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Indian muslims should not side with SIMI - an organisation against secular democracy

by Javed Anand

Wednesday 20 August 2008

(Published in: Indian Express,August 16, 2008)

Suspect SIMI? Of Course

Indian Muslims must recognise the organisation for what it is: against secular democracy

by Javed Anand

Javed Anand: The special tribunal under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 2006, headed by Justice Geeta Mittal, recently lifted the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The joy with which several mainstream Muslim organisations and much of the Urdu press greeted SIMI’s return to lawful existence proved to be short-lived since the very next day the Supreme Court stayed the tribunal’s verdict. Nonetheless, the misguided show of solidarity with SIMI raises some very disturbing questions. Are Muslim leaders and the Urdu media wilfully blind to the malevolence sheltering in their own backyard? Or, is it that in the interests of “communal balance”, anything goes?

The nefarious nature of SIMI has been evident from the moment it emerged from the womb of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in 1977. “Character building” to fight against the perceived twin evils of communism and capitalist consumerism with its “degenerate morality” was the declared objective. But in less than a decade this self-styled moral brigade metamorphosed into “the real inheritor” of the legacy of the founder of JeI, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, who argued that all Muslims must strive for an Islamic state.

True to its ideological mooring, in the ’80s, SIMI produced eye-catching stickers proclaiming “Secularism, NO; Democracy, NO; Nationalism, NO; Polytheism, NO; Only Islam”. These stickers adorned many Muslim homes and shops throughout India. But no one seemed to be unduly perturbed by this dangerous drift of a section of Indian Muslim youth, spreading wings under the loving care of its patron, the JeI. (It was only in the late ’90s that the JeI officially snipped the umbilical cord that organically linked it to SIMI.)

There is a filial relationship that unites different fundamentalisms and there is a sibling relationship between fanaticism, extremism and terrorism. Put differently, there is a thin line that divides one from the other. By the early ’90s, it was talking the language of “jihad” and an “Islamic caliphate.” In SIMI’s case, jihad can mean nothing other than armed struggle?

Don’t trust information doled out by intelligence agencies? What about ex-SIMI members, its founding president and unit chiefs?

Take, for example, Saeed Ahmed Khan, its former Mumbai chief, who confessed last month that he visited Pakistan in 1991 after learning that “the ISI was training Indian youths to cultivate (sic) the culture of jihad”. Khan said that the then SIMI top-brass C.A. Baseer and Asraf Zafari were pushing it in a more militant direction. “It was at this juncture that the gun culture took root in SIMI — these radical preachers toed the line of jihad and brainwashed Indian youths who later turned into anti-Indian jihadis.”

Don’t believe him? What about Dr Ahmadullah Siddiqi, its founder president, who left India in 1981 and has been a professor of journalism and public relations at Western Illinois University, Macomb, USA the last 16 years? In a September 2003 interview, he agreed: “Perhaps the group has been hijacked by elements in other countries and other Muslim societies and not all of them may be, but some of them have become misguided and radical .”

What about yet another ex-SIMI-man, Kanpur’s Haji Mohammed Salees, horrified by what he saw and heard at SIMI’s “Ikhwan Conference” in his city in October 1999? Among the things that shocked Salees was reportedly the war cry of the seven-year-old Gulrez Siddiqui before an audience of over 20,000 people: “Islam ka ghazi, butshikan/ Mera sher, Osama bin Laden (The warrior of Islam, the destroyer of idols/ My lion, Osama bin Laden)”. Those who addressed the gathering, long-distance telephonically, were Hamas founder, Sheikh Yaseen, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, and the imam of the al Aqsa mosque, Israel/Palestine. “It was all a shock for us. We realised they are developing international links. We distanced ourselves,” Salees has said

Two years later, at a gathering of 25,000 Muslim youths in Mumbai, SIMI reiterated that the time has come for Indian Muslims to launch an armed jihad in India with the establishment of an Islamic caliphate as the ultimate aim.

Don’t believe any of them? What about SIMI’s own posters plastered in the by-lanes of Muslim mohallas across the country following the demolition of the Babri mosque, with an invocation: “Ya Ilahi, bhej de Mahmood koi (Oh Allah, send us a Mahmud)”. Who does not know that the reference was to Mahmud Ghaznavi whom fanatics revere as a “But Shikan (Destroyer of Idols)”

Which editor of an Urdu paper can disclaim knowledge of these inflammatory posters? Could it be that Urdu papers never received press releases from SIMI on their official letterhead with a logo depicting a Quran and an AK-47 perched on top of a globe? And who has not heard of SIMI’s open adulation of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, for both of whom India is Enemy No 3 after the United States and Israel?

Let’s now turn to the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It provides for a ban on any organisation that is inimical to the sovereignty and integrity of India, or is involved in terror acts.

Are the blasts after blasts, in city after city of India in recent years, part of the “jihad” espoused by SIMI? The investigating agencies obviously believe this to be the case. Why else would SIMI activists be routinely detained, arrested, interrogated, charge-sheeted and put on trial? Admittedly, they have yet to establish the terrorism charge against SIMI activists before any court of law in any of the blast cases.

A continuation of the ban on SIMI would need it to be established as guilty of one or more of the charges — secessionist activity, terrorism, spreading communal discord, hostility to Indian constitution — since 2006, the last time the ban was re-imposed. Otherwise a ban cannot legally be re-imposed.

But is it merely a question of law? Should SIMI not also be judged from a socio-political perspective, in terms of its implications for India’s secular-democratic polity? Should any sensible citizen be embracing the Bajrang Dal merely because it has not been convicted under the law of the land? If that is not acceptable, by what logic can Muslim bodies rush to the rescue of SIMI

Before the first ban was slapped on SIMI in 2001, the chief ministers of Maharashtra, MP and Rajasthan made a strong case before the NDA for a simultaneous ban on SIMI and the Bajrang Dal. And rightly so. But the Vajpayee-led government chose to act against one and not the other. The UPA has done no better.

Why are Hindu extremist organisations also not placed under the scanner of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act? To ask this question is to rightfully demand an end to discriminatory justice and even-handed application of the law of the land against all. Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad’s welcoming of the lifting of the ban on SIMI can be explained away in terms of vote-bank politics. But for Indian Muslims to be seen as standing by a self-declared enemy of secular-democratic India is nothing short of suicidal.

The writer is co-editor, “Communalism Combat”, and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy