Iraq, Iran or the Danish cartoons…for Muslims in India, Bush is The Enemy.
ALKA PANDE, Outlook Magazine
How do India’s Muslims perceive the visit of George W. Bush? If a rally in Lucknow on February 19 was any indication, the US president is not very welcome in India. Irate crowds of Lucknawi Muslims, numbering over a lakh, started out as a protest against the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, but ended up fulminating against the US president. Placard after placard dubbed him as ‘Shaitan Bush’ or ‘The Real Terrorist’; his effigy was beaten and burnt; the Stars and Stripes was dragged through the streets. On that Sunday, America was trampled upon and rubbished.
Fiery speakers, in succession, demanded that the Manmohan Singh government should cancel the visit of Bush. The rally in Lucknow may well be a dress rehearsal for the protests scheduled on March 1, the day the US president is to arrive in India. On that day, the Jamait-ul-Ulema has planned protests in Delhi, at a public meeting on the Ramlila grounds. A second demonstration is slated for March 3, before the UP assembly. "The agitations won’t stop till the time our voices are heard," says Maulana Mahmood Madni, general secretary of the Jamait-ul-Ulema. And he’ll take nothing short of the maximum: a reversal of the upa government’s policy of proximity to the US.
Muslims here see America as synonymous with the West, and Bush with the enemy of Islam. They have seen Bush bomb Afghanistan, pulverise Iraq, and now turn bellicose against Iran. It’s why they suspect him to be the mastermind of the ‘global conspiracy against Islam’, a catch-all phrase which explains every controversy dogging the community, be it Danish cartoons or the association of Islam with terror.
Says Maulana Amis Sewani, member, Idara-e-Shariya, "The Jewish lobby (in the US) is working strategically against Muslims, trying to divide, break and eventually eliminate Muslims from the globe." This is seen as part of America’s policy to subjugate other nations in its quest for domination. As Sewani, a Sunni, says, "First the US broke Russia in pieces, destroyed Afghanistan, then Iraq and now Iran. The whole world knows how it tormented these countries to emerge as the most powerful force."
The maulana accuses the US of fixing ‘deals’ with other nations only to further its own interests, echoing in crude terms precisely the fears many, including the Left, articulate. "The US policy is, ‘take from me whatever you want, but do what I ask you to’," says Sewani, explaining why India should be wary of Bush. "He’s coming to India to grasp it in his hand, just as he had done with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc." Asks Maulana Abul Irfan, founder president of the Idara-e-Shariya and who perceives the US as the enemy of all, "Hindustan aur America kabhi dost nahin rahe, ab kaise ho sakte hain (India and America were never friends, how can they be now)?"
And it’s not just the Sunnis who are opposed to Bush. Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawwad feels that to be close to the US is to also endorse its decidedly anti-Islamic ideology. "Instead of empathy for the 20 crore Muslims, the Manmohan Singh government is supporting the US which is an anti-Islam nation."
The Shias in Lucknow had also been deeply agitated over India’s decision to vote against Iran at the IAEA. The protests, though, had been sporadic. The cartoon controversy, far easier to comprehend than complex foreign policy issues, fanned the discontent into a raging passion, and brought the Shias and Sunnis on a common platform. And the glue that holds them together: anti-America, anti-West, anti-imperialist sentiment.
Tahira Hasan, general secretary of the Tehrik-e-Niswan, an organisation which works with women, warns, "America will not stop after Iran. It will be India next." Tahira is certain that the real motive behind Bush’s campaign against Iran is to control oil wells.Similarly, Dr Shabbir Ahmed, a professor in Lucknow University, feels the Iran issue portrays the hypocrisy of the developed world. "These nations claim to have intentions to help poor nations. But when they are on the road to success, the powerful (read the West) cause impediments." Bush is the most recognisable, potent symbol of this hypocrisy, and so against him the Muslims will protest.