Thursday, July 13, 2006

Questions, revisited

A former roommate asked me a question once. She'd said, "Why are muslims so violent?"

I felt insulted by the question, but looking at her face, I realised that she was asking because she really didn't have a clue.

Calmly, I put down my newspaper, and delivered a little lecture on history and current affairs.

She persisted. "But why are all terrorists muslims?"

I mentioned the LTTE. And the various armed guerrilla groups in the north-east. I told her about the Khalistan movement. About Ireland and about Nazism. About how fraught the word 'terrorist' is...

But I don't think she was persuaded. She probably still believes that muslims are aggressive, violent, murderous.

Now, we've had Tuesday.

For the first two days, I was so tired. Because being afraid is one of the most exhausting feelings I know.

My first reaction to the news was fear. Sitting safe at home, watching the news, listening to the high-pitched newscasters announce yet another, yet another... I was afraid. Not just of what might happen in Delhi. Not just of what might happen to family and friends in Mumbai. Not just of riots. Not just of a backlash.

I was afraid because once more, I was stuck with trying to distance myself from 'them'. Once more, millions of people like me find themselves ashamed because their name, their group, their community, their identity has been hijacked. Stolen by murderers and cowards. So that some will feel compelled to denounce and decry events they're not responsible for. So that others don't go on thinking of muslims as a violent murderous terrorising lump of homogeneity.

Through my exhaustion and numbness, I have read some nonsense about why Tuesday, why July, why now, why not other places, why not 'muslim-dominated' suburbs?

For one aggravated minute, I wanted to launch into a little lecture about Mumbai's communal demographics. To point out that there are few suburbs that are Muslim-dominated, but there are some where large numbers of them are concentrated. Mira-Bhayander, for one. Jogeshwari for another. Bandra (east) for yet another. Do they sound recently familiar? I wanted to point out that almost everywhere, victims of 'muslim' terrorism are muslims. Certainly, in Kashmir. And in Iraq. And in Somalia. And in Morocco. I wanted to say a lot of things about a lot of things.

But I was just too tired.


Note to friend with whom I've had warm debates about insecure youths in terrorist outfits: Cold-blooded, pre-planned murder is cold-blooded, pre-planned murder. You can call it a riot. Or you can call it a terror-strike. Murder, by any other name, would be just as unjustifiable.

21 comments:

Batul said...

Ditto.

thalassa_mikra said...

Very true Annie. And we don't know if this particular attack was made in the name of some pan-Islamic movement, or the low-intensity geo-political war that Pakistan fights against India. If the latter, then it is less about religion and more about territorial gain.

Anonymous said...

when some hindu mobs attack, all hindus are expected to play nice and condemn the mobs (and i don't find anything wrong with that).

but, the big question is - where are all the indian muslims now? when will they condemn this act of terrorism? i don't even see a post from you condemning this act of violence obviously perpetrated by muslim terrorists. all you are saying is that muslim terrorists have killed muslims elsewhjere in the world. are you saying that this is 'normal islamic behaviour?'

- s.b.

traveller said...

Annie,

Organised Religions carry the burden of history on them. Now I may not be Casteist, but my religion, hinduism - on the weight of conspicuous evidence will have casteism attributed to it for a long time.

Similarly, when Samuel Huntigton says that Islam's borders are tinged with blood, I will have to call it a generalization which all its followers will have to live with.

Such is the nature of public memory that the most glaring seems to become the 'face' of the whole. Thus Muslims will remain a 'violent' people and for a long time too, since religions hardly ever fade away from public memory.

barbarindian said...

Perhaps because maximum number of Muslims were killed by Muslims themselves?

Anonymous said...

barbarindian...

What's your point anyway? Nobody here claims that all Muslims are evil/violent!!!

jaygee said...

You are right, it is tiring...! Anyone with a little sense knows that murder, riots mayhem organised or planned, knows no religion. I agree with u.. and no stellar opinion to give.. but the batul said it well.. 'ditto'...

Anonymous said...

If that is the case my dear jaygee, then what is "Jihad"???

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Religion sucks. You know how it's a relief to scratch your balls in private, gross when you do it in public? That applies to religion too. You're supposed to do it within yourself, assholes, not have public orgams over your beliefs.

So violence is prompted by religion. Violence is explained by religion. Violence is justified by religion. And people keep dying. Children lose limbs. God / Allah / Ram / Yahveh / Buddha / the Great Spaghetti Monster - they're all good and kind, you see.

They just love us to bits.

Matt said...

