Mumbai 11/26:

Jihad, fitna, and Muslims in Mumbai

posted by Veena Das

As is now well known, bombs and gunfire rained down on multiple sites in the Indian city of Mumbai in a coordinated terror attack that began on November 26, 2008. The attacks reportedly killed nearly 200 people and injured over 300 more. The ten men who held off the highly trained Indian army commandos for three full days were all young Muslims. According to Indian and American intelligence, the men were recruited by militants in Pakistan and had received training in a number of camps. The sophisticated weaponry and navigation tools that they possessed makes it clear that this attack was organized and coordinated, quite different from the many crude bombings India has faced in recent years—not all of which have been by Muslim groups. Problematically, much of the writing about this event has sought for one single cause or narrative within which we can understand this attack. Instead, I suggest we look at various overlapping threads, which have come to form the pattern that we might characterize as “terrorism.” I present these threads to show how we might track the movement of affective forces, the coming together of contingent events, and the manner in which the forms of the modern state intersect and incorporate various regions of traditions in the making of political subjectivities.

Jihad and Fitna: The anguish of a divided community

While the dichotomy of “moderate” Muslims and “extremists” is prevalent in many media representations, this binary hides more than it reveals. For one thing, to group the modern forms of violence perpetrated by militant Muslim groups, both internal to Muslim groups and directed against non-Muslims, in the single category of “fundamentalism” simply does not work. While fundamentalism is frequently said to involve a literalist understanding of scripture and an emphasis on juristic conception of religious commands, modern forms of jihad (or holy war) are perpetrated by groups that, while accepting the overall authority of the Quran, wish to reorient the traditional Quranic verses on jihad. The form of jihad has varied historically, and traditionally Muslims make a distinction between the greater jihad—that is, a war an individual wages within himself or herself for self-improvement—and the lesser jihad, a war waged against the enemies of Islam. Historically, the latter form of jihad was only permitted to be waged by a Muslim king—individuals did not have the right to take up jihad against non-Muslims. What is more, non-Muslims under a Muslim ruler (if they accepted the legitimacy of the ruler) had the right to be protected as non-Muslim minorities—a provision that is present, for instance, in the constitution of Pakistan. In the history of South Asia there are many instances in which a king, even when urged by certain sections of the Muslim clergy, refused to wage jihad against a Hindu ruler with whom a treaty had been signed. The modern jihadists ignore these classical traditions and instead trace their genealogical connections to twentieth century reinterpretations by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who tried to reorient the classical tradition to make jihad into an individual obligation.

Whether post-independence India is to be characterized as dar-ul-harb (land of infidels) has been debated. Although there is some controversy surrounding this issue, I have examined many fatawas from seminaries that declare India to be dar-ul-aman—a country of order, which, though not ruled by Muslim rulers, is a land where Muslims are free to follow their religion. These fatawas were of-course, delivered in response to specific questions posed by individuals, seeking guidance about whether Muslims were obligated to migrate from India to Muslim lands, or whether Indian Muslims were obliged to follow strict shariat rules regarding investment of money or earning interest on investments. I bring these fatawas up because many media discussions have obscured the fact that discussions of India’s place in the theological reasoning of the Muslim ulama (learned clergy) have historically generated not one but many different answers. We should at least acknowledge that there is no single Muslim opinion, and that not only are Muslim opinions on this and many similar issues complex, but there have also been many attempts by reform seminaries in post-independence India to think of Muslim contributions to the development of India. Even a cursory glance at the official website of the seminary Dar-ul-uloom in Deoband, India, which has been characterized by many as the seat of fundamentalist revival, shows that the mission statements on its history are in four languages—English, Hindi, Arabic and Urdu—each of which assumes a slightly different audience. The text in Hindi, for example, places emphasis on Islamic education in the context of Indian culture, while the text in Urdu discusses the efforts of the seminary to preserve Islam in the face of fears that it will decline in a non-Islamic state. Hence, even texts from the same seminary might emphasize different aspects of the imperatives of shaping Muslim identity in the contemporary world of nation-states.

Jihad has received much attention in the context of a supposedly global terrorism, while the other term with which conflict is associated—fitna—has been overlooked. Fitna refers to internal division among Muslims. One of its meanings recalls the first fight for succession, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, which tore the Muslim community apart. During ethnographic fieldwork among urban Muslims in Delhi, I would often hear sorrow at the state of the Muslims, recalling the first fitna and the various ways in which Muslims were failing Islam. One often hears the secular media and the Hindu right bemoan the fact that Muslims do not protest the actions of the terrorists, yet not only have fatawas been issued declaring the actions of terrorists to be in violation of various Islamic moral injunctions to which the militant groups pay no heed, but also Muslims in both India and Pakistan are terrified of the escalating tensions. The outrage many Muslims feel as a result of the perpetrated violence can be gauged by the refusal of Jama Masjid Trust in Mumbai to allow the nine slain gunmen to be buried in a Muslim graveyard. Some will read only political gesturing in these actions, while others will accuse Indian Muslims of shaping their Islam to the demands of the Indian polity rather than to the principles of Islam. Such accusations ignore the strong imperative faced by many sections of Indian Muslims (and not only moderate or secular Muslims) to interpret Islam according to principles that contest the interpretation of certain passages in the Quran or the hadiths (sayings or actions) of the Prophet literally. Such conflicts of interpretation are of course not new, but participate in a long history of hermeneutic and legal contests.

