Reaping the whirlwind

THE recent failed UK terror strikes have left a friend and colleague rattled. Her shock is understandable. She comes from Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, which is now being linked to the UK plot with the arrest of Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed in Glasgow and Mohammed Haneef in Australia.

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Published: Sat 21 Jul 2007, 8:34 AM

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

My friend, a devout Muslim, cannot stop wondering how two fellow Bangaloreans could have gone astray. "They are highly educated doctors and engineers, for God's sake!" she points out with her beautiful eyes wide in amazement.

I share her concern. Having lived and worked in Bangalore for four years, I carry fond memories of the city that is celebrated as the Garden City. The lush green city enjoys a great weather all around the year. Even during high summer when temperature in neighbouring state capitals Hyderabad and Madras (Chennai) touches 45 degrees, Bangalore remains refreshingly cool. But even greater than Bangalore's weather are its people, some of the most friendy and hospitable people on earth.

Which is why it's come as a little surprise to me as well that some of Bangalore's brightest boys are being linked to terror. That they happen to be Muslim doesn't make sense either. For Bangalore is one city that defies all stereotypes about Indian Muslims.

It’s home to one of the most educationally and economically advanced Muslim communities in the world. I have no statistics to back my argument but it's commonplace to come across doctors and engineers in almost every Muslim family in the city.

So what is driving such a prosperous and progressive minority community into the arms of extremism? Although there's no evidence whatsoever against Mohammed Haneef, currently being interrogated in Australia, he may eventually end up paying a heavy price for his association with his cousins Kafeel and Sabeel.

What makes young and educated Indian Muslims — eulogised to the skies for their indifference to the charms of global terror until this episode — give up their highly rewarding careers in the West to end up as Al Qaeda's foot soldiers.

Pundits including Muslim intellectuals have often blamed the phenomenon of extremism around the world on economic and social factors such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education and general ignorance.

However, both Kafeel, who tried to ram a burning Jeep into Glasgow airport, and his cousin Haneef come from well-to-do, upper middle class families. Both of Kafeel's parents are doctors by profession.

In fact, most of those rounded up by the UK authorities happen to be doctors – from Iraq, from Jordan and Palestine. What is it then that is turning those who are supposed to heal us into our tormentors? Why are the men who should protect lives are seeking to take lives?

Why indeed? If one is indeed seeking answers, they are not far to seek. They’ve been staring us all in the face. I hate to adopt an I-told-you-so-tone. But this is exactly what we had in mind — all of us who seek a better and peaceful world — when we repeatedly warned against inflaming an already volatile Arab and Muslim world.

In fact, what happened in the UK, or rather failed to happen, would have been surprising if it hadn’t.

For years now, Muslim intellectuals and conscientious individuals in the West media have repeatedly warned against radicalising the Muslim world. They have watched in horror as young Muslims, repelled by historical injustices inflicted on their people, increasingly turn to extremism.

The question of Palestine is only one of these factors. But it is a big and decisive one in shaping Muslim public opinion. For as long as I can remember, I’ve grown up reading about and watching Palestinians suffer daily at the hands of Israelis.

Despite growing up thousands of miles away in India, it was never easy ignoring what these terrorised people went through in their own land, day after day.

Everyday occurrences and scenes like Palestinian women and children being routinely humiliated and killed at Israeli checkpoints – routinely underreported in Western media — go a long way in hardening hearts and minds in the Muslim world.

I still can’t forget the TV footage of Mohammed Al Dura, a 12-year old Palestinian boy, who was gunned down by Israelis in 2000 in Gaza even as his father tried to shield him in vain.

You don’t have to be an Arab or a Muslim to get moved by that frame-by-frame murder of an innocent boy and his father’s desperate attempts to save him. In the end, Jamal al-Dura, the unfortunate father, became a casualty too. Regulation tragedies like these are part of daily life under the Israeli occupation.

But more than the Israeli persecution of Palestinians, it is the Western attempts to defend and protect the Jewish state every time it spills the blood of a helpless people that are more distressing to Muslims around the world. Every time the ineffectual angel called United Nations gathers itself to censure Israel, you have the US promptly stepping forward to veto the move.

Just visit UN website and see how many times Israel’s guardian angels have acted to save this monstrous brat. In any case, what difference do UN resolutions make to Israel or the Middle East? They haven’t made any difference to Palestinians. They continue to remain prisoners in their own land, now for more than 60 years.

But their suffering makes all the difference to Arabs, Muslims and all conscientious people everywhere. It consumes many of them with hatred and anger towards those promoting these historical injustices. It makes terrorists out of peaceful men. It makes suicide bombers out of our brightest men and women. It turns healers into killers.

What happened on Sept. 11, 2001 in the US was most tragic. So were the Madrid bombings of 2004. And so had been the 7/7 strikes on London in 2005. But infinitely tragic and indefensible as these acts of terror were, the world had them coming for some time.

And they had been an inevitable outcome of the anger that runs deep around the world. That the mainstream Muslim world can never accept or condone such acts of terror in the name of Islam is a different issue altogether.

So it’s unfortunate that instead of looking up the sources of Muslim anger and taking steps to check them, the West is playing into the hands of extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

If the West and the US indeed wanted to stop the wave after wave of suicide bombers, they would address the causes that fuel the cauldron of hatred and anger directed at the West.

Instead, the coalition of the willing relentlessly stirs and fuels it with its all-consuming war on terror, from one end of the Muslim world to another. Just switch on your television set and the scenes of destruction on your TV screen are all from one Muslim country or another. From Palestine to Iraq, from Lebanon to Somalia and from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the Muslim world is burning all the time. Just look at Bush’s free and democratic Iraq. Nearly a million people have been killed since the 2003 invasion. And for what? Even Bush hasn’t got a clue.

But now these flames are not limited to Muslim lands. They are beginning to reach countries like India. You know the world has irrevocably changed when you have Indian Muslims turning to desperate measures. After all, with a population of over 200 million, they are the world’s second largest Muslim community.

But why are we really surprised if secular and democratic India’s Muslims are beginning to feel the heat of the blazes consuming the Middle East? It was sure to happen one day or another.

Indian Muslims cannot remain unaffected by the suffering of fellow believers, regardless of what RSS and BJP have to say. This faith does that to you. It makes you part of a world that transcends all barriers and borders created by Man.

This is what makes doctors and engineers born and brought up in Bangalore and living in the West feel the pain of men, women and children dying in Baghdad and Basra. The world’s mightiest army cannot vanquish such universal faith and brotherhood. You would ignore this home truth at your own cost.

Tanks and tonnes of bunker-buster bombs cannot stop desperate and driven men. Justice for those denied justice all these years can.

Aijaz Zaka Syed writes on the Middle East and Muslim world affairs. He can be reached at

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