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'Keep the faith with India and Bombay'

The Rediff News Bureau | December 02, 2008 14:48 IST

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'Keep the faith with India and the city I love, Bombay,' author Gregory David Roberts pleads on his web site.

The Melbourne, Australia-born Roberts who, since escaping from Pentridge Prison has made a new life in India and who, famously, wrote his best-selling novel Shantaram seated in a corner table of Leopold's Cafe [Images] in South Mumbai, makes an eloquent plea on behalf of the country that changed him from convicted bank robber to much lionized author.

'If we continue to visit the country and meet the people,' says Roberts, 'if we spend our time in the beautiful chaos and chaotic beauty, if we spend our money in the bazaars and hotels, if we buy the books by great Indian writers, listen to the music by brilliant Indian composers and musicians, marvel at the splendour of Indian dancers, watch the captivating movies, wonder at the art galleries -- in other words, if we go on opening our hearts to the best that India teaches us, the people who did this violence can never win.'

In an extensive, thoughtful post, Roberts distils 'hundreds' of emails and comments into a list of commonly asked questions, and attempts to provide reasoned answers. The objectives of the attack, says the author, are 'a) to draw attention to, redress, and seek revenge for injustices suffered by Muslims; b) to incite radical or potentially radical Muslims to join their ranks, or to act independently; and c) to force national governments -- particularly democracies -- to reveal what the Jihadists perceive to be their true, repressive, undemocratic nature, by responding to the attacks with repressive measures, and making aggressive actions against neighbouring countries.'

Roberts argues that intemperate reactions, such as that of the President George W Bush [Images] administration after the 9/11 attacks, have played into the hands of radicalised groups -- each such action, he says, underlines the grouse the fundamentalists seek to play on: that Islam is under threat, and Muslims need to fight back through jihad.

'Many times, individuals and even nations -- through their elected representatives -- argue that jihadists will not achieve their aims through these acts of violence. But this response comes from a failure to understand the Jihadists. The fact is, if one of their three main objectives is to avenge the injustices done to Muslims around the world, then they don't expect to survive their attacks, and they don't make claims or demands. The violence is an end in itself, because the violence done is an act of revenge.'

Striking a more optimistic note, Roberts suggests that the solution to jihad rests in the hands of the citizens. 'If we resist the provocation, hold fast to our collective belief in the power and inherent virtue of freedom, defend our constitutional and mandated rights, and insist that the perpetrators of such violent criminal acts be tried in open, fair and just courts of law -- with the rights of all charged persons applying equally and inviolably to everyone, even to them - the violent radicals can never win.'

Roberts refuses to plug into the popular mood, which is one of blaming Pakistan in entirety. It is unlikely the government of Pakistan is involved, says the author. 'However, some retired politicians and perhaps some serving politicians, some mullahs, a segment of the Pakistan army [Images], and a significant section of the Pakistan secret intelligence organisation, the ISI, have long supported a Jihadist agenda,' he points out, arguing that global jihad has almost invariably originated in a training camp in Pakistan.

'This situation is tragic for many reasons -- but not least because if you go to Pakistan, as I've done, and meet the people there in villages and cities, you'll discover that they are wonderful people with a wonderfully affectionate and respectful way of being with you,' Roberts points out, dissociating the average person from the fundamentalist. 'What's more, there are literally millions of people in Pakistan who despise the cowardly violence of Jihadists, and who have risked their lives to pull their country out of the hands of military dictators. It's those voices -- the voices of millions upon millions of moderate, peaceful Pakistanis - that America, and the rest of us, should be supporting.'

On his web site (www.shantaram.com) he suggests a six-point solution to the problem of extremist violence: (1) Identify and address the injustices that provoke attacks; (2) Seek out and close down the Jihadist camps in Pakistan; (3) Cut off the flow of funds from jihadist elements in Saudi Arabia; (4) Preserve and defend our own democratic institutions and our constitutional and mandated rights; (5) Support moderate and democratic elements in all countries, everywhere --  especially in countries with large Muslim majorities and (6) Stop aggrandising vicious acts of random violence with the term "terror".

'We must refer to the jihadists as jihadist criminals, rather than Jihadist terrorists,' he argues, 'because every time we use the word terror in describing them and their acts, we give them more power and authority than their cowardly, craven crimes deserve.'






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