It would not be wise, or correct, to say that there is no support from Indian Muslims for the violence perpetrated by groups who speak on behalf of Muslim suffering. Muslims in India have legitimate grievances about discrimination—communal riots such as those that occurred in Gujarat and the human rights violations in Kashmir are causes for great concern among Muslims and others. Neither do I wish to say that there are no legitimate Hindu grievances in the neighboring countries of Pakistan or Bangladesh. What I do want to say, however, is that it has becoming increasingly common for Indian Muslims to be in complete disagreement with certain actions being taken in their name. A political community in which individuals have not agreed to be represented is inconceivable; when an individual cannot agree with what is being done in his or her name, the question of action is as acute in politics as in religion. Thus, the responses of ordinary Muslims to militant actions can take various forms—ranging from feelings of helplessness to those of outrage, as expressed in the decision of the Jama Masjid Committee to refuse burial to the militants, even though many think this is in violation of the Muslim obligation to give burial to unclaimed Muslim bodies within three days of death.

The difficulty of reality

The question remains: how should we even begin to conceptualize such a configuration of forces? First, it is important to acknowledge that it is not easy to find the terms with which to characterize the kind of violence perpetrated in Mumbai. We have no way of knowing the extent of the involvement of the Pakistani army or spy agencies in training and financing such operations against India or against Muslim groups such as Shiis (Shia) or Ahmadis in Pakistan. However, the clearly high level of training these militants received makes it possible that these gunmen were in fact commandos, in the mold of those trained by modern armies to kill ruthlessly. So are these acts now a new form of warfare? If so, is this jihad or something different, that relies less on actual damage to life and property and more on the effects that it hopes to generate? These effects could have been communal riots, more suspicion between Muslims and Hindus, further weakening of the recently elected government in Pakistan, and, ultimately, a war between India and Pakistan. The success or failure of this violence should then be gauged in terms of its containment.

Finally, there is the uncertainty that marks any suppositions of who the perpetrators were, what they represented, and how such a spectacular operation was possible. If one reads the Pakistani press, the comments are skeptical of any claim of Pakistani involvement made by India. Some wonder if this is an Indian plot to defame Pakistan, while others try to read every little sign on the bodies of the perpetrators to say that they were not Muslim. It is easy to dismiss all of this commentary as denial, but it seems to me that it is indicative of the helplessness many feel when their actions cannot control those who have come to speak on their behalf. After all, in the most recent elections in 2008 Pakistanis decisively rejected the alliance of Islamic Parties (MMA), which could only win three seats in the National Assembly and even lost in its stronghold in the North West Frontier Area. Yet the civilian government that was elected is not strong enough to deal with the army or the spy agency (which is not surprising, given the long history of army coups). The Indian government has been shown to be unprepared as well, but its failure is not only the failure of the security mechanism. The fact is that the vast underground shadow economy, controlled by Mafia figures, has been allowed to grow in Mumbai and elsewhere to such an extent that the police force has become completely ineffectual because many of its members are part of that underworld economy. Any long-term solution would have to restore the integrity of this and other institutions so that they once again become responsible to the populace. This will need stronger action than even dealing with militants, because a very large number of poor people derive everyday sustenance from participation in the underground economy as well.

Civil action as response to violence

While there has rightly been a lot of concern about failed and weak states, there has to be some appreciation of how civil action succeeded in thwarting the effects that the brutal violence had surely hoped to provoke. People in Mumbai have responded to this set of issues with strong civic action. Similarly, during the movement to restore democracy in Pakistan, new groups of lawyers and students came out in the streets to demand free and fair elections. Over the past eight years I have seen and documented concerted efforts in Muslim neighborhoods in Delhi to engage in discussions about what it means to be Muslim in India. I think that there are shifts in subjectivities that happen over small, sometimes imperceptible, everyday events, which eventually inform political action. The most mature response from India would be to neutralize the terrorist threat by refusing to produce the effects it wishes. The public actions of Muslims in denouncing the violence in India are not simply reactive. Similarly, there are sensible calls to rule out the option of war by various groups in India and Pakistan. It must be understood that even when powerful state actors, such as the army, or global actors, such as the transnational underworld, are involved in sponsoring or producing acts of terrorism, they do not represent the larger polity. Ordinary people in both nations are trying every day to form their relation to political events through their actions in small local communities. Perhaps some of these actions will support the cause of violence, but many others will try to find different solutions.

Behind the division of nation-states in South Asia, there is the long history of empire in this region that connects networks that have moved from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan, and there are the many fluid boundaries that still mark memories of connections and disconnections. Placed in a longer history, the relationships between different social groups carry traces of earlier conflicts and solidarities. This is why a rush to turn Mumbai into India’s own 9/11 is too hasty. Impatience with the messiness of these categories might be much more disastrous than tolerance of uncertainties. A resolution to attend to the necessary everyday reforms, rather than waiting for “wake up” calls, faces enormous obstacles, but just as civil society asserted itself by refusing to respond to the violence in Mumbai with hate and panic, so too it might succeed in supporting the saner elements of Indian and Pakistani politics.