If there are many instances of people who belong to one religion murdering anyone (and more so if the murders are committed in the name of that religion), obviously that religion will get a bad name. Nothing surprising about it. In the NE, the murderers are mostly christians (though I do not kow if they murder in the name of the religion), so in that geographical context, christianity will be called a terorist religion. Nothing surprising about that too. (I am christian, for those who would look for a bias of some sort)

Lakshmi a.k.a. Lotus Eyes said...

Hi Annie,
You are a good writer and I admire many of your posts though I strongly disagree with some of them. I can sympathise with the average Muslim at whom the needle of suspicion points and who is as innocent as any of the victims. I do not deny that many ordinary Muslims are wonderful, caring people and I personally condemn and abhor violence of any kind, be it a riot or a blast (with the possible exception of wars fought to defend one's country, police action against criminals and individuals acting in pure self-defence).

However, I take issue with one of your points. You have talked about LTTE, North-East militants, etc. Now, I agree that the Khalistani movement and the IRA were religious terrorist groups. But, LTTE, ULFA and many others are local, ethnic conflicts that do not use Ram, Christ or God to rally their co-religionists from other parts of the world. Even the IRA, though it had religious connotations, was a battle for Ireland. Protestants and Catholics from other parts of the world did not come in droves to Ireland to participate in it.
But, with Kashmir and the Middle East, it is different. These people are issuing calls to others in the name of "jehad", "Allah", getting recruits from various countries all in the name of religion and causing mayhem in virtually every continent, be it America or South Asia or West Asia or Europe or even Africa (remember Egypt/Uganda?)
What is even more alarming that radical clerics who are supposed to guide and give good advice to their people are misusing their influence and power and giving out inflammatory speeches on the streets of London and in Denmark, etc. not to mention Saudi Arabia and other countries. Now, there are Muslims in many countries all over the world. Can you imagine the havoc that humanity will face if even 0.1% of impressionable Muslim youth get radicalized?
Annie dear, I have many Muslim friends and I wish them all well.
Sensible people are not against Muslims, they are scared of radical Islam.
You, as a journalist, should be easily able to tell the difference.
Unfortunately, such incidents will easily cause mistrust among people. I am sure just as many Hindus view Muslims with suspicion, many Muslims would have done likewise after riots. That is the fallacy of human nature. A child's behaviour affects the reputation of the parents and the actions of a few misguided elements do bring a bad name to the entire community.

gaddeswarup said...

I have started following Indian blogs only recently ( I have been following some Telugu sites for a couple of years). So far, I have seen very few Muslim names in sites or blogs. Have others noticed it too or am I just imagining?

Anonymous said...

I am appalled by your complete insensitivity over killings of Hindus. Are Hindu lives so expendable? If all these terrorist activities over the years kept killing not Hindus but Muslims, would you be whining about the safety of Muslims after every attack!?

Kindly spare your friend your sermons. First overcome your prejudice. You don't have the moral equipment to give lectures to anyone.

Mangs said...

i fail to understand why we must constantly urge 'moderate' muslims to "rein in" the extremists. the divide between extremists and moderate muslims seems to me to be sharply divided, and i reckon extremists are branching AWAY from othodox Islam and are unlikely to pay heed to moderates whose ideology is different from their own. expectations like these will only further the alienation of mainstream Muslims.

annie said...

batul, anonymous2, jaygee, mangs: ditto to that, again
thalassamikra: you're right. and besides, most organised violence, whatever the excuse, is about economics. it all comes down to money/resource control. take away that incentive and see how long the top dogs of terror last.
anonymous s.b.: 'where are the indian muslims now?' they're right here. crying themselves hoarse, condemning. aren't you listening?
traveller: you're probably right. doesn't make it any less difficult, does it?
barbarindian: exactly, what's your point?
anonymous3: most religious terms and phrases are open to interpretation. jihad means to struggle. it can be an inner struggle between right and wrong. it can be a social struggle for justice. it can be war. everybody wages their own kind of jihad. you have to decide what it means
arthurquiller: yes. faith is personal. religion is not. and yet, like i said, often, it comes down to economics. most religion is just a socio-economic kind of arrangement, that nobody is allowed to argue with. therein lies the problem.
dancewithshadows: i'm not arguing with the bad name the religion gets. i just wish i didn't have to apologize for it.
lakshmi: point taken. but do you think it would be better/worse to murder under another guise, to use race instead of religion? as far as i'm concerned, there's no difference between one kind of terrorism and another. i expect the criminals concerned to be treated as criminals, not as 'religious' criminals. also, i wish people would stop calling it 'radical' islam. there's nothing radical about murder. or war. or identity-based conflicts. that theory is as old as human civilization. if a group of non-islamic people, armed to the teeth, with outside/foreign support, invades another country, do you call them radical christians or radical jews or radical any other religion?
gaddeswarup: you won't find many indian muslim bloggers because, in percentage terms, this group is one of the least educated and ranks lowest on all other development indices. most don't have computer/internet access.
anonymous4: if at first you don't understand, read, read, read again. there's no venom against any group in my post. there's plenty of venom in your comment. and of course, you're conveniently 'anonymous'. moral equipment? moral equipment??

