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A battle for the mind of minorities

There are many ways of fighting terrorism militarily and through ‘effective’ policing that’s an increasingly elusive dream in India. Vinod Sharma tells more.

india Updated: Jul 29, 2008 00:39 IST
Vinod Sharma

There are many ways of fighting terrorism militarily and through ‘effective’ policing that’s an increasingly elusive dream in India. But the best way to beat the scourge politically is to contain communalism through cerebral combat led upfront by the civil society inclusive of Muslim clergymen and intelligentsia.

Human intelligence reduced to a trickle in the absence of on-ground intra-community support cannot be transformed into a torrent by security agencies so abysmally short on a scholarly understanding of Islam. Human rights activists, civil libertarians and religious leaders alone can fill up the vacuum so crucial for denying the terror machines their local cogs.

Experts such as former Punjab DGP K P S Gill admit that even the Intelligence Bureau lacks adequate cerebral wherewithal to counter jehadi groups perennially on the prowl for alienated sections prone to tendentious religious indoctrination.

They must recognize their shortcomings to beat the Jehadis on their own ground. How? By encouraging, helping and enlisting the support of Muslim clerics and organizations engaged in mobilising the community against terrorism, Gill replied.

Seats of Islamic learning, political outfits and NGOs like Darul Uloom, the Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind and the Jama Masjid United Forum — who have forcefully denounced terror and persecution of innocent people in the name of fighting it — can help in the battle for the mind space of protagonists lending logistics to extra-territorial groups. “I feel there is no such thing today as Islamic terrorism. What we are witnessing is basically ISI terrorism,” said Gill. “Though belated, the initiatives by Muslim organizations are excellent developments that’ll help check local support for remote-controlled and homegrown terrorists.”

Four decades ago, institutional memory and in-house specialization on Left wing extremism helped security agencies put down Naxalism – a phenomenon that’s back with a bang amid administrative inertia and growing socio-economic deprivation in the hinterlands. “There is no matching ideological or cerebral opposition to Islamic fundamentalism. For some reasons, it’s found politically incorrect to take an informed scholarly approach to the challenge,” noted Gill.

Former Director of Intelligence Bureau Arun Bhagat agreed the focus largely was on the practical (operational) aspects: “We have a few knowledgeable people (on Islam). We need perhaps a body of specialists to be two steps ahead of the terrorists.”

Critical of the “myopic” political class concerned only with the electoral consequences of counter-terrorism, he bemoaned the naxals’ success in marketing a ‘failed’ ideology. “They strike and propagate (their ideology) at will for lack of a cogent national response.”

But Bhagat is on the same wavelength as Gill on the utility of religious leaders for disabusing vulnerable Muslims of propaganda showcasing mayhem as a war in defense of Islam. “The post-Godhra riots impacted the Muslim psyche and were the leitmotif in subsequent retaliatory terrorism,” said a former judge who didn’t want to be named.

“But the Muslims are aware also of the active, speaking Hindus fighting majority communalism through street power and the processes of law. We must build on this reality to give the community a sense of belonging the terrorists are seeking to destroy,” he surmised.

Post-script: The war against terror isn’t merely about bombs and bullets. It’s about keeping the ‘enemy’ from capturing the mind of an insecure but patriotic minority.