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14 Responses to “Jihad, fitna, and Muslims in Mumbai”

  1. avatar Abhijit Sarkar says:

    Could not imagine a more succinct analysis and framework for decision-making. At an individual level and in institutional contexts, we do need also to fight the demon called ‘Don’t You Know Who Am I’ irrespective of whether it possesses the spouse, the boss or one’s self. This demon seriously undermines efficiency of governance.

    It is a fight that will be long drawn but if strategised wisely, will bear fruit in the shape of a stronger democracy and decolonised mind sets. We should not allow ourselves to be carried away by that section of the rabble-rousing white collar chatterati which seeks to blame the victim, viz democracy, instead of coming to its aid, a reaction quite familiar, for example, in the context of molestation, rape or road crash death of pedestrians or cyclists.

    It is time that we revisited the fashionable soft state versus hard state binary. The real problem is inefficiency. We have to address the inefficiencies that blight our governance systems. The crucial binary is efficient/inefficient governance.

    Finally, nothing is gained from glib skepticism about democratic governance. We should make efforts to remember the socio-political environments in modern Italy, Japan and Germany which were aggravated and exploited by totalitarian and militaristic elements to ride to power. The rest is history. It is important in our enlightened self-interest not to forget and not to be seduced by peddlars of quick fixes.

  2. avatar Amitabh Mukhopadhyay says:

    I’m afraid there is a serious error of judgement in the analysis. We do know who carried out the attacks in Mumbai and the links of these individuals and organisations to the ISI and the Pakistan Army. While there may have been doubts in our minds about perpetrators of earlier incidents, there is absolutely no doubt in any quarter about the facts in the case of the Mumbai attack.

    The doubts about the evidence well accepted by the international community by now, including Pakistan’s government. The action taken by Pakistan at the instance of UNSC no doubt leaves a lot to be desired, and follows a typical pattern of diplomatic moves with never an honest intention, but it does establish the acceptance of the overwhelming evidence about the identity of who the attackers and their generals were.

    Unfortunately, the western media tried to cloud the evidence, perhaps intentionally. It took one notable exception, who tracked the lone surviving attacker’s family and village to the one among several Faridkots in Pakistan, to controvert the familiar obfuscations BBC engages in time and again in the context of Indo-Pak disputes. Veena’s analysis was obviously misled by this obfuscation about whodunnit.

    In a context where there are two wars being waged from Pakistani territory, one, the continuing proxy war against India and the second, the supportive action for Wahabbi/Al Quaida terrorism in a war against developed countries of the North Atlantic, the problem, to my mind, is whether the Mumbai attacks, in design, were part of the former or the latter. It could well be that after the strategic alliance of India with US was signed, the difference between the two wars has been erased.

    When Bush began the attacks on Afghanistan in 2002, he stated on CNN that Musharraf had offered to support the coalition against Taliban and then tellingly said ” He will have to prove it.” The inimitable manner in which Musharraf strung US along since then, grabbing US $ 11 billion for military purposes (deployed against India, not Taliban, as per Rice’s statements) and ensuring that Taliban resurges in Afghanistan, is history. Waking up to this treacherous behaviour, the coalition dethroned him and now hopes to build on a ‘democracy’ in Pakistan. The problems that such a conferred democracy can pose are beginning to hit home. It is quite clear that the democratic government in Pakistan neither enjoys sovereignty nor the support of a wider civil society in Pakistan. The compulsions for such a weak government to follow the same treacherous path as Musharraf exemplified are writ large in the diplomatic postures of the Pakistan government amply portrayed by the mainstream media across the world.

    Why we should eschew the military option and repose trust in the better judgement of some small number of individuals in the Pakistan government and civil society beats me. Of course wars cost us human lives on both sides; but surely there are situations where they become unavoidable. Recall Shakespeare : ” Whether tis nobler in the mind to take up arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them ?” Even Gandhi exhorted the Indian National Congress to support the British forces in the second world war ! The only explanation for the ‘pacifism’ today could be that India has accepted the precedence of the injury of 9/11 over its own pain of 26/11. If this is true, it is magnanimity indeed. I would go along even with such a second rate citizen status for Indians in the world order if I could convince myself that this might help the common cause of the international community (India and Pak included) in the long run.

    But I can’t convince myself about the possibility of the success of such a policy of secondment because I believe that military action by India with ground forces of the kind India has is precisely what US needs to complement its air and naval power in this particular theatre of its war (which is now not just landlocked Afghanistan but the territory of Pakistan as well) against terror. The weak ineffectuality of the US without the support of India’s land army has been demonstrated over 7 long years.

    Yes, there are times when one has to pluck up courage and take on a bully with whatever weapons one has at hand, like the dead Indian policemen and armymen showed us in Mumbai. The solidarity between Hindus and Muslims in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks gives us no reason to worry about the identity of terrorism of the kind suggested by Veena which, nevertheless, is important for us to think about in a more general context.

