Any questions?

IS THE world under siege by Muslims or are Muslims under siege by the world? Now that the last hope of liberals, Indian Muslims, seem to have joined this world in Glasgow, or perhaps the world has reached their doorstep through Australia, the question has shifted yet further from an answer. Are we in that dark penumbra of history when the only response to a question is more questions?

By Mj Akbar

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Published: Mon 16 Jul 2007, 8:42 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:13 AM

Must all Indian Muslims be punished with collective guilt because a Kafeel or a Shakeel, provoked by memories and images that could easily range from Babri to Basra, has chosen to vent his rage through unacceptable violence upon innocents? Do we blame Hinduism or Hindus for the malevolence of those who killed and terrorised Muslims in Gujarat five years ago? We do not, and must not. Is there any reason why Muslims converge so easily into a category?

A related question: how Indian is the Indian who has left India? Think about the nuances before jumping into that dangerous pit called a conclusion. Those of us who live in India, and have worked through the snide insults of the Sixties, the jeers of the Seventies, the doubts of the Eighties, the despair of the Nineties to arrive at the rising confidence of this decade have a right to some marginal satisfaction at our nation's achievement.

We have no right to be smug, though, as long as half a billion Indians go to sleep hungry, perhaps even famished. Our social fabric has strengthened, but is still vulnerable to wear and tear.

The immediate future is going to be as difficult as the past, as the guns of Naxalites constantly remind us. But there is a question: is India of the 21st century only as strong as its weakest link? If that is true then there is something untenable about the structure of success.

Cause and effect are such troublesome concepts. Which comes first? That is only the beginning of another round of questions. Cause and effect mutate, then interlink and spawn bastard progeny. In Iraq, George Bush has trapped America in the coils of linkages that have now escaped the limitations of logic.

Five years ago, there was only one terrorist in Iraq: Saddam Hussein. He terrorised his people, perhaps the worst form of terrorism. There was one reason for anger five years ago. Who can count how many reasons jostle for attention in a young person's mind after four years of war, mayhem and occupation? Four million Iraqis have been displaced; the demographic equivalent in India would be more than 200 million uprooted. That is the scale of the human disaster. No one has an accurate count of the Iraqi dead. Bush spends a quarter million dollars a minute on just the war in Iraq. Read that again, it isn't a mistake: a quarter million dollars every minute. That bill doesn't include the costs in Afghanistan. Even the British appetite for Bush has ebbed, with a cabinet minister saying that British policy will not be joined at the hip to Washington. British casualties are now approaching the rate suffered in the Second World War. And only 22 per cent of Iraqis support the presence of Anglo-American troops.

Whatever the cause, such are the effects. As Paul Wood, defence correspondent for British television's Today programme, said on Friday, "Who wants to be the last man to die for a lost cause?" A newspaper is life distilled into still life. If the siege we mentioned is global, then perhaps a good checkpoint is a global newspaper through which we might ponder the mysteries of cause and effect.

The top of the front page of the 12 July edition is a moving photograph of a woman, her head bowed beyond sight, her tears hidden in the cusp of an anguished hand, sobbing on the coffin of a lost son or husband, one of the over 8,000 Muslims massacred by Serbs in Srebrenica twelve years ago, during the ethnic cleansing that began on 11 July 1995. They have just identified a fresh lot of 465 victims. Where is one of the principal leaders of this genocide, a mass murderer called General Ratko Mladic. If you want to chat with him, down at the nearest cafe. If you are the European Union or America, then he becomes invisible. He cannot be found. Below this picture is the story of Lal Masjid, a citadel of paranoia, xenophobia and terrorism masquerading as a mosque and madraSsa.

There are no Christians or Serbs in this battle in Pakistan, which has taken at least a hundred lives. This is a war between different attitudes to faith. And this is proof that terrorism is a fire that can also burn the hand of those who feed it.

To the left of this picture is a story about Wolfgang Schauble, Germany's top security official, a heavyweight in Angela Merkel's Cabinet. He is demanding the detention of potential terrorists in Germany and the extermination (death, in simpler language) of their leaders outside Germany. Schauble, but naturally, will determine the definitions of "potential" and "leaders". He will not send anyone to exterminate General Ratko Mladic. He is on the lookout for Lebanese Muslims.

Turn the page. A suicide bomber kills 10, wounds 35 at a military camp in Algeria.

Turkey complains about American arms in the possession of Kurdish secessionists. In Britain, four young Muslims, in their 20s, who "very nearly" succeeded in another outrage on the London Tube two years ago, are sentenced to forty years' imprisonment at the very minimum.

What will Iraq be like when they emerge from jail in 2045? Which passions will remain unspent four decades later? Is the world under siege? Are Muslims under siege? If you know the answer, go collect your Nobel Prize for Peace, or at least an invitation to a seminar in Europe. To me, six of one looks suspiciously like half a dozen of the other.

Eminent journalist and intellectual M J Akbar is editor-in-chief of the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle newspapers. He can be reached at

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