Examining the broad ideas in Tufail Ahmed's recent book, Jihadist Threat To India: The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim.
To many of the India’s elite —if not most— the political idea called India took birth on August 15, 1947. The “Republic of India” is a Western project against the Kiplingian backdrop of “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. Seven decades of its pursuit, and now the West, to our elite, has become the beacon of modernity and represents all that is good on this planet. Secularism is the catch-line for this colonised Indian polity who deem communalisation of the majority as the biggest threat to the Nation, cautioned by the story of National-Socialist Germany of the West.
In their zeal to ape this west-inspired idea, India’s elite have largely lost their original lens to analyse any issue. True that Nationhood has lost its earlier significance today, but so has the concept of majority and minority within a nation. Communalisation among India’s minority community, which is incidentally a contender for a global majority, too can pose a significant threat to the integrity of our nation, fuelled as it is, by international support in today’s ever-shrinking, connected world. Islamism, a pan-national pursuit of extremism, is deemed to have a much stronger potential of success in India than any other form of extremism, after its success in many countries, from Iraq to Nigeria. India’s elite has chosen to remain oblivious to this fact.
Tufail Ahmad dreams of a Republic of India that is build upon the noble ideas of the West: Rationality and Humanism. Unlike India’s mentally colonised elite, he has not lost his own independent lens to inform his worldview. When Professor S. Guhan, a noted secularist, heralded that banning Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is in the interest of secularism, Tufail, then a student of the Aligarh Muslim University, wrote a letter to the Times of India advocating a restoration of his individual freedom of thinking, freedom to read the banned book.
Do we spot a Rousseau in him: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”? He is the eternal rebel —he did attend JNU for one thing—who parrots no clichéd slogans but seeks Azadi from manmade barriers to humanism. Though a rebel, each of his ideas is constructive, devoid of any rhetoric, each of them demands serious attention equally from the sociologists and the national policy-makers.
Tufail’s life, which started from studying at a village madrassa, unfolded in no lesser dramatic way since then— he went underground; then went to JNU; and eventually has ended up as the Director of South Asian Studies Project in a think tank at Washington D.C. His modesty belies his achievements; his melancholy may betray the personal sacrifices he made in his journey to humanism, but it is ultimately his writings that tell us why Tufail is so unique. He has the enviable acumen to state the facts that help the reader perceive “the big picture” without being told about any grandiose theories and narratives.
The book is a compilation of about 70 articles of varying length — some published in mainstream or alternative media, some are his research papers. The articles are multi-faceted: some analyse Pakistan—to paraphrase Tarek Fateh, “the original Islamic State” — its state of affairs and its designs against India, with hard data; some document the rise of Islamism in India being fuelled by global Islamism; and, some strategise effective policy-making for India.
Ultimately, defeating Islamism requires a two-pronged strategy operating at the intellectual as well as the physical plane. The intellectual strategy consists of debating radicalisation, ensuring proper functions by the media and the education system. On the physical plane, the key is the implementation of proper law and order. After all, maintaining law and order, Tufail notes, is of paramount significance for the Indian state, to remain both secular and liberal. Law and order must ensure that free speech including criticism of any aspect of Islam should not invite back any attack on the speaker.
Islamism is a political idea that commences its journey from the top echelons of the society: the idea of Pakistan that came from a few students of Cambridge University and rebuffed as chimerical by the then political leadership was materialised in one and a half decade. Anti-Kashmiri Pandit slogans raised at Srinagar University, quickly turned into terrorism with popular support to expel Pandits out of the valley. Therefore, growing support for Islamism, sometimes in the form of sympathy and support for killers of Charlie Hebdo staff, other times direct endorsement of ISIS or al-Qaeda in social media from educated Indian Muslims, raises serious concern.
As an antidote, India needs to debate radicalisation and Islamism transparently. He points out clearly, as a case by case basis, that the interpretation of religious injunction for violence by the Islamists is often not altogether incongruous; the scriptural reading of peace and plurality by mainstream clergy after an Islamist attack is not always beyond question. Transparency in debate is the only way to ensure Islamic reform that will make Islamists devoid of religious or social support.
Controlling educational narrative is also important to guide the young minds. For example, the textbooks of Pakistan, the home to the most ancient urban civilisation, the Indus Valley Civilisation, starts their history from Mohammed bin Qasim’s conquest of Sindh at 712 AD! The balance in one’s worldview is surely impaired with such an education. The Indian government too should ensure that every child of the age group 6–14 is given an education enriched with science and mathematics, not exactly the kind of education promoted by Deoband and received by quite a large section of Muslim Indians.
The other point Tufail makes is about encounter killings which are, generally, glorified in Indian popular culture such as in Bollywood movies— cops seasoned in encounter killings become heroes. This definitely reflects weakness or total absence of counter-terrorism or anti-extremism laws that passes over the responsibility of maintaining the law and order from the law-makers to law-breakers among the cops. Encounter killings demoralise the force; illegality and surreptitiousness strengthen extremism, as a rule. The State must resort to a promulgation of strict anti-radicalisation laws without seeking to avoid the issue.
One final observation… Tufail is a strong votary of democracy, but democracy in itself may not lead to any excellence in values: Erdogan’s seizure of a liberal state could not be checked by democracy, but was opposed by the Turkish Army to an extent. Western efforts to bring democracy in Iraq ended in ISIS taking over a power vacuum. West’s humanism is not a consequence of democracy but rather democracy is a consequence of humanism. Therefore, Tufail’s belief in Indian Democracy as a moral solution to extremism requires further examination.