  3. avatar Veena Das says:

    The main thrust of Amitabh Mukhopadhay’s response to my analysis is to say that it is certain that the gunmen in the Mumbai attacks were trained by Pakistan. He further contends that since this is a proxy war against India, the only appropriate response would be to go to war against Pakistan He not only says that my analysis shows an error in judgment but also detects a failure of nerve as his reference to the courage needed to wage war implies. I expect that Mukhopadhyay’s response is widely shared among many Indians, especially those who would describe themselves as “realists”. It deserves a respectful and serious response. I do not want to engage in a point by point rebuttal because there are too many errors of fact and interpretation. A couple of points, however, need a straightforward confrontation.

    First, I do not say that the gunmen were not trained in Pakistan – the uncertainty I referred to was whether they should be called commandos, terrorists or mercenaries. Further, we do not know if these gunmen were trained by the army, factions of ISI or by the Lashkar-e-Taiba with logistic support from the ISI. What seems fairly certain is that ten gunmen could not have carried out this attack with the large cache of weapons without logistic support from the criminal underworld including perhaps support from some members of the police. It is also clear that the police were ill equipped and that they did not have any emergency plans that could have been immediately operationalized. The heroism of police officers such as of Hemant Kharkare and his colleagues should not obscure the fact that these officers should have had better equipment and better backup. So if there is a whole network of transnational connections that are part of the criminal- terrorist nexus then why has the government not gone after that network immediately? For instance, if Ibrahim Dawood is a wanted criminal then why have we not heard of arrests of his deputies and of his clients among politicians and businesspersons? I speak of these connections that inform any kind of militancy, insurgency and terrorism on the basis of my earlier work in the Punjab and my interviews with many policemen and some politicians between 1984 and 1986. War with Pakistan is not going to resolve the issue of terrorist violence in India because Muslims are not the only actors in this – there are forms of terror by Hindu groups, by Naxalites, by the ULFA and many others. However, cracking down on the underworld that provides logistic support probably will be more successful in dealing with violence.

    There is an implicit accusation in Mukhopadhay’s response that implicates the entire Pakistani society in these attacks. Thus he says that the elected government in Pakistan neither enjoys full sovereignty nor the support of the wider civil society. He calls it a “conferred democracy”. Now, there is little doubt that democracy in Pakistan faces enormous dangers and that geopolitical events have made Pakistan extremely vulnerable to external pressures from the USA but let us not forget the role China has played in blocking Security Council resolutions on terrorist groups in Pakistan. However, to say that people in Pakistan have no stake in democracy, that it is conferred completely from outside is to dismiss the role that pro-democracy movements of lawyers and student movements played in these events. Mukhopadhyay takes no notice of the fact that the alliance of Islamic parties won only 2% of the total votes for the National Assembly. So why does he assume that the Pakistani people are all complicit in these attacks? I stated in my paper that political community assumes that we agree to be represented by others but that the difficulty is that increasingly actions are taken on behalf of populations to which their consent is assumed rather than ascertained. How is one then to establish dissent? It would be as if the entire Indian or Hindu population were to be assumed to be party to the massacre of Christians in Orissa or in the bombing of Samjhauta Express by Hindu terrorist outfits. For that matter, should we hold all Indians responsible for the training of Tamil militants in the training camps in Tamilnadu in the initial period of civil war in Sri Lanka? The point made by Abhijit Sarar is extremely important – that we need to come to the aid of democratic institutions – not create conditions for weakening them. The point about the limited sovereignty of Pakistan is well taken in Mukhopadhyay, but how would going to war resolve this problem?

    Mukhopadhay makes a passionate plea for war, quoting Gandhi, no less. Let us take the realist argument seriously and define what going to war means in these times – beyond the tired old paradigms of states having the monopoly of declaring war on each other as signs of sovereign power. Would going to war right now mean a limited engagement as in Kargil ? For Pakistan to redeploy its forces away from Afghanistan giving a respite to al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan is precisely the effects that the Mumbai attacks would have hoped to achieve. Does war now mean targeting training camps in Pakistan and destroying them, assuming that we have better intelligence on those than we had on terrorist networks within India? However, as the experience of Middle East and Afghanistan has shown, such strategies for containing terrorism do not work because they impose so much suffering on civilian populations( besides placing one’s own soldiers in impossible positions as the experience of the Army atrocities everywhere shows), that civilian population ends up supporting all kinds of violence. The nature of war in the twentieth century has undergone complete transformation – one aspect of this is the entanglement of state and non-state actors in making war into a chronic condition rather than time bound violence conducted within rules of mutually agreed warfare. Is the experience of Sri Lanka not enough to make us want to find other solutions than a possibility of either chronic war or mutual destruction by nuclear weapons?

    Mukhopdhyay bemoans the fact that we in India are becoming second class citizens of the world. I too feel that our sovereignty is deeply compromised. Unlike Mukhpadhyay, though, I fear that this is not only because of the terrible events in which 178 people have died in a murderous attack but also because four hundred people die every year in the jostle of passengers getting in and out of trains at he Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai; more than two thousand people died in communal riots in Gujarat; and we do not even have proper estimates of how many are dying of multi-drug resistant TB every year. We do indeed live in dangerous times but one hopes that an open and free discussion of the kind Sarkar and Mukhpadhyay make an effort to engage in, will help us against precipitous actions

  4. avatar Arun Gupta says:

    Veena Das’s response to Amitabh Mukhopadhyay seems to have the usual implication that we cannot do anything about one specific problem because, see, we have so many others.

