Sunday, November 29, 2015
The Paris attacks and India’s Muslims
1-15 December 2015
The clarity of condemnation of the Paris attacks by India’s Muslims shall serve to silence motivated right wing critics who usually have it that India’s Muslims are mostly silent in condemning terror. However, it bears reminding that while the allusion by a prominent UP politician, Azam Khan, to the context of the attack was certainly mistimed, it was not misplaced.
It is on this count that the India’s Muslims, while not endorsing terrorism in any manner, can yet maintain a critical stance on Obama’s statement that Muslims are not doing enough to keep their children from being ‘infected’ or the position of their own prime minister who has it that we must tackle terrorism ‘without any political considerations’.
Obama’s attempt at straddling Muslims with a guilt complex is to obfuscate the military actions of his country and his own failure to overturn the Bush legacy. He failed to coincide a peace surge with a military surge in Afghanistan early in his presidency, resulting in the takeover of Kunduz by the Taliban at the fag end of his presidency. Attempting to end any further body bags coming home and ending American support for the military template, his withdrawal from Iraq left it to a sectarian regime leading to the rise of IS. The CIA’s transfer of Libyan arms to Syria has provided the IS hardware. The financial support for the IS has come from disaffected citizens of the US’ feudal Arab allies. The reversal of the promise of Arab Spring has brought ideological extremism to fore. Obama’s inability to control Israel’s outrages in Gaza, West Bank and at Al Aqsa have enraged those who have joined the IS, including fighters from the West. Clearly, it is not Muslims, but Obama and the US that have not done enough to reverse terrorism. US actions, some in support of their anti-democratic Arab regimes, have instead fostered and sustained terror.
This is the political context that cannot be wished away. Mr. Modi’s wish that it be disregarded is to miss out on root causes. Peace theory has it that neglecting root causes cannot bring about a sustainable solution. Neglecting political consideration is a call to military action. Military action has not proven effective so far. The Taliban emerged from a military context in a civil war in Afghanistan. Their emergence set the stage for the abominable action of Al Qaeda on 9/11. The war against Al Qaeda that was willfully taken by the West into Iraq set the stage for the rise of IS. Appropriating the Arab Spring for their purposes, the West destabilized Libya first and later, Syria. It stood in way of a return to democracy in Egypt. This narrative suggests that a military template is counterproductive. The corollary is that conversely, political considerations are acutely relevant.
Critics of the position here would have it that such reminding of the context implies an endorsement of terrorism. To them, it legitimises terrorism. It is supportive of the narrative terrorists themselves seek to use. Is their counter argument valid?
To wish away political considerations is itself a political choice. As shown above, a military template void of political underpinnings is a recipe for disaster. Foregrounding the essentially political context ensures that the military template sticks to the Clausewitzian logic that military action must be preceded and,where necessary superseded, by political considerations. What this suggests is that opting for a ‘purely’ military template is a wrong-headed political choice. This is the lesson over the past quarter century of post Cold War wars. Therefore, to remind of the political context is not to endorse terrorism but to deflate endorsement of political choices that turn a blind eye to politics. Such reminding also has the benefit of bringing the military prong of strategy firmly under control of politics. It is no one’s case that the IS can be degraded without military means, but that such means if unaccompanied by political processes, including the promise of talks, can only be part of the problem. After all, for violence there can be no ‘purely political’ solution either.
Bringing a discussion of the context into the debate does not legitimize terror. Terrorism, quite like its counter in conventional military response, is void of political considerations. It is astrategic, in that it persists in wrong-headed choice of a military template, one that substitutes a suicide bomber for a predator drone. Consequently, quite like the military counter, it is unable to clinch the issue. Terrorism’s use of violence is to polarize target societies in order that it gains ideological empathy and, in case of overreaction, gather recruits. This is however not without cost. Its challenge to perceived injustice, for instance in terms of neocolonialism, on Palestine, on world order issues such as carving up of the Middle East into manipulable states, division of Arabs etc. is lost in the violence. It endangers those who its self-styled defenders are out to defend. It wishes to defend to death those who may not want to be so defended, who are appalled by actions in their name and that of their religion. Bringing politics back into the reckoning helps dispel the ‘terrorists as saviours’ myth terrorists foster.
Finally, is this the terrorist’s narrative? Terrorists make an instrumental use of the ideological critique of the West’s actions. Their violence is to bring about Bush-like a ‘with us or against us’polarization. However, in the melee they end up degrading the critique as well as providing the West a way out to avoid making course correction using terrorist violence as justification. Both need each other. Both feed off each other. Both are interested in continuation of the violence as it suits both. Both are in this respect a mirror image of each other.
The term ‘West’ here subsumes the governments. It does not include civil society, a major proportion of which is not only attentive but capable of action, even if the power of the governments is such as to make such action ineffectual: witness the several thousand who marched in European and US cities against Bush beginning his wars. Their narrative too is critical of their governments. They have simply not been allowed by the government’s information departments and the media to build up the momentum they managed in the Vietnam War. Such a momentum cannot come about by terrorizing them either, the effort in the Paris terror attacks by terrorists. Clearly, a critique of the governmental narrative that suggests a return to politics, to seeking political solution as against military, is not a replication of the terror narrative.
What does this mean for India’s Muslims? While the condemnation of terrorism must be unequivocal, there is no question of abandoning a critical view of militarized templates. India’s Muslims have no horse in the race. The Arab nationalists and religious extremists are fighting a regional war against international powers in their region. India’s proximity to the US and Israel - now no longer a state secret - explains only partially why India wants politics ignored.
The balance of the reason is in the ideological strategy favoured by the ruling formation tends to unnecessarily bring Indian Muslims under a cloud; an instance being its inquiry of foreign intelligence agencies on the numbers of Indians in the ranks of the IS. India’s Muslims need to be wary of the internal political utility to the ruling party, and its political pseudo-cultural support base, of the external, unconnected war. With five elections lined up particularly in West Bengal and Assam, will no doubt, post Bihar elections debacle, bring the internal ‘other’ – illegal immigrant - prominently to fore, among other such wily themes.
The argument that ‘root causes’ approach amounts to purveying the terrorist message must be fought off. The guilty by association argument must be demolished. India’s Muslims must join their voice to the liberal viewpoint in the West that is critical of their government’s approach over the past decade and half. It must not allow the right wing here to forward its internal political interests using yet another stick to beat India’s Muslims with.