Saturday, November 22, 2014

CRIKEY: Think you know the world’s terrorism hotspots? Think again

India does not spring to mind as a global terrorism hotspot, but lawyer and commentator Irfan Yusuf finds there’s much we don’t know about the world’s second-most populous nation.

India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told Commonwealth lawmakers in Canberra that Australia was firmly at the centre of his nation’s gaze. Meanwhile, our national broadcaster has announced it is closing its New Delhi bureau. And most Australians wouldn’t have much of a clue about the world’s second-most populous nation or its neighbours.

India doesn’t just want our uranium and coal; Modi has pledged to work with Australia to fight what he describes as the “menace of terrorism”.

But what does terrorism mean in India? Do publications like The Times of India or The Hindu or Caravan see terrorism as purely a Middle Eastern or Islamic problem?

The 2013 Global Terrorism Index placed India at sixth in the world when it came to number of terrorist attacks. Above India were Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. These countries accounted for some 80% of all terrorism deaths. India experienced the largest increase in terrorist attacks, with deaths almost doubling (238 to 404) from 2012-13.

Yes, there certainly are jihadists operating in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. But the GTI Report states what most Indians already take for granted:

In 2013 around 70% of attacks were non-lethal. Communist terrorist groups are by far the most frequent perpetrators and the main cause of deaths in India. Three Maoist communist groups claimed responsibility for 192 deaths in 2013, which was nearly half of all deaths from terrorism in India. Police are overwhelmingly the biggest targets of Maoists, accounting for half of all deaths and injuries.

The Maoist insurgency has much to do with farmers in impoverished tribal areas being forced off their land. The uprising has been going since 1967, with the Naxal movement operating in 20 of India’s 29 states. Terrorism doesn’t happen in an economic or political vacuum.

Perhaps the most dangerous form of extremism can be found in the Indian ruling coalition. Before being elected Prime Minister in a landslide, Modi was chief minister of Gujarat province in the north-west of the country. Gujarat was also the home state of an eccentric barrister named Gandhi, who was once labeled a terrorist by Her Majesty’s government.

Far from engaging in violence, Gandhi preached a novel form of non-violent resistance with a view to securing independence for India. He was assassinated by a small cabal of extremists from his own Hindu faith, people who did not share his cosmopolitan vision for a multi-confessional India.

This coalition of theocrats has been quite happy to use violence and terror to put religious minorities — especially Catholics and Muslims — in their place. They include people within the current PM’s inner circle as well as convicted religious terrorists. They were behind some of India’s worst violence in its post-independence history.

And when it comes to violent Hindutva theocracy, guess which side the current Indian PM belongs to.

Indians (and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans and Nepalese) take this stuff for granted. But rarely will you read or hear or see much use of words like Hindutva or Naxalite in our own media. ​

First published in Crikey on 21 November 2014.

CRIKEY: As we chuckle at the ‘cali-fatties’, real questions remain unanswered

Western young men travelling to the Middle East to become jihadis is a serious problem that demands serious coverage. But all the tabloids care about it is jelly belly jihadis. Irfan Yusuf, lawyer, author and commentator, reports.

The anonymous parents sit in their Sydney home consumed with grief. They believe four of their sons, aged 17, 23, 25 and 28, have travelled to Syria to join Islamic State or one of the other groups battling each other and the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They’d been told by their oldest son he’d won a free holiday to Thailand and was taking his three brothers, one of whom had just finished his year 12 exams. The others had stable jobs.

The mother received a text stating the boys were now Syria and looked forward to seeing her “in paradise”. At fist she assumed it was a joke and deleted it. Now she believes it is real. The mother begs for her sons to come home. Who knows what she and other members of her family are going through.

Why did this happen? Assuming they have signed up for a militia in Syria, how did four young “cleanskins” become indoctrinated to leave behind loving parents, stable jobs and bright futures to join a war whose contours they might barely understand?

These are serious questions requiring serious analysis. Instead, what we have received is a chorus of fat jokes from the tabloids. The right-hand corner of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front page carried the headline: “TOO FAT FOR JIHAD. Weight might stop Sydney’s would-be death cult recruits”. Page 6 carried the headlines “JELLY-BELLY JIHADIS” and “Sydney’s biggest losers too overweight to join IS cali-fat”. A photo is shown of a boy holding his head on his chin with his right fist while holding a half-eaten kebab in his left.

Two of the boys each weigh allegedly 140 kilograms and “can’t even run on the field”. A similar report appeared in the Daily Mail Australia, which cited a source saying:
‘We are hoping the fact that because two of them are quite obese they will not good foot soldiers, they are over 140 kg. People are going to realise, what are we going to do with them? Are they going to eat al [sic] the food and you can’t even run on the field.’
The source for the boys’ physical fitness or lack thereof? Dr Jamal Rifi, a GP who says he is a friend of the family. Is there any evidence that Islamic State will reject them? Any kind of statement that they are not fit enough to become soldiers? Nope.

I hope to God that the boys were playing a joke on their parents, that they return to Australia soon and that they make a fast buck pursuing defamation proceedings. No doubt that would wipe the tears off their parents’ faces.

Tabloid media discussion on these issues has tended to demonise not just those fleeing to Syria but the communities they leave behind. The same communities that more likely than not despise IS and other groups, which seem to have a knack for beheading more Muslims than anyone else. Now in the case of the four Sydney boys, the tabloids have resorted to ridicule. It might entertain the readers, but I doubt it generates much sympathy for the poor parents.​

First published in Crikey on 19 November 2014.