    The first question I’d have for Veena Das is – just how perfect does India have to be for it not to merit attacks like that in Mumbai? Maybe if everything was perfect between India’s various Hindus and Muslims, then drug-resistant TB would also decide to quit!

    2. Does Veena Das think the problem of overcrowded trains, or drug resistant TB, or communal riots can be effectively addressed, let alone solved in a context of incessant terrorist attacks? Remember that 11/26 is merely the latest of a series of outrages.

    3. The Pakistani army is unwilling to guard a bunch of trucks (the NATO supply convoys) parked in an enclosed area. Three successful attacks have been recorded in the last few days. The US explicitly pays the Pakistani army for such protection. Would it not be a disastrous revelation to the world if the Pakistani army redeploys on the eastern border and things do not get any worse in Afghanistan? The utter bankruptcy of US policy would be exposed as well as the total complicity of the Pakistani Army. Right now the plausible deniability is there – that it is only “rogue” elements in the Pakistani establishment that are responsible, if at all. Is that why there is such opposition to any military move by India?

  5. avatar Ahilan Kadirgamar says:

    I very much like Prof. Veena Das’ intervention. Her moves open up the discussion on fundamentalism and India’s Muslims, including the complicated character of the problem of religion, politics and violence. I also really appreciate her caution about how we analyze this situation: “Impatience with the messiness of these categories might be much more disastrous than tolerance of uncertainties.”

    So, while I find the article to be important and useful, particularly given my dissatisfaction with some of the other articles in this Blog, I was also a bit worried about one line from Prof. Das’ article: “While there has rightly been a lot of concern about failed and weak states, there has to be some appreciation of how civil action succeeded in thwarting the effects that the brutal violence had surely hoped to provoke.” I am concerned about the use or the legitimization of the “failed state” concept. I am increasingly seeing this concept unconsciously used by a number of activists and Left-leaning intellectuals, and I believe we have to be aware of its neo-colonial character. Perhaps, politically engaged academics such as Prof. Das could work on the genealogy of this failed state concept, on critiques similar to many important critiques on “terrorism”. After all, the failed state concept gained much prominence after Sept 11th, as the Bush doctrine claimed that “failed states” breed “terrorism”. Just as the current moment, in light of a change of regime in Washington provides an opportunity to critique and challenge the “war on terror”, perhaps it should also lead to a critique of “failed states”, including the dangers of enabling disastrous international interventions.

  6. avatar Rita Brara says:

    I agree with Veena Das that war initiated by India in the wake of the dastardly Mumbai attacks is not a way out of terrorism. In these globalized times, 9/11 provided the media with a template to understand what was quickly dubbed 26/11 and the line of action that followed. But I must say that I find it difficult to visualize an improved scenario, post-war. In the aftermath, we’d be back to square one. The two nations would be embroiled, yet again, in a cycle of reprisals with a renewed vigor.

    Each terrorist attack is different from any one that precedes or succeeds it and its fall-out also has distinct repercussions. It was just fortuitous, in my view, that Pakistan’s hand was quickly discerned. In the midst of so much anger and by a stroke of chance, the Indian state found the fury turned away from it and deflected to its outside, in the main. It is not inconceivable that terrorists based in India could have been the perpetrators (for Kashmir’s liberation, for instance) in connivance with the underworld and state personnel both here and in Pakistan. Das is right to draw attention to the possible complicity of underground gangs or the police but fortunately for the Indian state that discourse has not been center-stage though it does surface every now and then. The mediatized citizens’ charter on terror captured in the phrase ‘enough is enough’ has generated a new public space concerned with upgrading nuts-and-bolts security – it has not trained its lenses on the underground or encounters of daily brinksmanship vis-à-vis civic failures which impact safety yet.

    That the terrorists were not Indians was the silver lining to this attack, not because I must look for the silver but because things could have gotten much worse. Instead of triggering possible communal riots in the city, the citizens of Mumbai’s diverse faiths could condemn it in no uncertain terms and mingle spontaneously in their solidarity as Indian citizens. But I do realize that what was a chance that worked in India’s favor, has cast a shadow on Pakistan’s fledgling democracy and drawn attention away from those aspects of the problem that are shared, despite other differences, by the two nations – hydra-headed networks of terror that seem difficult to rein in for both states.

    This piece has turned out to be longer than I had intended. Thank you, The Immanent Frame and Veena Das, for this window.

  7. avatar Prem Saptarishi says:

    This is an interesting post that leaves a number of issues unclear. May we focus, first, on some basic points related to Islam itself?

    (1) Do we have any evidence that jihad had historically been led or fought only by Muslim kings and not by Islamic groups and or individuals?

    (2) What evidence do we have, historically, of a clearly recognized and implemented distinction between greater jihad and lesser jihad? Any evidence that when Islamic scholars or Muslim laypersons historically spoke of or promoted Jihad, they were referring to Greater Jihad and not to Lesser Jihad?

