Friday, November 28, 2008

INDIA/CRIKEY: Many layers of homegrown terror ...

ANU sociologist Shakira Hussein makes these perceptive observations in Crikey today:

India has been wrestling with the issue of "home-grown terrorists" over the past few weeks ... The Indian authorities have arrested a number of Hindu militants, including a serving army officer, in relation to a bombing in Malageon that was reportedly aimed at transforming India into a Hindu state by 2025, and to "make India like it was when it was ruled by the Aryans".

The apparent revelation of an organized terrorist network with links to well-known Hindu nationalist organizations, including the opposition BJP, has attracted considerable attention in the subcontinent.

The network has also been
connected to attacks in Hyderabad and Ajmer. But the biggest sensation came when anti-terrorism officials claimed during a court hearing that the network may have been responsible for the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express train between Delhi and Lahore. Most of the 68 victims of the Samjhauta attack were Pakistani nationals returning home after visiting India, and Pakistan-based jihadi organizations were widely held to be responsible. So allegations that the perpetrators may have been Hindu
extremists rather than Muslims attracted widespread attention in both India and Pakistan. The Indian authorities later retreated from the
claims regarding the Samjhauta bombing, but the Pakistani government and media are still demanding further information.

The ruling Congress party is in a weak position to face forthcoming elections, and the BJP is claiming that the current crackdown on Hindu organizations is aimed at courting the Muslim vote. The BJP, for its part, is rallying in support of the so-called "
saffron bombers".

This week's Mumbai attacks have overtaken the "saffron bomber's" place in the headlines. But the story does not seem likely to go away.

REFLECTION: Hurried thoughts on Mumbai ...

Well, it looks like this is going to be an all-nighter. Lots to read and write after having spent virtually the entire day with my eyes glued to the TV screen. My mother has spent a fair bit of time making and taking phone calls and speaking with family friends who have relatives living in Bombay.

We still refer to the place as Bombay. The name “Mumbai” seems like a kind of strange political and cultural correctness, an attempt to impose a provincial dialect on what is essentially a city for people across India. And now across the globe.

It sickens me that the people who could pull off such a coordinated and deadly attacks could dare call themselves “mujahideen”. They may use Iraq and Afghanistan and Kashmir and countless other causes for rhetorical purposes. But what they do bears little relation to jihad and to Islam as most Indians (and broader South Asians) know it.

I saw images on TV and in newspaper reports of people in Bombay hiding behind barricades and walls to avoid shooting. It reminded me of scenes of innocent civilians in Sarajevo having to crouch down behind concrete slabs and makeshift walls and anything else they could find to dodge sniper bullets. The so-called mujahideen are behaving like the goons of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Mumbai or Bombay, call it what you will, simply doesn’t deserve this. India doesn’t deserve this. Neither does the broader South Asia, Asia and the world. Nor do Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Jews, Catholics, Parsees and the followers of any number of indigenous Indian faiths.

Terrorists regard nothing as sacred. Just a few months back, they attacked a hotel in Islamabad in the heart of Ramadan. Now they have attacked innocent civilians in a crowded Indian city. They even kidnapped an elderly rabbi, a man of God, Clearly these people have no shame.

Soon the Mumbai locals will be burying or cremating their dead. They will pray to God / G-d / Bhagwaan / Allah to have mercy on their deceased relatives. Other people from a host of different countries (including Australia) will be mourning their dead. I urge even hardened atheists to pray with me that God gives them strength.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice.

COMMENT: Dr Greg Barton tries to grapple with Indian terrorism ...

Dr Barton knows plenty about Indonesia. He's written some superb stuff on the subject of Indonesian Islam, and has authored an insightful biography of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid (known to his people as Gus Dur). He is a sober and thoughtful analyst who has a strong understanding of Indonesian culture and language.

On the morning of Thursday 27 November 2008, Dr Barton appeared on the ABC's morning TV show with Virginia Trioli and Barry Cassidy. I'm not one to bag genuine academics, but I found Dr Greg Barton's performance on the ABC morning show a little disappointing. It's often hard for news programs to find "experts" on short notice, and it's even harder for experts to provide anything more than somewhat vague analysis early in the morning.

Dr Barton seemed completely out of his depth when talking about the Indian situation. A cynic might even suggest that Shane Warne could have provided at least as equally useful analysis on South Asian affairs. But that would be rather unfair.

I took notes of Dr Barton's interview after watching it on the ABC website and stopping and starting the video. The excerpts below are based on my notes.

It is quite surprising. More bombings wouldn’t have been surprising but this sort of attack across the city using guns – that’s surprising.

Attacks on major towns and cities by violent terrorists are common in India. One need only recall the Gujarat massacre in 2002 and subsequent communalist violence in Gujarat. There have also been attacks by Maoist groups on Hindutva politicians as well as Hindutva attacks on Indian Catholics in such states as Orissa. Hindutva groups have attacked other religious minorities as well as members of lower casts. Many of these attacks have involved brazen daylight attacks in busy urban centres including Mumbai, where Hindutva activists are active. Further, quite a few such groups are linked to organised crime gangs. Then there is the spectre of inter-caste violence. All these matters are well-known to Indians and India-watchers.

Dr Barton further claims that the fact that they target those with British and American passports ...

... does suggest an international jihadi terrorist group of the kind linked with al-Qaeda. It doesn’t mean that there are links with al-Qaeda here of course but that ideology does seem to be at play here.

Targetting foreign Western citizens (though some of those attacked included Singaporeans) doesn't automatically make a group linked to al-Qaeda. The group might be a Maoist or militant unionist group (from, say, Bihar or even Maharashtra) who doesn't like Western capitalist influence. Hindutva groups are also unhapy with Western cultural influences such as Valentines Day. There are Hindutva groups unhappy with India's growing friendship with Pakistan.

India is a complex place with all kinds of nuanced conflicts. But the only conflict Dr Barton seems to understand is the kind of conflict that led to the London or Madrid bombings.

Indian authorities have been saying they don’t have a domestic problem. It’s just a problem across the border. This appears further proof of a deep domestic problem.

Indian authorities have repeatedly said that they don't have a specific al-Qaeda presence within their Muslim communities. But they do acknowledge the existence of a range of militant groups, whether they be communalist militants of Hindu or Muslim or Maoist or separatist variety. Indians know they have a domestic problem. Mumbai itself has numerous domestic problems, including violent Hindutva groups and organised crime gangs.

The Indian police, the Indian military especially, are very professional and so we can expect some very good responses from them.

I hope this is true, but many Indians are highly critical of corruption in the police force. However, Mumbai police are supposed to be among the best in Asia, if not the world.

Dr Barton went onto make some perceptive comments about ...

... globalising influences ...

... and ...

... al-Qaeda-type concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’m not sure whether one could describe opposition to foreign troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan as “al-Qaeda-type concerns”. This seems a little simplistic given that such concerns are shared by many Afghans and Iraqis themselves, including lawmakers from these two countries who are deeply opposed to terrorism. They are also shared by leftist groups inside India.

Of course, it may be that Dr Barton's analysis turns out to be absolutely correct and that some group linked to al-Qaeda is in fact responsible. One has to wonder why the group targetted Westerners specifically. Surely one would expect groups like al-Qaeda to specifically target Muslims as they usually do in areas with large Muslim populations.

Dr Barton's experiences and knowledge of Indonesia don't necessarily reflect the situation in Mumbai and the rest of India, where there have always been various layers of conflict simmering below the narrow surface occasionally picked up by Australian media.