Anonymous said...

Terrorists have just bombed to death a large number of people. Yet again. Many people -- especially Hindus -- feel scared and vulnerable to more attacks. There is no menion of this anywhere in your diatribe. But you are busy projecting your friend as prejudiced -- and by insinuation, Hindus as prejudiced. Even in this moment of rage and grief, what is your uppermost concern? Not expressing sympathy for the dead, but bashing the Hindus by projecting them as anti-Muslim.

It is not just that you lack moral equipment. People like you are vitiating the atmosphere by inflaming Hindu passions, with your incessant Hindu-baiting.

And yes, feel free to score a brownie point because I am anon.

Lakshmi a.k.a. Lotus Eyes said...

Annie,
These people are called religious criminals/terrorists because they murder in the name of their religion, their God .
Unlike ordinary criminals who loot or kill for personal gain or even aggressive regimes that do so for territorial gain, these people do it for an ideology, for the spread of their faith and because they feel it is okay, even right to take the lives of people who do not have their beliefs. There is a huge difference between someone who kills for his own selfish ends, and one who kills another just because the other guy belongs to a different faith. Of course, the victim's trauma is the same in both cases and both murders are barbaric.

And as for the money incentive, what incentive did Osama or his rich, Egyptian doctor deputy possibly need? They gave up their lives of luxury for their fanatic cause.
What monetary incentive were the British bombers seeking? These were middle-class youths brought up in Britain whose parents had probably struggled to make it in a foreign country. They were not uneducated youths living in a drought-stricken land. If monetary incentives were the major reason, then why don't we see such virulent hatred in the poorest parts of the world?
Fanaticism and hatred know no upper/middle/lower class. And yes, it IS important to distinguish such crimes from the others because no problem can be tackled without understanding the different underlying cause.

barbarindian said...

barbarindian: exactly, what's your point?

You asked a rhetorical question. I was merely trying to answer it.

annie said...

lakshmi: i'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree. i'm personally rather agnostic and personally, rather personal about faith or the lack of it. as far as i'm concerned, those who kill in the name of god(s), shall be judged by their own god(s). i can only judge them as ordinary criminals.
anonymous again: i don't need to score brownie points on my own blog, thank you. the point of this post was to express one kind of fear. the sympathy and sorrow for victims was inherent and apparent, i thought. it was something i took for granted - in my own heart and that of all sane people. however, i refuse to apologize for something i am not responsible for. and i refuse to be held responsible for not feeling/expressing enough regret each time something like this happens. as far as your accusations of 'hindu-bashing' are concerned... you either need time to calm down and take a nap and then come back and read this. or you just need a crash course in comprehension. however, your comments have taught me a lesson about moderation. in future. no anonymous comments allowed on this blog.

Opinionated said...

Reading all these comments from different people strongly brings out, how difficult it continues to be for most ordinary people to understand issues like this. This isn't true only of Indians. Even Americans are scared of races, customs & religions they don't understand. The French are wary too of turbaned Sikhs, though personally I like their "no expression of religion" stand.
Christians & Muslims engaged in the Crusades in the name of Religion. Hindu outfits like the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal & the Sena are all violent in the name of religion. Sikhism turned into a militant religion in order to fight Mughal oppresion. One has to understand the roots of problem before forming an opinion. The answer for all is to educate themselves & their future generations. And I don't think the brand of education propogated by RSS schools or Madarsas is the right kind of education. I'm talking about global education, the kind offered in CBSE public schools.

OrangeJammies said...

Annie, I understand where you're coming from. My closest friend is Muslim and she feels much the same way, and I, by transference, too. Here is my take on the possible reasons Islam is viewed as a religion with violent followers: 1. the widespread circulation of information (erroneous or otherwise) about the history of Islam and the wars fought in the name of Allah's faith. 2. The secession of the religious arena by the Islamic moderates to the fundamentalists. 3. Cognitive laziness on the part of most people who find it easier to lump all human beings together based on a single descriptive factor rather than exercise their mind and discern.
I do want you to know, however, that there are folks out there who strive to change those prejudices every day, who question popular assumptions and stereotypes and do not let the matter go. I, for one, am among them.

Tweets by @anniezaidi