formal cognisance of this development and embark on reducing the threat.

Communal violence

Communal violence was occurring in the subcontinent before the partition of British India in 1947 – when India and Pakistan became separate, independent countries. During partition, up to one million Hindus,

Muslims and Sikhs were killed in ethnic riots. In the following years, serious Hindu–Muslim riots took place in Jabalpur (1961), Ahmedabad (1969), Moradabad (1980), Neli (1983) and Bhagalpur (1989).

Despite this violence, and despite pervasive poverty in Muslim communities, most Indian Muslims remained peaceful and moderate. Democracy and the rule of law provided redress of local grievances, while India’s pluralistic and secular nature offered religious tolerance and warded off Muslim alienation. For the local ulema, or Muslim legal scholars, India is Darul Sullah (abode of coexistence), not Darul Islam (abode of Islam) or Darul Harb (abode of war). While the dispute over the status of the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley has caused wars with Pakistan, non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims have largely ignored the secessionist struggle, perceiving it as an ethnic, not a religious, issue.

Two key developments served to radicalise a small part of the Muslim community. The first was the demolition by Hindu mobs of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, on 6 December 1992. Hindu nationalists claimed the sixteenth-century mosque had been built over a temple marking the birthplace of Hindu god Rama. Right-wing politicians led the charge, while the Congress Party government in Delhi, and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), failed to prevent the mosque’s destruction. With passions inflamed on both sides, anti-Hindu riots broke out across northern India, followed by anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai, leaving more than 2,000 dead, mainly Muslims.

The second event was the anti-Muslim rioting in the western state of Gujarat in 2002. On 27 February in the town of Godhra, a fire broke out on the Sabarmati Express train carrying Hindu activists and 59 people were killed. Blaming Muslim youths for petrol-bombing the train, Hindu mobs went on the rampage. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in March and April. The local police were impassive or supported the Hindus. Gujarat’s BJP chief minister, Narendra Modi, and the BJP-led central government of PM Atal Behari Vajpayee failed to stop the killings.

Islamic extremism

These events had wide implications. In apparent revenge for the Babri mosque’s demolition, Mumbai mafia don Dawood Ibrahim planned bombings in Mumbai on 12 March 1993 that killed 257 people. Aided by criminal networks, terror organisations in Pakistan and Bangladesh – including Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT), the Jaysh-e-Mohammad and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami – began recruiting Indian Muslim extremists to help carry out terror attacks in India, for the first time outside the state of Jammu & Kashmir. On 11 July 2006, bombs on trains in Mumbai killed 187 people. The attack was blamed on the Pakistan-based LeT, but some radicalised Indian Muslim supporters provided significant help.

Meanwhile, divisions grew between India’s Muslims. Owing partly to being descendants of converts from Hinduism and partly to local mystical Sufi traditions, two-thirds of India’s predominantly Sunni Muslims follow the local Barelvi liberal school of thought; the others chiefly follow the conservative Deobandi school. Barelvi mosques seek to prevent stricter interpretations and practices of Islam, but this became increasingly difficult with the encroachment of fundamentalist Wahhabist ideology, helped by external funding. In February 2001, a government report expressed concern that establishing new madrassas (religious schools) with Saudi and Gulf funding would cause ‘systematic indoctrination’, even though less than 4% of Muslim children attended madrassas.

Muslims’ grievances were exacerbated by their low socio-economic status; the official Sachar Committee report of 2006 said this was only just above that of dalits (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) and tribal people. Muslims only account for 3% of the Indian Administrative Service, 1.8% of the Indian Foreign Service and 4% of the Indian police.

Several Indian Muslim organisations have conducted jihadi terror campaigns:
Al-Umma, formed in the southern state of Kerala, has carried out terror acts in southern India. Leader Syed Ahmed Basha was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007. The organisation was banned and is now believed defunct.

The long-standing Deendar Anjuman (‘religious association’) Sufi sect became radicalised after the Babri mosque demolition. After a bombing campaign in 2000 (see table) it was banned.

The Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was established in Uttar Pradesh. Becoming increasingly radicalised, it has repeatedly been banned over the past eight years. Its chief, Safdar Nagori, a 39-year-old mechanical- engineer-cum-journalist, was arrested in 2008. SIMI has had alleged links with the LeT. Before being banned, it was reported to have 400 full-time cadres and 20,000 members below the age of 30.

