By Aijaz Zaka Syed
"I am puzzled at your silence and the silence of your newspaper on the Jaipur blasts," wrote in an intelligent reader based in the US. Venkat, an Indian techie, (not his full name) seems to follow what I write and often sends me his feedback. And I must confess I often enjoy his interesting take on the issues that usually exercise me, even if I don’t always agree with him.
This one, coming as it did soon after the terror attack on Jaipur in India this month, was a little surprising. Because after my day-to-day responsibilities, I barely manage to do a weekly column and it comes on a fixed day of the week. The Jaipur incident took place on May 13 and my column, even if it were devoted to the issue, wasn’t due until May 22.
I wrote back to Venkat explaining my inability to keep up with his expectations. I also pointed out in passé that we had run an editorial and several letters on Jaipur the very next day condemning the attack in strongest terms.
Back home in India, numerous Muslim organisations and public figures have vehemently protested the attack that killed 62 people. But their voices couldn’t have reached Venkat or the larger Indian society. Because the marginalised, ghettoised and semi-literate community that I come from has lost its voice — literally.
Even when an anguished Indian Muslim speaks his mind on issues like terror and the larger concerns facing the community and the country, the media has little time or patience for these sound bites. The media is more interested in burning the ‘usual suspects’ at the stake of public opinion even before they are judged by a court. Evidence be damned. Justice can go take a walk! Who cares who really is responsible for the Jaipur attacks? Or the Hyderabad blasts? Or the Mumbai bombings?
I wish friends like Venkat could read Urdu dailies. For they’d see how Indian Muslim views these despicable acts targeting innocent people. The minority community is as outraged as fellow Indians over the spilling of innocent blood. In fact, it’s all the more anguished because the responsibility for these heinous acts is being laid at its door.
Prominent Urdu dailies are full of commentaries by Muslim leaders and intellectuals condemning the Jaipur tragedy and growing incidents of this nature.
How much of this has found its way into the English dailies or perennially hysterical Hindi news channels? Little. No wonder Venkat is ‘puzzled’ over our silence.
This is precisely why one has been shouting out, for what it’s worth, to tell the world that such outrageous actions have nothing to do with Islam. Terrorism is an extremist and nihilistic death cult. There cannot be a greater absurdity than linking it to a faith that celebrates life and hope and advocates peace, justice, reason, balance and moderation in everything we do.
This is what I tried to argue after the 7/7 London bombings. Even as one has repeatedly assailed the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and widespread human rights abuses as part of the terror war, one has never shied away from taking on the extremists who claim to speak on behalf of Islam and yet shed innocent blood.
In fact, I see these elements as greatest threat to Islam and Muslims because they kill in the name of our faith and distort its humane teachings. Which is why one has constantly pleaded with Muslim intellectuals and leaders to raise their voice against this lunatic fringe.
God knows we can’t afford to lose this battle of hearts and minds. We really need to make some noise; making it clear to the world that this is not the Islam we know (no apologies to Bush).
That said, I find these expectations from Indian Muslims to prove they are not with the terrorists every time there’s an attack of this sort rather disconcerting. Why do we have to prove our innocence and loyalty to the land that has been our home for more than a thousand years every time there’s an incident like this?
Indian Muslims have paid and continue to pay an incalculable price for the Original Sin of the country’s Partition. How long are we supposed to carry this cross on our shoulders? This is especially unfair to people born after the Partition. The people of my generation and even those from my parents’ generation never had a role to play in the division of the country, whatever the geopolitical and historical factors contributing to it.
Why then is this burden of historical guilt thrust on us time and time again? It’s the shadow of this guilt that has been the bane of Indian Muslim’s existence. Weighed down by this shame, he has put up with every injustice and insult all these years.
This is why while his fellow Indians confidently demand their share of the pie, he is content in his ghettos and grateful for crumbs — or promises of crumbs — the politicians throw his way. He is elated when his identity as an Indian is recognised at the time of polls and is wooed by political parties. But times are a-changing. Today’s Muslims aren’t prepared to be treated like second-class citizens in their own land.
We love this great land as much as the next Indian. Nobody has any right to lecture us on patriotism. And we aren’t ready to stand there, our heads bowed in shame, and take the blame every time some nut out there goes berserk.
Trust me it does hurt us too when innocent people suffer. I still can’t get the image of that young woman in a new saree, henna still fresh on her hands, out of my mind. She lay there on the road, next to a young man, maybe her husband. She looked as if she was in a deep, peaceful sleep. My heart went out to her and her loved ones. She didn’t deserve to die this way. And those who did this to her must be brought to justice and must be made to pay for their crimes.
But don’t blame a whole community when it’s not even established who is responsible for this outrage. And please don’t expect us to apologise. For we too are victims of terrorism.
After Jaipur, RSS and BJP men went on the rampage targeting Muslim homes and small businesses in the old city. But how many of us know that at least eight of those killed in Jaipur were Muslim? All of those killed in Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad and many of the victims of the Gokul chaat joint, again in Hyderabad, had been Muslims. Many of those killed in the Mumbai train bombings were from the minority community.
In fact, if there’s one community that has suffered the most at the hands of terrorists, it is the Muslims. Just look around, from Pakistan to Afghanistan and from Iraq to Palestine, it is Islam and its followers who are at the receiving end, whatever the causes. Not to mention the disgrace it has brought to the fair name of a great faith, distorting its humane and liberating teachings, perhaps forever.
But this goes beyond religious identities and ideologies. Terror knows no faith. And we are all its victims, whether we are Muslims, Christians or Hindus.
-Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior journalist and commentator based in Dubai. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.