October  2001 

Image and reality

The daily television coverage of events post-September 11 offers images that are a chilling caricature of each other. Images of US President George W Bush and British Prime
Minister Tony Blair — having to contend with their multiracial, multi-ethnic and multireligious constituencies, that include millions of Muslims — making all-out effort to
emphasise that Islam is not about terrorism and violence, that Osama bin Laden and his ilk are “blots on a great world faith”. On the other hand, taped recordings of Laden and
other Al Qaeda spokesmen, telecast by Al Jazeera say the exact opposite; what happened on September 11 was in fact part of an Islamic jihad against the non–believers and that it was the bounden duty of every Muslim to lend his strength to the cause.

In a world forever changed post-September 11, we have tried to do justice to the calamitous events while injecting a fresh, and much-needed perspective. Our collection of articles for the cover story, Islam — A Moment of Truth, reflects serious and honest introspection among Muslims, both from societies where Islam is the dominant religion and from Muslims in the West. The welcome introspection and the issues raised by Muslims have been prompted by the fact of the sheer hatred and rage in the violence of the attacks — in the name of Islam.

From a human perspective, when the twin towers of the World Trade Centre came crashing down, taking nearly 6,000 men and women – some reports say several thousand more have died but they do not or cannot figure in official US records, for they were illegal immigrant workers — belonging to 26 different nationalities perished instantly. But the WTC and the Pentagon that was also attacked symbolised everything that was hated about America. In the weeks that followed, in a series of reprisal attacks, Arabs and Asians all over

North America were targeted. A Sikh mistaken for an Arab and a Pakistani grocer were shot dead.
It is just such a spiral of violence, hatred and reprisals that the perpetrators of the crime committed on September 11 wished to unleash. As we go to press, chilling reports of scattered instances of chemical poisoning using Anthrax have been reported from the USA. Meanwhile, if the already week-long bombing of Afghanistan continues mindlessly, and the hapless Afghan people are victimised by a war in which they have no part except as victims, more resentments will be stashed away for safe keeping, not by the victims but spokesman not appointed by them. To be encashed at some future date.

On the threshold of the 21st century, humankind needs to rise above the time–tested feelings of revenge and anger that have our dominanted our responses for centuries. An accompanying piece, on how Osama became ‘CIA Bin Laden’ exposes rank American duplicity on issues of morality and human rights when it comes to US interests.

We in the subcontinent should be particularly sobered by recent events. The war is currently being waged elsewhere but with India and Pakistan — both nuclear powers now — staring at each other in barely-concealed hostility, there is the real danger of hawks seeing in the present the moment they have been waiting for.

Our government was quick to seize the opportunity offered by the WTC bombings to ban the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) — an outfit that, we are told, is implicated in 14 terrorist attacks apart from it being anti-democratic and sworn to pan–Islamism. But the BJP–led government ignored persistent demands from the governments of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to simultaneously ban the Bajrang Dal. The action smacks of a selective application of the law.

Meanwhile, sinister plans by the Hindutva brigade are afoot to communalise the hinterland – villages and kasbahs — in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. ‘Jalabhishek’ and ‘trishul diksha’ programmes are being conducted to arm their cadres, ‘spiritually’ and materially in preparation for the proposed construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on and after March 12 next year. Our special report looks at these ominous developments. Despite their track record pre-1992 (culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid), the law and order machinery seems content to act discreetly in a case-by-case fashion without seeing the larger implications of the mobilisation and the by now familiar pattern to polarise the polity.

International developments have provided a heady, and ready-made dose of adrenalin to feed the anti–Muslim rhetoric of the sangh parivar. It will be a tragedy for all Indians if they succeed, yet again.




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