    (3) The author writes: “What is more, non-Muslims under a Muslim ruler had the right to be protected as non-Muslim minorities.”

    Was this right a ‘privilege’ or was this a ‘disability’ imposed on conquered peoples?

    Even the fact of the four mission statements of Dar-ul-uloom in Deoband being so radically different from each other seems very interesting. Why did the author feel the educational institution chose to present four different mission statements in four different languages?

    It will be very helpful to receive the author’s feedback on these issues.

  8. avatar Motiram Lakhi says:

    ‘Mukhopadhyay takes no notice of the fact that the alliance of Islamic parties won only 2% of the total votes for the National Assembly. So why does he assume that the Pakistani people are all complicit in these attacks?’

    I am afraid Veena Das mistakenly identifies communal and sectarian exclusively with the theocratic.

    Islamic parties won just 2% votes simply because the large majority of Pakistanis do not share their vision of Islamic state based on shariat. But many, who did not vote for them, nevertheless share their xenophobic world view. Otherwise, how else can one explain that a poll conducted in Pakistan in 2007 revealed a 46% approval rating for Osama bin Laden, which was even more than that of President Musharraf?

    Jinnah was thoroughly modern and ‘secular’ in his life and manners and abhorred theocracy. Yet his two nation theory lies at the root of much of communal bad blood in the sub-continent. His call for Direct Action in August 1946 unleashed, starting with the Great Calcutta Killings, a wave of riots in the country, ferocity of some of which puts even the terrorist attacks of today to shame.

    Hate Hindu/India platform is not an exclusive preserve of Islamic parties’ run Madrassas. It is more a legacy and perpetuation of the two nation theory and is disseminated through the mainstream ‘secular’ state run schools. The prescribed compulsory subject of ‘Pakistan Studies’ taught there is replete with anti Hindu/India narratives. It is this brain washing, rather than any theocratic indoctrination, which lays down the fertile ground for militant organizations like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to flourish and find financial support and fidayeen recruits.

    The slender percentage of Islamic parties’ vote should not therefore be taken as a gauge for extent of popularity enjoyed by JeM /LeT militancy in the wider Pakistani civil society.

  9. avatar Veena Das says:

    I am grateful for this interest from several commentators to discuss the issues I raise and would have liked a face-to-face conversation. Let me then address the specific questions addressed to me in that mode.

    Arun Gupta
    How perfect does India have to be, Arun Gupta asks, for it not to merit attacks like that of Mumbai? My response is fairly simple – no one in my opinion “merits” attacks. My reference to the deaths from overcrowding of trains, from communal riots,and from MDR TB was to draw attention to the fact that some deaths go unnoticed because they are incurred in the course of daily life, “business as usual.” If we we were to consider sovereignty as the power invested in the state to provide security to its population, rather than exclusively in relation to the power to resist aggression, then such failures are a sign of the fact that the state has failed in its sovereign function. Even more grievous is the condition of security when criminals can openly threaten lawful citizens and extort money, favors and even cause them to exile themselves. Unless we recognize that failures of the kind I describe create the conditions of possibility in which acts of terrorism become possible, we will simply be dousing one fire here and one there. We need to address networks that connect the outside with the inside as a response to the manner in which questions of security themselves have changed. It is indeed regretful that the Pakistani Army is failing in some vital respects – I somehow do not feel very congratulatory about the police and the need to fly commandos from Delhi in the Mumbai case either. Most of all I regret the tone with which Mr.Gupta says that “Maybe if everything was perfect between India’s various Hindus and Muslims, then drug-resistant TB would also decide to quit!” The deaths of the poor who are the ones who mainly die from such diseases should have received attention of and for themselves – but because this is another kind of ticking bomb that will one day hit the elite – it will probably come on the security radar only when it is capable of producing panic.

    Ahilan Kadirgamar
    Ahilan Kadirgamar’s comment on the genealogy of the concept of “failed state” is very astute, indeed. While Deborah Poole and I have written on the problems of this concept elsewhere, I do not want to dismiss the concerns of those who would like to make the state much more responsible for certain services it alone can delver in the contemporary context. For me the issue is that the poor cannot get certain goods and services from the market – this brings us back to the state and the necessity of political action to hold it responsible for certain services. Of-course I understand Kadirgamar’s point that those who advocate the failed state thesis manage to erase the role of geopolitical forces, transnational underground networks and the functioning of global markets in producing the so-called failed states such as in Africa. He is right that this aspect cannot be pushed to the background.

