Radical Islam has Limited Appeal in India: Experts

The suspected links of three Indians to last month's UK terror plots has stirred fears of creeping radicalization of a section of Indian Muslims, but such apprehensions don't square with the moderate and assimilating nature of Indian Islam, say scholars and experts.

The bungled bombings in London and Glasgow nevertheless shattered a myth that Indian Muslims had nothing to do with global jehad.

Kafeel Ahmed, the alleged man behind the wheel of a flaming Jeep Cherokee that crashed into the Glasgow airport terminal June 30, can be said to be the first Indian to have been involved in a major terrorist operation against western powers.

Fears of more Muslims turning radical were stoked by media revelations about his personal life. Kafeel, an aeronautical engineer who worked for one of the world's leading outsourcing companies Infotech in Bangalore, embraced a puritanical strain of Islam during his formative years in the Middle East. Later, while studying at British universities, he presumably came into contact with radicals from all over the world.

Sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed calls Kafeel's "a solitary deviant case" that cannot be considered to be representative of the nearly 140 million-strong Muslim community in India.

"His father was a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a revivalist radical organization. The family lived for years in Saudi Arabia and [elsewhere in] the Middle East. By the time they reached Britain some amount of indoctrination had been done," Ahmed told IANS.

Kafeel was a radical ideologue-in-the-making and often made passionately angry speeches about atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya and other places, Ahmed said.

Kafeel's case had a history of its own, said Ahmed, warning against easy but pernicious stereotyping and racial profiling of Muslims in India.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, an eminent Muslim scholar and writer, stressed the "eclectic, integrationist nature of Indian Islam" that did not lend itself easily to exploitation by global jehadi outfits.

"The appeal of radical Islam is very limited," Khan told IANS.

A tiny fraction of Muslims in India, the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan, is influenced by Salafism - a Saudi sect that propagates purist Islam and the establishment of an Islamic state and even advocates use of violence for the purpose, said Ahmed.

Hamid Ansari, chairman of the National Minorities Commission and former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agreed. "Let's not get into easy conclusions. This talk about Muslims turning radicals is glib and misleading," he said.

"Al Qaeda is alien to the Indian ethos and to the ethos of Indian Muslims, whose Islam is integrationist and is suffused with Sufi elements," Irfan Habib, historian and vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, told IANS over phone from Aligarh.

For Habib, it is the American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and the denial of justice to the Palestinians that feed Muslim rage the world over and provide ideological fodder for terrorist operations.

But the unique situation of Indian Muslims in India and the democratic system of governance ensure that despite the Gujarat riots of 2002 and the 1993 Mumbai riots after the demolition of the Babri mosque, Indian Muslims, except for some fringe outfits, have largely shunned the radical appeal.

"In the last 60 years, whatever be public rhetoric, the Indian state has been responsive to the sensitivities of Muslims and other minorities. The success of the Indian democracy ensures that the average Muslim feels that he has a stake in the system," said Ahmed.

Radical ideologies and suicide bombings, in contrast, thrive in totalitarian systems, be it in the Middle East or Pakistan.

"This perhaps explains why not a single Indian has been involved in any of the jehadi operations in the world, whether in Afghanistan in the 1980s, bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania or 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York," said Talmiz Ahmad, diplomat and author.

But this should not lull the security establishment into complacency. "Instead of continuing to be in denial that Al Qaeda...can make an impact on the mind of Indian Muslims, the government... should take the wake-up call from the UK seriously and strengthen the capability of our intelligence agencies and police," B. Raman, a former Research and Analysis Wing official, has argued.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)     


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