It has been a year since seven bomb blasts tore apart Mumbai, killing 180 and injuring more than 800 people. A similar calamity was avoided last week in England, when in the eleventh hour, the London police foiled terror attempts in Glasgow, Scotland and a failed car bomb in the posh Westend area of London.
Both these attacks have yet again turned the needle of suspicion towards Islamic terrorists.
In the case of London blasts the suspects are three brothers who hailed from Bangalore. This has raised questions about India's links with terror groups like al-Qaeda and how Indian Muslims are networking with dreaded terror organisations all over the world and in the process becoming a part of global jihad.
Several questions now stare in the eye regarding India's secular fabric and the Muslim community.
On CNN-IBN special show The Matter of Faith, Sagarika Ghosh raised the grueling issue with a panel of experts comprising former joint commissioner of Mumbai M N Singh, columnist Sandhya Jain, Muslim actor Heeba Shah, President of Bangalore's Quran Study Circle Dr Taha Madeen and social activist Teesta Setalvad.
Majority of terrorists are Muslims?
Nobody wants to stereotype a community but attack after attack takes place and the evidence suggests a simple fact that the terrorists hail from a particular community.
"It is unfortunate to see terrorist attack suspects hailing from the Muslim community. This has caused a huge political turmoil in the civilized Islamic world. Apart from the hardliners, there is also a good majority of rational peaceful Muslims who loathe terrorism," said Teesta Setalvad.
Some quarters feel that Indians are aping the specter of 'Muslims Terrorists' from the West. It is indeed true that alongside the Muslims terrorists, there exists bigger danger pf ULFAs, Naxals and the Maoists, which are all non-Muslim brands of terror and have caused much death and destruction in India.
Don't we see ULFA, Naxals and the Maoists as an equally big threat? Why taint just the Muslims?
"It's true that we are facing ULFA and Naxalites in the North East. But the fact is that the bulk of terrorism problem is coming from the Muslim community," said former commissioner MN Singh.
He said that the impact of ULFA or Naxals is felt only in certain parts of India whereas the impact of Muslim terrorism is felt in the entire country. Today, Britain is looking forward to tightening laws about recruiting Asian doctors. "Innocent people bear the brunt of what a handful of a community does," he added.
Blaming the ‘Western tormentors’ of Islam
After 9/11 some say that across the world, the Muslim community has suffered a feeling of deep disquiet that is often expressed in the form of vengeance and violence. The war against terror has in fact unleashed a hate campaign against the Muslim world.
“Post 9/11 there have been innocent deaths worldwide but mostly in Iraq, Palestine and Syria which is why Muslims feel they are being targeted. They feel alienated in a sense," said Dr Taha Madeen.
The extremist Islamists justify acts of terror by citing trivial reasons such as the Danish cartoon of Prophet Mohammad, knighthood of Salman Rushdie or the "wrongdoings against Muslims" in Chechnya.
"I see a lot of frustration in the Muslim community today," said columnist Sandhya Jain. "However, that is no valid reason why Muslims must see themselves as a force against the West," she added.
"Muslims feel like victims of the imperial West," said Teesta Setalvad.
Citing example of Pakistan's Lal Msjid crisis, Setalvad said Muslims feel West is an enemy because when "the West raised the iron rod," Musharraf called a military operation against Lal Msjid clerics, those whom he had sheltered for years.
"In Pakistan first they pampered Lal Masjid, despite it being under the intelligence agencies’ scanner for hoarding arms. Musharraf did nothing. But when the West raised its iron rod, he immediately called an operation on the Masjid and confiscated the ammunition. This invites the wrath and hatred of the community," she pointed out.
Muslim terrorists in Britain
British columnist and writer Farooq Dhondi strongly opposed the view that Muslims face any kind of discrimination in the West. They in fact enjoy more freedom in United States and Britain than in any other part of the world, he said.
“Radicalisation is the urge to belong to a world movement, to be not a part of Britain. They benefit from British education, from British welfare rights and then they turn against Britain because of an ideology, which is in anti-Muslim itself. If you read the Quran, it says anybody who causes fitna within the Muslim religion is worst than a murderer," he added.
But what about the charges of racial discrimination that Muslims face in the Western world? Do they face isolation, which in turn gives way to rage?
"This is absolute and utter rubbish. The Muslims are freer in Britain and America than they are anywhere else in the world including India, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. They are free to practice their religion, are full citizens, get all the benefits and are in fact pampered by the British and US governments more than their native citizens. It's rubbish to say that they are discriminated against in any sense whatsoever," Dhondi said agitatedly.
The British writer further said that Muslims find it difficult to gel in with lifestyles in the West and hence they suffer from jealousy and a feeling of hatred.
"They have no social skills, don't have the material skills and are therefore jealous of the West and take it out in these kind of ways," he added.
Educated Muslims in the web of terror
Indian Muslims are getting caught in the global trap of jihad. Both Haneef and Kabeel Ahmed, suspects in the failed London bombings, were qualified as engineer and doctor respectively. Then why have these educated young men become victims of an ideology?
"I don't think this episode has anything to do with Indian Muslims. These boys received education in Saudi Arabia in their childhood and later went to Britain. It's in the West that these educated gangs of youth get radicalised," said Farooq Dhondi.
The Observer quoted senior officials in a report as saying that Kafeel was an associate of Abbas, a known operative of al-Qaeda and a bomb maker in Europe. It is believed that Kafeel's association with the al-Qaeda operative dates back to 2002 in Belfast.
Another British newspaper reported that the country's intelligence agency allegedly knew Kafeel's links with a terrorist in a previous plan to attack airliners. It is also being said that perhaps Kafeel was the one behind making the car bombs in London and Glasgow.