    Prem Saptarishi
    I appreciate the need for more clarifications on several points. There are several excellent books on jihad, so I am going to offer only a couple of examples to clarify my claims. Many historians have made the point that the notion of jihad has been given different orientations by different theorists. In the context of South Asia, the chronicles of conquest such as Taj-ul-Ma’athir composed by Tajud Din Hasan Nizami, that describes Qutub-ud-din Aibak’s conquests, for instance, despite all the language of breaking idols and killing infidels is clear that jihad was waged by the king and that when pressed by those learned in Islam to wage jihad against Rajput kingdoms where people had not accepted islam, the king preferred to form alliances and accept tribute from those whom he had defeated. Some Islamic scholars have talked of four types of jihad and not two, but the primary distinction between the greater jihad and the lesser jihad is based on Quranic verses and a well-known hadith. My point about rights of minorities in Muslim kingdoms is not to suggest that they had rights in accordance with modern conceptions of rights but rather to point out that the condition of plurality has been dealt with by application of rules in various Muslim and Hindu kingdoms. Historians such as Sanjay Subramaniam and Andre Wink have shown that statecraft during the Mughal Empire included the idea of management of difference by accommodation and by other non-violent strategies some of which were interestingly derived from theoreticians such as Chanakya whose works were translated in Arabic and Persian. The give and take of categories, concepts, friendships, enmities, alliances and conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia is tied to the long history of the region and seems to have been obscured because we either look for perfect harmony or complete disharmony. The task instead is to learn how to inherit a past that is full of contradictory impulses, affects and interests as is life itself.

    Obviously there are many different ways in which the notion of jihad is now being redefined but in my own work with Muslim communities, I did not find people simply rushing in for waging jihad. Some khutbas or sermons after the Friday prayers did mention the obligation toward self-improvement as the true jihad. However, this is not to say that violence does not hold its attractions for young men among both Muslims and Hindus in many of the social formations now coming into being in the low income localities with which I am familiar.

    As for the Dar-ul-uloom website using four languages, my point is not that they are constructing totally different narratives for each language but rather than each language inflects the story in different ways. Expressing yourself in many different languages is again part of the long tradition of Muslims and Hindus in South Asia. After all the great romantic ballads of the medieval period were written in Hindavi, Awadhi, Punjabi, and Indo-Persian by Muslim mystics and poets just as Hindu writers used Urdu and Persian freely.

    Rita Brara

    Rita Brara makes us pause by her very important comment that the Hindu-Muslim unity displayed after the Mumbai attacks is very welcome but it is fragile. I thank her for bringing up the issue as to what if these gunmen had turned out to be Indian using the same networks of crime and underground economy? Such scenarios threaten both India and Pakistan. I am hopeful that Indian publics will understand the fragility of Pakistan’s situation and conversely that there will emerge some strong statement from Pakistani publics on the ruinous violence that as Devji says, has become unanchored from any political agenda and hence an end in itself. But I think such social formations will arise if we continue the work of mutual criticism. Perhaps we might recall that Frontier Gandhi or Badshah Khan was from the very same region that is now a site of violent conflicts and that there are deeper memories that we can work with.

  10. avatar Rajesh Rai says:

    Much to my surprise, I agree substantially with Veena Das. I believe the problem of a thoroughly corrupt political and police hierarchy in India in general and Mumbai in particular is facilitator of most of the significant criminal activity in Mumbai, with tentacles extending all over India, particularly New Delhi. This involves all political parties, be they BJP, Congress and “Shiv Sena”, since nothing changed on the ground when these parties were in power. Indeed, Shiv Sena seems to be almost an extension of the “criminal-terrorist” combine, as it very carefully targets Hindus from other provinces and never touches known criminals, because Shiv Sena knows that retaliation will be swift and brutal. Shiv Sena and “Muslim terrorists ” are two sides of the same coin. Even a ten year old shoeshine boy in Mumbai knows who the crooks are, in or out of uniform. Regrettably, another facilitator of this lawlessness is the entertainment industry.

  11. avatar Devraj Singh says:

    As a school teacher in Khalsa School I get to browse the web once in a while but the discussion on Mumbai caught my attention. I do not say that I understand everything that was said but I feel that though I am convinced by the arguments made by Veena Das with my mind, my heart does not fully agree. I think she underestimates the dangers that terrorism poses and especially the role of Pakistan. But I am also reminded of 1984. Today I feel that Pakistan should be taught a lesson. Then the Hindus felt that Sikhs should be taught a lesson. Not many can forget the articles written by Veena Das in newspapers then which made many of us Sikhs feel that after all we did belong to India. But it was not only her courage to speak up to the government as well as to the militants, it was also her deep knowledge and her tireless work for the survivors. No wonder, we felt that when the Langowal – Rajiv Gandhi accord was to be announced and Langowal was to give a speech in Delhi University, it was right that Veena Das was asked to preside. Everyone thought that the meeting would break up into violence but when Veena Das introduced the subject in chaste Punjabi, all felt that she had been completely fair in saying what the problems were, facing the Sikhs and the nation. I hope she is correct today in saying that war is no solution but are there people in Pakistan who can also join in protesting their own country’s involvement? At the time of 1984, we felt that all people of good will were with us against the government – that included Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims. But it was the public declaration of the guilt of the Congress Party and the denouncing of Hindu right by prominent figures like Veena Das that made us believe in the nation once again. But I must confess I do not have the same trust in anyone any more.

  12. avatar Afzal Rahman says:

    I thank Veena Das for her sane and cogent analysis of the Mumbai slaughter. Her basis for discussion is extremely constructive as it comes at a time when many are calling for a violent response [including war with Pakistan] to a violent act.

    If more like her are willing to engage in beneficial conversation we may yet break this cycle of violence.
    Muslims are far from being a homogeneous community and have no reason to bear the burden of collective guilt for isolated acts of violence. Keep in mind that the majority of victims worldwide since 9/11 of such carnage have been Muslims.