The Indian Mujahideen (IM) is the most active, claiming responsibility for several deadly bombings since 2006. After five near-simultaneous blasts at courts in Uttar Pradesh in November 2007, it sent an email to television stations protesting ‘violence against Muslims’, mentioning the destruction of the Babri mosque and the Gujarat riots. Following attacks in Jaipur in May 2008, it sent an email with a video of a bicycle used in a bombing. The message expressed anger against ‘infidel’ Hindus, said the group aimed to destroy India’s economic and social structure, and threatened Britons and Americans with suicide attacks.

IM operatives were thought to have provided logistical and operational support to the LeT in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings. Two IM members already in custody, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, have also been charged with carrying out recon-naissance for, and providing maps to, the LeT for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. IM members are typically young, educated, technologically savvy and ideologically driven. Most have no police record. The reported leader is 36-year-old Abdul Subhan Usman Qureshi, a soft-ware engineer. Co-founder Mohammed Sadiq Israr Ahmed Sheikh, a mechanic, was arrested in September 2008.‘IM operated were thought to have helped the LeT in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings and last year’s Mumbai attacks. Members are typically young, educated, technologically savvy and ideologically driven’

Although Indian Muslims appear disinclined to support pan-Islamic jihadist ideology, al-Qaeda appears to be paying greater attention to India in its public statements. In February 2009, a senior al-Qaeda commander based in Afghanistan, Mustapha Abu al-Yazid, threatened India with ‘Mumbai-style’ terrorism if ever it attacked Pakistan. Although al-Qaeda has not carried out a direct terror attack in India, for some time there has been a close relationship between al-Qaeda and Kashmiri jihadist groups, most notably LeT, which has moved progressively away from a focus on Kashmir towards a more universal, al-Qaeda-style agenda. There is disquiet over al-Qaeda’s potential recruitment of Indian Muslims. There is also official concern about the radicalisation of Indian Muslims working or living abroad, including the large expatriate community in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The spread of violent Islamic extremism from Pakistan is also a significant worry for India.

Several terror attacks abroad have involved Indians. Kafeel Ahmed, an engineer from Bangalore, died attempting to car-bomb Glasgow Airport in June 2007. Roshan Jamal Khan, a Mumbai businessman, was arrested in Barcelona in January 2008 and charged with being a member of a terror group and possessing explosives. His trial is expected soon. In 2006, Dhiren Barot, an Indian-born Briton who converted from Hinduism to Islam, was convicted in the UK of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Haroon Rashid Aswat, a Briton of Indian origin, was a confidant of radical Finsbury Park mosque cleric Abu Hamza, and is in jail awaiting extradition to the United States for trial.

Government response

Although it has banned some organisations, India’s Congress-led government has not officially acknowledged the new threat of Indian jihadi terrorism for fear of alienating mainstream Muslims, who tend to vote for the Congress Party. (That is, outside the heavily Muslim-populated states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Kerala, where they back regional opposition parties.)

The next Indian government will have several options. It could, for the first time, formally condemn ‘home-grown’ terror. It could take measures to alleviate Muslims’ perceived or real grievances. For example, it could enact and implement the Communal Violence Bill of 2008 to intervene, even forcibly, to prevent the outbreak or escalation of communal violence.

To counter Islamic radicalism, the government needs to be seen to be tough with Hindu extremist groups that incite violence against Muslims. Justice has been selective, and many criminal cases relating to anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat have not been investigated.

The influential conservative Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, issued a fatwa (Islamic decree) against terrorism in February 2008. Yet, it did not specifically condemn terror, while expressing deep concern over the perceived targeting of Muslims worldwide. Clearly, more needs to be done. The mainstream Muslim community also needs to strongly condemn and isolate the extremists.

Convincing official action could reduce the possibility that home-grown jihadist terrorism could become a major security challenge. The fact that some key thresholds have not yet been crossed – for example, the use of suicide bombings or commando-style attacks – suggests that the threat may still be in its early stages and could respond to mitigating government action.


Anonymous said...

These Muslims in India are not actually peace makers. The radicalism is there always, but the BJP and Strong nature of Hindus, unlike western christians, who defend muslims are the key factor why these people are calm there in india. Unlike western christians, hindus will not let them do whatever they like or at least defend them with same way what they do.

I have studied all the muslim extremism in all over the world for past 6 years.

Here is my conclusion, once if Muslim get at least 30 percent population in India that will happen within few decades, the muslim extremism will start and India will collapse and surrender to those evils hand.

Being said this, I am not saying that all Muslims are extremists, the way they develop their extremism, and conquering countries are like half percent good people and half percent extremist, those good people will always take benefits from other half.

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