"We must admit that more and more Muslim boys are becoming radicals. They are joining jihadi movements and are a serious threat to both India and the West," said MN Singh.
While Sandhya Jain said that the police must find out the training camps of these terrorists.
“These terror cells manned wholly by Muslims cannot work without funding from the West. The intelligence agencies must watch the countries running the illegal arms bazaar,” Jain said.
Jain further explained that the educated Muslim who is well fed should not be indulging in acts of terror is a Western propaganda.
“The educated Muslim has a right to think for his community and that's what he is doing. Muslims should study their situation and then come out with responses," said Jain.
But why are the educated more susceptible to this kind of an ideology?
"This is a new phenomenon and very disturbing. The SIMI movement in India and the madrassa education are taking Muslim boys on jihadi lines. What happened in Lal Masjid was because of madrassas," said M N Singh.
Heeba Shah put forth the point that whenever we speak about international terrorism, we separate the 'Muslim' aspect if it.
"Instead of saying two Muslims, why can't we talk about them as two Bangalore boys, highly specialised in computers?" she asked.
Taking a cue from Shah, Jain said that the Bangalore link, however, was being made into a big issue because it was the first time that the West had told India that it has al-Qaeda links. "So they are basically just telling us to be quiet for some new atrocity they are planning," she said.
The West maybe using religious ideology to buy India's silence and it indicates that such terror is not borne out of traditional religious beliefs but a modern technological belief borne out of alienation and the international situation at the moment.
Radical Muslims and moderate leadership
Joining the debate at this point was MP of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi, who shed some light on why leaders had failed to reach out to youngsters who were taking law into their own hands.
"The radicals have not won over the rational Muslims because they do not belong to the mainstream political parties or religious groups. These are fringe elements and you do have bad sheep everywhere. In case of the UK terror, there is a strong case only against Kafeel Ahmed," said Owaisi.
Many experts believe that in the case of Hindus, there are moderate Hindus who are trying to defeat Hindu extremists, so in the Muslim communities why aren't there Muslim moderates who can defeat the radicals?
"It is very hard to define what a moderate voice is. It is a voice that does not respond," said Dr Taha Mateen.
"I believe a true Muslim is one who says wrong is wrong and right is right. What is a moderate Muslim, someone like Shah Rukh Khan and Owaisi? I could be prudent and feel it is right," said Owaisi.
Coming back to India, Teesta Setalvad said secular and communal parties have been guilty of dealing with fanatic voices in both the communities rather than the moderate ones. "Post-Partition we had leaders like Maulana Azad and Zakir Husain, where are such people now?" she asked.
Adding to her point, Jain felt that Islam did not have a truly savvy voice that could articulate the grievances of the community.
But Sagarika Ghose pointed out that there are people like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Irfan Pathan and Mohammed Kaif who are not bothered about whether they are Muslims or Hindus.
"Yes, even when Sania Mirza started playing, there was an entire community who said she should not wear short skirts. We should concentrate on being good humans and Indians. Every human has the right to wear whatever he or she wants," said Heeba Shah.
At that point, an audience member said that an average Muslim was not against anyone but what a terrorist, who might be a Muslim, did not realise that if they were harming 800 people, 300 might be Muslims. It was in fact, a crime against humanity.
But was there a problem in the way Muslims were viewed, especially by the police?
M N Singh disagreed with this argument saying that the police was not prejudiced against those who wear a skullcap and sport a beard. "These are just minor issues. The fact is that the modern Muslim community today has completely abdicated itself of all responsibility," he said.
To which Dr Taha Mateen said there are two entities we have in hand – a well-organised nation and the poorest, least literate and least organised community on one side.
"To control law and order, the police, intelligence agencies and the judicial system have not been able to pick up the radical elements in time," he said.
Many people in the audience felt that at the end of the day what matters is a sense of belongingness.
“No religion preaches its followers to kill people,” an audience member said while another member said, “Communal issues should not be politicised."
"I am a Hindu and I have read the Quran. What I feel is that if all Muslims just read the Quran properly then peace will surely prevail."
Final words from the experts
Taha Mateen: “We should stop looking at issues with a communal angle. We should only look at things on whether they are right or wrong. If Kafeel has erred then he should be taken to task through the process of law. One has to realise that injustice happening anywhere in the world is the germ of heinous acts. Also the media should stop perpetuating hatred. We need to promote democratic ways of dialogue.”
Teesta Setalvad: “India first needs to talk about the rule of law. The investigative agencies and the police should be transparent at all times so that less people believe that they are picked up wrongly. Secondly, Muslims institutions, as they have done in Benaras, Bangalore and Hyderabad, should continue to spread the message of peace and co-existence. And side-by-side the terror elements in Hindu communities should also be sidelined.”
Heeba Shah: “Religion is an extremely personal matter and it shouldn't be questioned. Like in many application forms after one is asked his name the next slot is for the religion. These are things, which should be avoided.”
Sandhya Jain: “I don't agree with Heeba that religion is a private affair. Religion has a public space and it has to be dealt with in a public realm.”
Responding to Jain’s argument, Heeba retorted, “I think it's people like her (Jain) who are largely to be blamed for the problems that we have.”
M N Singh: “We should promote liberal education and try to inculcate liberal attitudes in our youth. Also all political parties, which use religious names like Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League, should be banned across the board. Also no educational institution should be named after a religion. Lastly, I would like to say that let the police do its job.”
Concluding the debate, a young audience member said, “The older generation has created stereotypes. We all need to agree that we all are at fault somewhere. We cannot progress if we continue to blame each other.”