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Indian Muslims caution against haste

While agreeing that terrorism must be tackled, Muslim leaders tell Kunal Chauhan that India must look to its own interests before jumping on the US bandwagon

New Delhi: India should not rush into any act that can spell danger for the subcontinent is the strong message that Muslim bodies in the country are sending following the terrorist attacks on the US. They support India's stance against terrorism but caution against rushing into any alliance with America without thinking about its own interests and concerns. It worries them a little that India has offered unstinting support to America in the latter's war against terrorism. What disturbs them somewhat more is that this support comes without the US having spelt out precisely what it requires of India.

Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, a conservative and chairperson of the Muslim Personal Law Board, says, "India should not jump to any quick conclusions. Instead, it should weigh the possibilities of either supporting America or remaining neutral and only then act. America should bring out proper and solid evidence against Osama bin Laden. It should not attack Afghanistan just for the sake of settling old rivalries." Even liberals like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor and South Asia expert Kalim Bahadur hold similar views. "India should not be blinded by American rhetoric," says Bahadur. "It should see that its interests are being taken care of. America has decided to act against terrorism only after being affected, while India has been shouting about terrorism from the rooftops for the past 10 years and no one cared. So, it is important that India decide upon what kind of help and support it is willing to provide to the America in its plans for retaliation." Many Muslim thinkers feel that it is best for India to revert to its old policy of nonalignment. It was this policy that introduced strain into India's relations with the US. Saeeda Hamid, former member of the National Commission for Women (NCW), feels that it is nonalignment that would help India the most rather than a precipitate leap on to the US bandwagon. "India should remember Mahatma Gandhi's policies and follow them," she says. "India is a country of deep philosophies and believes in non-violence and it should not jump into any conflict that will result in a catastrophe. What is to be seen is what will be America's next step. If Afghanistan and Pakistan are attacked, India will be directly affected." What worries the country's Muslims is the America's presumption that terrorism is directly connected to Islamic fundamentalism. The Americans, in their grief and anger, have called it a war between "extreme fundamentalism and democracy". But Muslim organisations are at pains to stress that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Qari Mohammad Mazhari, chairperson of the National Minority Development Finance Corporation (NMDFC), says, "The Americans are making a mistake by equating Islam with terrorism. There is no connection between Islam and terrorists. Terrorism can't be successful without big nations being behind it. Otherwise, how can you explain an attack of such proportions on a country like America? India's position on terrorism is correct and it should continue its fight against it." Says Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, "Religion has nothing to do with terrorism. Terrorist groups may claim religion as their reason for fighting but other countries should not fight each other on the basis of religion. What is required is to understand how this terrorism started and then get to the root of the cause, rather than giving statements about eliminating terrorism." One of the commonest Muslim complaints centres around the US' perceived inaction in West Asia. "No one, whether a Muslim or someone from another faith, can condone the loss of innocent human lives," says Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of JNU. "But we must try to understand the reason behind the Muslim resentment against the American establishment." Prof Ahmed, a champion of reforms in Muslim Personal Law, says that the unresolved Palestine problem, along with increasing Israeli violence in the region, has "upset the Muslims largely". The US is perceived as a "superpower that is openly backing Israel against the Palestinians. This is where the problem lies," he says. There are ample cautionary words for the Indian government. Says Kalim Bahadur, "The government should not forget that during the 1980s, when the Punjab crisis was at its peak, and later in the 1990s, when Kashmir was burning, the West, including the US, backed Pakistan. So, the US may ditch us again after using us in its fight against the Taliban. Before we join the US in its campaign, we must give serious thought to some of these issues’ (tehelka).

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