    Rather than delve into the many holes in the case against Pakistan vis-a-vis forensic evidence, I would advocate a search for the causes of such violence in the state of injustice and economic frailty that Muslims find themselves in.

  13. avatar Arun Gupta says:

    I’ve been following on and off the web career of a young Pakistani, Yasser Latif Hamdani, over the past decade. He has written a rather uncharacteristic piece at, which I would not have predicted from having met him once and having read him way too frequently.

    He concludes:

    “In my letter to the Indians, I ranted about Indian media and its propaganda against Pakistan. Now I ask myself: Can we blame them? I don’t blame them in the least. We deserved every single bit of what we got from the Indian media. May this be the sledge hammer for us to finally wake up from our deep slumber of ignorance and arrogance.”

    Given what Pakistan is today, it is courageous of him to write this from within Pakistan, and is also a very unexpected and welcome change of heart.

    If we see this from Pakistan’s leaders as well, including a real commitment to shut down their “non-state actors”, (and also from e.g., Saudi Arabia, who needs to shut down their national Mahmoud Bahaziq, Lashkar-e-Taiba financier), then perhaps the “business as usual” deaths – which will not get attention in a time of terrorism and war – can be addressed.

    As an aside: If India’s elite is not scared almost witless of TB, malaria, AIDS and influenza and pandemics in general and of global warming – Himalayan glacier meltdown, water shortages, and rising sea levels, then they are among the most clueless and stupid elite a country has been blessed with, and I am glad I’ll never be one of them. On the other hand, bringing up all of these at the mention of any **other** problem is also witless, in my opinion. In any case, the first job of the state is external security. If a United India had had the truncated central government of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1940s then the **only** job of the state would have been external security; internal security would have been the responsibility of the various groupings of states. So just as Veena Das expands sovereignty to try to make terrorism only one problem in many, I can just as well contract it to make terrorism the prime and only problem. That is why I disagree so vehemently with what she has written.

  14. avatar Lata Jagtiani says:

    I want to write in very simple terms about the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008. Not because I can’t disguise my political orientations behind careful scholarly words that dress up my biases well, but because I live a three minute walk away from Nariman House, the Leopold and the Tajmahal Hotel, three of the five chosen spots of the terror attack.

    I am a Hindu from a Sindhi family that originated in the Mohenjodaro civilisation; we belong to a group of people who have not waged wars on invaders, and for the most part, have allowed them to enter, rule, and take away our lands. My parents and 12,250,000 Sindhis of a total of 14,000,000 Hindu Sindhis fled when there was pointed ethnic cleansing post-August 1947. It has been the largest exodus of any community in the world, but perhaps merits no attention from academia, one wonders why.

    Sindhi Hindus did not quarrel with their Muslim neighbours, and lost their land, and today are nomads in the world, with the biggest presence in Mumbai, India because Sindh was earlier a part of the Bombay Presidency.

    After seeing all this, would you not think that Hindu Sindhis had every justification in the world to go to Karachi, their homeland once, and blow up various places there, if not Islamabad and Lahore, too? Shall we look, for a change, at the roots of evil? Do they really lie in a sense of being cheated, or do they lie in a religious history that provides amble proof that violence pays rich dividends?

    May I ask sensible people to be fair?

    Parsees have every reason to get enraged, but they don’t; Sindhi Hindus have lost their homeland and are about to lose their cultural identity, thanks to Islamic ethnic cleansing, and yet they don’t; for once, can we see where the real roots of evil are? Do they lie not in feeling cheated, but in feeling a sense of pride that suicide attacks are deeds of honour?

    I believe when we try to justify violence by saying that people take to this avenue because their grievances are not addressed, we become part of the problem because we are giving the terrorist a green signal, an approval.

    Let’s be careful about what we approve.

    Its like saying that a child who throws a tantrum is right because he is making so much noise about being deprived of something. It’s like telling the good child to hand over that something to the brat because he must be right, otherwise why would he make so much noise? Let’s look at our assumption here. A Muslim clergy that refuses to bury terrorists is seen as good, wheras this refusal is not a “good” act but only a normal act. Underneath this all, lies a subconscious feeling that Muslims cannot be expected to behave normally and when they do, we should regard it as a giant step for the community. When lawyers in India refused to take Ajmal Kasab’s case, why was there no appreciation of this good act? In fact, much more was expected of lawyers than can be expected of clergy? Both were professional, but one was seen as “good” and another seen as “erroneous.” Let’s examine our own underlying low expectations of Muslims and ask ourselves why we have these, in the first place.

    The doors and windows of my home reverberated through those three nights and days, I packed a quick bag in case the building caught fire from one of those three places that were attacked. Can we get out of the ivory towers and see how it feels to walk down the road knowing one may not go back to the meal one has cooked for supper?

    Of the 170 people who died in the Mumbai terror attacks 10 were Sindhi Hindus, and yet, believe me, none of their families will take to violence, despite current and past history. They will instead build schools, colleges and hospitals in memory of the lost loved ones.

    Let’s ask ourselves why. Perhaps we can then stop suffering from the Patricia Hearst Stockholm syndrome.

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