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INTERVIEW: Tahir Mahmood
‘‘Nobody should have the cheek to question my loyalty’’ 

Tahir Mahood
Refreshingly forthright, Prof Tahir Mehmood, former chairperson of the National Minorities Commission, talks to Shamya Dasgupta about the follies of the US, the Taliban, and India. Making connections between what is happening in Afghanistan and the Muslim community in India is the "height of stupidity" says he, as is falling for America's "either you're with us or against us" bullying.
How do you look at the current crisis in Afghanistan from the Indian Muslim's point of view?
What I fail to understand is why there should be a religious divide on an issue like this. There should be a common Indian viewpoint. There should also be a common human viewpoint. I don't understand why a single community should stand up and give their viewpoint on an issue like this. I disagree with this compartmentalisation completely. All Indians should speak in one unified voice.

Okay, what would your individual viewpoint be?
Terrorism is terrorism and cannot be condoned. Terrorism can never be supported, whatever the degree and the issue. But at the same time, I can't justify the use of terrorism to counter terrorism,whether it is personal terrorism or it's state terrorism or it's any terrorism. I can't see any reason to justify the terrorism the United States is inflicting on Afghanistan. What the US is doing right now is clear, well-defined state terrorism. I don't know if that is the majority viewpoint here, but that should definitely be the majority viewpoint. September 11 was the worst example of terrorism ever in the world. But what is happening right now in Afghanistan is also as bad an example of terrorism. If a person condones the September 11 terror attacks, then that person should also condone the events taking place in Afghanistan right now. How can we be so selective? Poor and innocent people are being massacred in Afghanistan and it is no different from the way innocent people were killed on September 11. Both are equally inhuman.

Don't you think that under the circumstances the United Nations (UN) should have played a more active role?
Exactly. Why has the UN been sidetracked like this? In 1945, when the UN was formed and the UN charter was created, its prime job was expected to be intervention in crises like this. It is for the UN to tackle all these world disputes. This is a clear case of one state going against another. Where do you justify this under the international law? The attack of the US on Afghanistan doesn't have any legitimacy under international laws. But at the same time, from the UN's point of view, how can they take any action at all? The UN can take action only if a country complains to them. The US should have complained to the UN instead of taking action. They are not above the UN in any way, are they? What is the rationale here? Is the UN charter applicable to all countries except the US and the superpowers? I don't think so. International law does not permit it.

But even if the US has not referred the case to the UN, doesn't the UN have a right to intervene anyway?
Like I said, the UN cannot intervene unless a complaint has been filed formally with them. The UN can only pass resolution after resolution but nothing will ever come of it. But I want to ask a question to you before you ask me another. Is it only for developing countries to abide by the UN resolution? Is the UN charter applicable only to developing countries and the developed countries, the superpowers, are exempt from it? I am dead opposed to all theocracies. But this is definitely not the way to wipe out theocracy. I want you to write here that I think the Taliban is disgusting. It is absolutely disgusting. But this is not the way to wipe it out.

Okay, I'll come back to the question about the Muslim community in India. Following the statements of the likes of Ahmad Shah Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, do you think that the Muslims are under pressure to prove their loyalty to India and are in a dilemma?
Is this country someone's father's country? Who is anyone to ask for my loyalty to my country? I am as much Indian as you are and as much as any other Muslim in the country is or as much as any person from any community is. I was born in this country and I was brought up in this country and no one has a right to question my loyalty to India. And I also feel I should be allowed to be loyal or disloyal to India. But irrespective of whether I am loyal to my country or not, I don't think anyone can ask me about it. I think it is stupid to even talk about it.

But it is happening, isn't it? The Muslim in India is in a dilemma, isn't that so?
So many things are happening in this country that shouldn't happen. Is the majority of this country in a dilemma? I don't see why anyone should be in a dilemma. If, under the circumstances, supporting the US is loyalty, then I am disloyal to India as well, because I don't condone what is happening. No one should have the cheek to ask me or anyone about his or her loyalty. Please note this and quote it exactly as I am saying it; nobody in or outside India should have the cheek to question my loyalty. No one has any legal, moral or constitutional right to question my loyalty to India.

Seeing the issue from the Sharia point of view, who do you think is allowed to issue a fatwa the way the Shahi Imam has done?
Nobody. No one has the right to issue a fatwa like this. A fatwa has no place under the Sharia. Fatwa is just legal counselling and nothing more. It can't be used under any circumstances where the Muslim laws are not applicable. Muslim laws are not applicable in this country because Muslim laws do not govern this country. Some cases can be solved this way - things which are under Muslim laws. A case of divorce or of a remarriage can be discussed under this, but not issues like this. It is nonsensical to issue a fatwa on this. It is an oxymoron, because it doesn't stand.

But…
Another thing I want to say here. I find it very strange that we are all suddenly pro-US. Till a few days back, Indians were supposed to be anti-US. This is the height of stupidity. I don't understand why the entire world has accepted George W Bush's threat that countries can only be "with or against" the US. If I don't want to support the US, I shouldn't be forced to support them. That doesn't make me pro-Taliban, does it? Where is the neutral plane? I want to be neutral. It irritates me. The issue here is between the US and Afghanistan. How does it concern Indians and where does it force anyone to prove any loyalty? This is nothing but nonsense. If someone attacks India and I support them, then I can be called disloyal. Why should the question of loyalty to India come in to an issue that does not involve us directly? We can support or not support the issue.
I remember that when Iraq attacked Kuwait, a sizeable Indian Muslim population supported Iraq and a similar number supported Kuwait. But at the time no one was forced to prove their loyalty to India. Why now? I don't see a connection between what is happening in Afghanistan and the Muslim community in India. How come no one asked the Indian Muslims to prove their loyalty when the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan? This is complete stupidity.

Then why do you think it is happening now? Do you think it is because political parties like the BJP are trying to cash in on the situation?
Stereotyping of the Muslims is a favourite pastime of not only Indians, but of the rest of the world. Today, a Muslim is a man with a gun slung around his shoulder. I am not bothered with this mindless stereotyping at all. Also, taking political advantage out of a situation is the birthright of all politicians. We can't deprive the politicians of that. It is their right. Also, I would like to clarify here that it is not the BJP or anything. All parties take advantage of situations and in this case it is a few parties. If the issue were different, other parties would be doing it (tehelka).

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