‘So, why is it that every terror attack involves a Muslim?’ It’s a question that’s asked with rising anger after every terror attack. It’s not an invalid question in the present times (LTTE is now a distant memory and ‘Hindu’ terror was, after all, purely ‘retaliatory’). Mumbai, New York, London, Dhaka, Istanbul, Paris, Brussels, Orlando: add Nice to the bloody calendar. We can call it by different names: Islamic radicalism, Jehadi terror, Salafi terror, Wahabi terror, Islamic state, Boko Haram, Laskhar, Jaish, Al Qaeda: at the heart of the terror network is a religion at war with itself and it appears with the rest of the world, fighting a civilisational battle with modern weaponry. No point listening to a religious preacher telling you that Islam is a religion of peace, that the Koran would never endorse the killing of innocents. The fact is, there are beastly people out there who are killing in the name of the Koran.
And yet, you ask yourself: must every Muslim be put in the dock after every terror attack? Because that is precisely how the narrative is sought to be played out, and not just by a rabid Donald Trump, but by even otherwise perfectly reasonable men and women. It is almost as if the guilt of the terrorist must be shared by every Muslim on this planet. They are the ‘other’, the ‘enemy within’, not to be trusted, not to be indulged. Forget that terror groups like Islamic State have killed more Muslims than any other religious group. Forget about ”root causes’ and freedom fights. Terror has an address in the eyes of millions and it reads C/O Islam. So, let’s press stop on the denial button and accept that the suicide bomber has won this round: he has ensured that the world is now sharply divided on religious grounds, that any Gandhian belief in peace and brotherhood is a romantic illusion.
Now, having got that out of the way, let’s look at where next this narrative of Islamic terror is taking us, especially in a country like India with the third largest Muslim population in the world. It leads us to believe that every Kashmiri Muslim is a stone thrower whose eyes must be gouged out. It leads us to justify the lynching of a Mohammed Akhlaq for allegedly storing beef in his fridge. And even after his death by lynching, we still want to victimise his family by accusing them of cow-slaughter. It leads to beef bans and re-conversion campaigns. It leads us to creating ghettoised neighbourhoods where Muslims are denied flats in upscale localities in our metros and to the growing marginalisation of Muslims in public and political spaces. It builds the worst kind of stereotypes of Muslims as baby producing factories, of being violent and criminal minded ‘anti-Nationals’ who secretly owe allegiance to Pakistan, or else are closet IS sympathisers. It leads us to even rename roads in the heart of the capital so that we can wipe out the last vestiges of Islamic rule. It leads us to see a Hindu Muslim marriage as a ‘love jehad’. It leads Muslims too into the trap of perpetual ‘victimhood’, to see themselves as second class citizens who must pay the price for the heinous acts of fellow Muslims. And yes, it does lead a few young Muslims to be indoctrinated by the merchants of terror and seek ‘revenge’ by becoming part of a global ‘jehad’. Oh, of course, we have ‘good’ Muslims like Sharukh, Aamir, Salman, Zaheer, Sania, Shah Faesal (the Kashmiri who topped the IAS), and yes, APJ Abdul Kalam. But they are the exceptions: the rule is defined by all those bearded guys with a cap who scare us and must be shunned.
And so, each time a terror plot is foiled like recently in Hyderabad, we expect every Muslim to condemn it loudly and unequivocally. It’s almost as if their silence is culpability: so what if they are just like a majority of Indians just doing an honest day’s work in anonymity? But if an Asauddin Owaisi chooses to lambast the IS publicly, we don’t really want to listen to him: after all, he belongs to a ‘Muslim’ party, so why should we see him as a credible voice against terror. And as for the Javed Akhtars and Shabana Azmis, they are the usual liberal suspects: their secular credentials cannot hide the grim reality of a community that we are told is unable to co-exist with others. As for our mainstream netas, they are so trapped in their vote bank politics, that who really listens to them anyway.
And what of the rest of us pseudo-liberals? We are trapped between those who live in denial and those who choose to demonise. We are losing the fight because you can fight bigotry, you can fight pseudo-patriots but you can’t fight the gun, or a terrorist truck driver who mows down innocents. And yet, fight we must. Because the price of our silence strengthens the hate mongers. Because India is the last hope for the treasured notion of unity in diversity. Because an eye for a stone will blind us all: blind us with hate.