One of the many blessings of globalisation has been the increasing state contempt for basic rights, rule of law and the so-called due process. In post 9/11 times, anyone can be picked up from anywhere, tortured and quietly eliminated and nobody, including the victim, would have the faintest idea why.
Last week, the New York Times revealed how America’s Nobel laureate president personally picks up targets for the day’s drone strikes. While innocents get killed in distant lands, they are just a blip on the White House screen.
In an editorial the same day, the New York Times protested: “How can the world know whether the targets chosen by this president or his successors are truly dangerous terrorists and not just people with the wrong associations? How can the world know whether this president pursued all methods short of assassination, or, to avoid a political charge of weakness, built up a tough-sounding list of kills?”
The paper concluded: “America cannot be in a perpetual war that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat. That power is too great, and too easily abused, as those who lived through the Bush administration will remember.”
The White House responded to the Times pontification with more drone strikes along Pakistan’s free-for-all northwest frontier, killing more “terrorists.”
Conservative pundit Patrick Buchanan suggests that the ‘revelations’ about Obama’s kill list and his tough posturing on Pakistan and Iran are all part of the strategy to paint the president, four months from elections, as “a ruthless and relentless warrior against America’s enemies.” Which makes sense. Politicians have done worse to win an election. There’s nothing more dangerous than a desperate politician.
And India’s current rulers aren’t any less desperate. As the Congress-led UPA faces all-round meltdown, it seems to have turned on the most vulnerable. Is this a blowback for the decisive Muslim support to Samajwadi Party in the recent Uttar Pradesh polls, reducing the Congress to a humiliating fourth position?
Or is the grand ol’ party up to its time-tested tricks of playing on Muslim insecurities forcing the minority to scurry back to the ‘safety and comfort’ of its embrace? Besides, it would silence the growing Muslim demands protesting their deprivation and dispossession.
Whatever the explanation, a series of incidents over the past few weeks and months reinforce the growing impression in the community that a concerted campaign is on to target Muslims. Countless Muslim youths have been picked up at random from around the country as “Pakistani agents” or members of Indian Mujahideen, an outfit that is considered a figment of intelligence agencies’ imagination. Its name came up in the chaos of the 26/11 although the terror attacks on Mumbai were attributed to Pakistan-based groups. Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani, is behind bars awaiting his retribution.
The bizarre killing of Qateel Siddiqui last week in a Pune jail ostensibly by two inmates has once again turned the spotlight on this silent and insidious campaign against a 200-million strong minority. The 27-year-old Qateel from Darbangha, Bihar was picked up from New Delhi last year and was promptly linked to a series of attacks – from Delhi Jama Masjid blast to plots to target Bangalore cricket stadium and a Pune temple.
Police however failed to come up with any evidence and charge-sheet against Qateel after seven months of torture and shuttling him all over the country. Last week he was murdered in his cell the day he was to be moved from the high-security Yerwada prison to Delhi.
Qateel’s family and rights groups have described the killing as a ‘conspiracy,’ accusing the jail authorities and the notorious Maharashtra ATS (Anti-Terror Squad) of complicity. The Qateel killing has outraged the community, already agitated over the continuing random arrests of Muslim youths from Muslim-concentrated districts of UP, Bihar and Hyderabad.
“This cold-blooded murder comes in quick succession of a number of cases where security agencies’ high-handedness in dealing with Muslim youth on flimsy charges and mere suspicion gives away the game of the war against the community in the name of fighting terror,” says Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body of Muslim organisations, in its statement.
The Pune killing comes days after the disappearance of Fasih Mahmood, an IT engineer – again from Darbangha. In a first of its kind case, 28-year-old Mahmood was picked up from Jubail by Saudi authorities on India’s request in the presence of Indian embassy officials and his wife Nikhat.
What was Mahmood’s crime? Apparently, Kafeel Akhtar, a suspect in the Bangalore blast case, from Bihar again, had named Mahmood as his friend! According to Arab News, Mahmood was deported to India the same day.
Strangely, though, the Indian government continues to deny Mahmood is in its custody. “Where’s Fasih Mahmood? Is he dead or alive,” asked the Supreme Court this week when his wife’s petition came up before it. “We do not know,” stated the government in its petition claiming the engineer isn’t held by any government agency!
So as Mahmood’s fate hangs in some Kafkaesque limbo, his loved ones hope against hope that he’s well and alive and will come home soon. What’s most scary about this whole business is the logic of guilt by association. Since when knowing someone has become a crime?
If this principle is upheld, anyone of us could be named a terror suspect and disappeared from anywhere. Besides, how could someone who had been working in the Gulf for six years, have got himself involved in a terror plot in Bangalore?
This case and that of Qateel’s custodial murder throw up some serious questions for the community. What explains this upsurge in the targeting of Muslims? The community has been excessively law-abiding and has lied low despite all that has come its way over the past several decades.
When Bush came calling in 2006, a beaming Manmohan Singh had declared that Al-Qaeda had failed to make inroads in India thanks to Indian Muslims. Rahul Gandhi, his potential successor, was quoted by the US officials, according to WikiLeaks, as saying India faced a bigger threat from Hindutva extremists rather than Muslims.
So why are Muslims being targeted now? Especially when over the past couple of years saffron fingerprints have come to light in a number of attacks blamed on Muslims – from Samjhauta Express to Mecca Masjid to Ajmer shrine. After those sensational confessions by Swami Aseemanand exposing the Hindutva link to terror, you would have thought the campaign targeting Muslims would end. But little has changed. A whole community continues to be in the dock and victimised, probably paying for voting the UPA into power twice.
Doubtless, these are trying times for India’s Muslims. How the community responds to the challenge could determine its future. If Muslim leaders think merely passing resolutions and issuing profound statements would take care of the problem, they’d better think again.
This isn’t about a suspicious custodial killing here and a mysterious disappearance there. What we are dealing with is a culture of fear and concerted campaign to terrorise and stigmatise a whole community. We face a situation that once the African Americans did – perhaps, even worse. Since riots aren’t easy to manage in the time of 24/7 television, we have moved on to more inventive tactics.
Whatever the objectives and whoever its architects, we could tackle this only by huddling together and speaking in one voice. Muslim opinion leaders must put their heads together and come up with more proactive but peaceful measures to deal with the challenge. Confront powers that be and demand answers. Seriously. No one can take a 200-million strong community for granted, if it speaks in one voice. Inaction isn’t an option, if we are to prevent more Muslims from ending up like Qateel.
The writer is a Gulf-based commentator. Email: email@example.com