The roots of secularism are firmly planted in Indian soil. They cannot be easily undermined or shaken. We need to consider figures while assessing the fallout of a few Indians being suspected of involvement in terrorism in Britain.
There are 150 million Muslims who consider India their home. A misguided handful from among them cannot shake the ideals of the subcontinent. If a couple of doctors and an engineer have been detained for allegedly plotting to bomb London and Glasgow airports, it does not mean that India’s secular roots have been torn asunder. It does not make the majority of Indians, whether living in India, Britain or anywhere else, any less tolerant and law-abiding.
There are extremists in all communities. Their religion is different from ours — that is, to maim or kill people. India itself has been a target of prolonged terrorist campaigns but continues to survive, prosper and retain its secular credentials. This cannot be ignored or overlooked in Britain either. Indians, including Muslims, have assimilated and integrated well in British society. We are a respected community. Fundamentalism has had no impact on an overwhelming majority among us.
Indian students easily enter British universities. Indians who have settled here are credited for their values, hard work and integrity. We participate in British politics, in business and in all the professions. This is not going to change.
The attempted bombings are manifestations of evil beyond the understanding of rational minds. It is not difficult to see why some of the poorer Muslims in Britain, lacking opportunities for self-advancement and exposed for the first time to liberal British culture, suffer a cultural shock and become vulnerable to nefarious influences. They have attended madrasas where the priests who taught them were themselves ignorant. They live in the past. They can function and engage only in the confines of ghettos. Fanatics find a willing audience among these young people. They listen to radical voices in a closed environment and fail to fully fathom the evil they eventually perpetrate against their fellow men and women.
We need to address these issues. We have to be alert and counter radical, obscurantist exhortations that affect young minds. What I wish to stress is the need to preserve the democratic and secular life way of life we all grew up with. We have carried those values with us to Britain and that’s why Indians are well regarded here. The only way to safeguard our secular and democratic credentials is to fight terrorism at all levels. There are Nation-States that provide sanctuary to Islamic extremists and at worst actually support, organise and control major terrorist groups. We know the problems common people in these countries face because of the rise of extremism. In contrast, India had had no such crises. Most of the terrorism has been the handiwork of infiltrators from outside.
Here in Britain too, until now, no Indian was ever suspected of terrorist links. Muslim immigrants like myself have always faced a dilemma, which has grown more acute after the recent attacks. It relates to our cultural identity. We have had to ask ourselves difficult questions. For example, we have seen the Islamic Human Rights Commission condemn the government’s anti-terrorism measures. Should we support its position or distance ourselves from it? By what criteria is a British Muslim expected to decide on his or her allegiance?
This is not a theological question. It is a question of whether we choose to live as Muslims according to the political philosophy of our adopted home, or according to the political structures and ethos
of countries many of us have opted to leave in search of a better life. I have continued to suggest that education is the key to understanding difference and hence the route to an integrated, intelligent, vibrant society, where a common sense of core values is affirmed by all, yet where different religious affiliations are respected, even celebrated. As Gordon Brown put it, this is a battle of hearts and minds.
Our current difficulties relate directly to the fact that religion is being interpreted by a few radicals, and this intolerant interpretation is encouraged by a few nations. India and Western democracies need to tackle this global menace of terrorism by reaching out to countries that harbour Islamic extremists. They have to be convinced not to condone terror. Whatever their past follies, the time has come for deeper international cooperation to exorcise the spectre of terrorism. We all have much to gain from such an endeavour.
Gulam Noon, MBE, is a British businessman of Indian origin