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Book Review
9/11 fallout in the Subcontinent
By Yoginder Sikand

The Muslims of the Indian Sub-Continent After the 11th September Attacks
by Frederic Grare
India Research Press Rs 495/ pp 138 h/b ISBN: 81-87943-07-6

As home to almost 500 million Muslims, the largest concentration of Muslims in the world, South Asia has witnessed growing strains and tensions in the aftermath of the dramatic events of the last one year. This book seeks to provide a broad overview of the implications of the events for Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia, the seemingly intractable Kashmir problem and for the security and stability of the region as a whole.

In his essay, Adil Mehdi surveys Indian Muslim reactions to the events of September 11 and the American bombings in Afghanistan that followed, based on interviews and an analysis of the Indian Urdu press. He writes that the attack on the World Trade Centre was publicly condemned as ‘un-Islamic’ by leading Indian Muslims, although he is careful to note that, principally because of the perception of America’s ‘anti-Islamic’ and ‘anti-Muslim’ policies, in private many Muslims actually sympathized with the aims, if not the methods, of the attackers. He argues that being a relatively powerless community, bereft of a strong leadership, the Indian Muslims have, on the whole, not reacted forcefully to the subsequent American military involvement in Afghanistan, perhaps fearful of a right-wing Hindu backlash. He refers to the so-called fatwa of armed jihad against America issued by the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid of Delhi, but notes that it evoked little response. Thus, no Indian Muslim volunteered to join an armed campaign against America or to defend Afghanistan, not even the Imam himself. Likewise, the Dar-ul ‘Ulum Deoband, passed a resolution condemning the American attacks on Afghanistan as a war against Islam, but only went so far as to advise Muslims to boycott American goods. Mehdi contends that while there has been little or no increased support for radical activism among the Indian Muslims owing to the attacks, because of the sense of siege that the Muslims feel at the hands of Hindu militants, the attacks themselves might be leading to a growing polarization in Indian society, strengthening the hands of the Hindu right. Under the cover of combating terrorism, the Government has passed stern laws restricting basic rights, and has banned certain Islamic groups, while turning a blind eye to militant Hindu organizations on which it is heavily dependent for support. 

For the Muslims of South Asian origin living in the United States, forming almost a third of that country’s estimated 5 million Muslim population, the events of the last year have had serious implications, as Amina Mohammad-Arif points out in her article. She shows how immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Centre, leading South Asian Muslim organizations in America hurriedly condemned the attackers, arguing that such killings had no sanction in Islam. This, however, did not prevent a sudden rise in racial attacks and instances of discrimination that American Muslims, like their non-Muslim South Asian counterparts, have been subjected to. The attacks led to growing Islamophobia in the American media, and the government responded by tightening laws which many Muslims saw as aimed principally against them. Arif writes also of the numerous instances of assistance rendered by non-Muslim Americans to their Muslim countrymen in the face of reprisals and of the efforts of various inter-faith dialogue groups working for reconciliation and understanding and to combat negative stereotyping of Muslims and their faith. In general, she argues, the events of the last year have not in any way strengthened the hands of Islamist radicals in America. Rather, the radicals might seem to be losing out to the advocates of integration and moderation.

In Pakistan, on the other hand, the situation is far more complex. In his essay, Frederic Grare writes that despite their radical rhetoric, militant Islamist groups have not been able to pose a major challenge to President Musharraf and his support for the American war on terrorism. Islamists’ calls for the overthrow of Musharraf seem, he argues, to have had little appeal for the majority of ordinary Pakistanis. In most parts of the country, barring pockets in the Pathan-dominated North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, there seemed little support for the Taliban regime, and the fears of Islamist supporters in the Army staging a coup failed to materialize. Grare argues that supporters of the Taliban and advocates of a Taliban-style regime in Pakistan are still a minority. 

In Kashmir, the impact of the attacks on the on-going movement there has been equally mixed, as Inpreet Singh Oberoi contends. She notes that some Kashmiri militant groups and leaders condemned the attacks as ‘un-Islamic’, some expressing a growing distrust of and opposition to foreign, essentially Pakistani and Afghan, Islamist militants who had threatened to takeover the Kashmiri movement. This also led to the fear that the Kashmiri movement for self-determination would itself lose whatever limited legitimacy it enjoyed on the global stage, in the face of growing attempts to discredit the movement by branding it as Islamic ‘fundamentalism’. On the other hand, she observes that the American war against ‘terrorism’ has forced Pakistan to make some, albeit feeble, attempts, to clamp down on its own ‘jihadists’, and that this might help promote a climate for dialogue and a final solution to the Kashmir problem. 

Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to account for the entire range of South Asian Muslim reactions to the dramatic events following 11 September, 2001, the authors provide an interesting overview, suggesting the need for more detailed research on the subject.

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