//Fighting Against Stereotypes in India

Fighting Against Stereotypes in India

Stop denigrating Muslims as terrorists and madrasas as factories of terrorism?.
That was the cry by Muslim and Muslim leaders in India as a response to the increasing suspicion by the majority community on them.

In the past few weeks, there has been an increasing suspicion among global community, especially the West, about Islam and Muslim community. In Britain, there have been reports about the eagerness of the authority to rein in the terror threats from fundamentalist groups (read: Muslim radicals). In India, where more than 13 million Muslims live as a minority in a democratic state, the situation is no difference.

Let’s take the following illustrations as examples of this phenomenon. Following the failed plot to blow up several airlines mid-air early this month, the British police took immediate actions by arresting 24 British Muslims of Asian decent for their "suspected" involvement in the failed plot. Two weeks later, only eight out of that 24 initially arrested were formally charged with conspiracy to murder and plotting acts of terrorism, and another three for lesser crime.

In India, the Mumbai police have since detained hundreds of young Muslims following the train blasts in the Indian economic capital last month. Even though no clear headway has been made so far in the investigation of the blasts, this aggressive action by the authority has created fear and resentment among Muslim community in India. The arrests that precede investigations and the media projection on Indian Muslim community have somehow deepened the popular stereotype in India that whenever terrorist strikes, Muslims must be a part of it.

It is in the view of these recent incidents, both in India and globally, that recently, Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, India?s premier organization of Muslim clerics, organized a convention on terrorism in New Delhi to try to quash this Muslim stereotyping. It aims at seeking ways to defeat radical ideologies that attract Muslim youth to terrorism.

Attending the conference were prominent leaders of Indian Muslims like Maulana Asarul Qasmi, Maulana Fuzailur Rehman Hilal Usmani and Maulana Matinul Haque Osama as well as government representative, the Information & Broadcasting and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, P.R. Dasmunshi. PM Manmohan Singh also attended this conference.

Indian Muslim leaders complained that instead of adopting the role of an objective and neutral medium in disseminating news about events and ideas relating to Islam and Muslims, the Indian government and the media had played a subservient role to the western perception: Islamophobia. Thus it urged the government to introduce curbs for biased and partisan projection of Muslims in India following the latest terror attack on trains in Mumbai that killed more than 200 lives and injuring many others.

Responding to this plea, the government promised to conduct more regular dialogues between Muslim community and the central and state governments to address their concerns and make them a partner to face the terrorist challenge as well as to correct the wrong impressions in the mindsets of the majority community about Islam and Muslim community in India. Concrete steps have been announced by the government in which a conference of chief ministers will soon be convened by the central government where corrective steps in this matter will be formulated.

Furthermore, PM Singh cautioned against the tendency to suspect an entire community for the handiwork of a handful of extremists. He also said that the police forces should guard against painting the entire community with the same brush while probing incidents of terrorist violence. Being a Sikh himself, he drew a parallel of the current situation faced by the Indian Muslims with the Punjab experience in the 1980s when all Sikhs were branded as terrorists due to the terrorist activities by a group in the Sikh community.

Similarly the Indian media that has been playing quite prominent role in this stereotyping should use their freedom to clear the misconceptions about the matter. They should go for a deeper probe into what started it all instead of aping the West in demonizing Islam and branded anyone a terrorist.

In the conclusion of the conference, the Muslim leaders agreed to disapprove terrorism in any forms and pledge to cooperate with each other to maintain peace and tranquility in the country.

It is an open secret that almost everyone is agreed that the fight against terrorism is one of hearts and minds. Not only will we not win them by clod-hopping investigation that paints an entire community as villains like the illustrations above, we will also lose many. Concrete steps promised by the Indian government to engage actively and understand the issues faced by the Indian Muslim community are good and promising steps in this direction. Similarly, the Muslim community should not be in denial about the fact that radical elements do exist in the community, or other communities in India. They have to work hard to eliminate this element.

Thus, closer cooperation with each other and active supports from the government as well as an objective and non-biased media will help in the successful fight against this stereotyping. Moreover, in democracy, dialogue to build a consensus is the key in solving problems. Since India is the largest democracy in the world in which democratic traditions have entrenched quite deeply in the Indian culture, it would not be difficult for India and Indian community as a whole to achieve this goal and preserve peace and tranquility in the country.