It is surprising that in India we can never portray any issue in its correct perspective. Terrorism is one such issue that tops the list in this regard. It is unfortunate that most acts of terror seem to have Islamic links, be it from across the border or within. This hard truth just cannot be wished away. At the same time it would be equally unfair to view all Muslims as terrorists. It seems to have become fashionable today, particularly in India, to accept the latter with an open mind but to raise all kinds of doubts, objections and excuses for the former. Such approach smacks of double standards and appeasement of minority communities. Some politicians and social activists have even gone to the extent of coining terms like Hindu Terror and Saffron Terror with the sole aim of playing down the threat of Islamic terror in India. Such sympathisers and appeasers of Muslim community deliberately ignore the fact that Islamic terror is an established phenomenon that threatens not only India but is a major concern for the entire world today. It has reached such dangerous proportions that many nations are redrafting their immigration policies with a few even considering a ban on Muslims from some hard core Islamic nations.
No problem can be resolved unless it is identified and accepted. So the first step towards fighting Muslim link to terrorism has to be to accept the fact that terrorism is backed by Islam and perpetuated by hardcore Islamist fundamentals across the world. These fundamentalists keep an ever-present look out for young potential recruits from different parts of the world who are brainwashed into making the supreme sacrifice in the name of Allah. These misguided youth either perish or get caught – either way it results in an untimely end of a young life. The recent incident, reportedly ISIS backed, involving bomb blast in a train in Madhya Pradesh is no different. Such acts cannot but be classified as terror for the sake of terror. The whole message here is to infuse fear in the local population and to make a statement that nobody and no place is safe from terror.
In Indian context too the relationship between Islam and terrorism is an established fact. Terrorism in India has many facets depending on the region of its origin. Terror activity in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has its origin in the fight to cede from the Indian Union. In states of Maharashtra and Gujarat terror activity emanates mainly from a history of communal clashes. In Kerala, erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and to a lesser extent in Karnataka, there is an unmistakeable influence of ISIS of late who brainwash educated youth to take up terrorism in a show of solidarity with Muslims elsewhere- both in India and abroad. In West Bengal, which is a late entrant in this arena, terrorist activity has its origins from within the large migrant Muslim population from Bangladesh that has upset the demographic structure not only in parts of Bengal but the neighbouring state of Assam too. Last but not the least the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) too has emerged as a lucrative recruitment region due to its large Muslim population that is mostly poor and lives under the fictitious fear of a Hindu dominated society in not too distant a future. The malicious projection of J&K as a problem between Muslims and Hindus over the last few years too has played no mean part in motivating Muslim youth from many Indian states to gravitate towards terrorism under the guise of solidarity with separatists in J&K.
A common excuse that is put out by all analysts, sociologists, religious and political leaders is that Muslim youth across the country take to terrorism because they are frustrated due to lack avenues to meet their rising aspirations. None of these learned individuals ever elaborate the real reasons for this state of affairs in the community except to blame the government for having failed to provide enough job opportunities. Frankly this is justifying the complex issue of Muslim connection with terrorism in a very naive manner with a view to skirt the realities. There is hardly any logic in this justification since picking up arms or perpetuating violence against the state cannot be condoned just because there are less job opportunities. Are jobs scarce for only Muslim youth? Is there any doubt that this problem affects the whole young generation in the country irrespective of their caste, religion or community? In fact, without any doubt, a normal Kashmiri youth is better fed, better clothed and lives in a better overall economic environment than millions of youth across the country in other states. The motivation to join terror groups comes mainly because of coercion from Islamic fanatics and brainwashing by terror groups who bombard them with lies and half truths to alienate the youth from mainstream society. Many of the local terrorists apprehended in recent past have invariably been found to be highly educated, well employed with strong leanings towards fundamental Islam.
Muslims have always been highly skilled in many traditional crafts like weaving, pottery, glass, wood work, metal forming and many other such areas requiring special skills. Even today these fields are dominated by them. Most Muslim youth tend to move towards one of these skills at an early age at the cost of education. This despite the fact that Muslims are better placed for post school education than all others since they have dedicated colleges including many vocational institutes reserved for them as part of government’s focus on minority development. Unfortunately most of them lose out because their society and family do not encourage them to complete studies and improve their job prospects or business acumen. The point being made here is that most of these youth do have a vocation and earning power from a very young age unlike their counterparts in rest of the country. This is certainly a positive aspect but in a limited way. The problem starts when a few years later these young Muslim individuals see hardly any growth while some of the more educated youths reach greater heights in life. That is where the frustration starts. An unbiased analysis of the problem will show that most of the reasons for this are of their own making. Others which are not of their making are common to all the youth across the nation and have nothing to do with their being a minority or a Muslim – irrespective of what their leaders may say.
It is time the Muslim community and their leaders stop misleading their youth by spreading false and malicious claims of government not looking after them. Political leaders in opposition too need to get their act together and show more integrity and commitment towards the nation instead of chasing Muslim votes based on propagation of lies or half truths. More importantly young Muslims need to open their minds and vision to see and understand the real problems that inhibit their development. Religion and religious beliefs cannot be allowed to become overpowering, if that happens then individual growth and development will always suffer. Muslim community in India is a prime example of this over the last many decades. The victimisation card syndrome that has been injected in the minds of Muslim youth by their own selfish leaders and some politicians must be rejected. It is erroneous to the point of being absurd to believe that onus for each individual’s growth and development lies on the nation and its government based on doles or special privileges. Instead what needs to be understood is that the government can only create opportunities, it is up to the individual to exploit the same. If Muslim youth have missed the bus in this regard over the last few decades, the responsibility for the same lies with them and their societal systems. It is time minorities appreciate the fact that while there are any number of government schemes that benefit only minorities while barring the majority, there is none the other way around.
Today India is changing and looking to break the shackles of incremental growth that had become the hallmark of last six decades. It is time for the entire youth of the country, Muslims included, to be proactive and be part of the change that they seek rather than wait and hope for it to fall in their laps. If an example is needed to drive home this point, it will have to be majority of the erstwhile Punjabi refugees who came from Pakistan to India in 1947. Most left behind their assets created over generations and found themselves in new surroundings – with neither a shelter nor a livelihood. The government hardly did anything special for these refugees whose numbers ran in millions. Today they can proudly claim to be among the more well to do people in the country across the country whose hard work, dedication and zeal to succeed has been exemplary. They not only grabbed the few opportunities that came their way but also can take credit for creating many in their journey towards growth and development.
It is time for the youth of the nation, Muslims included, to ponder over the words of last US President, Barack Obama, to draw inspiration for the change that they have been waiting for decades. He said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” It is time rhetoric is passé and action becomes the buzz word. Let religion motivate and guide but not become an impediment in the march towards growth, development and being a proud Indian.
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.