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'Indian Muslims have little room for fanaticism'

September 14, 2012 18:27 IST

Violent protests against an anti-Islamic film made purportedly by an American, have spread across several Islamic nations. Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan and Yemen have all witnessed protesting mobs going on a rampage and targeting the local US consulate.

AK Pasha, a professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, discusses these developments, in an interview with rediff.com's Priyanka.

After the violence in Libya, unrest has spread to other Islamic countries in West Asia. Will it impact the Muslim community in India?

We have been trying to create a liberal democratic society here. But the strong winds of unrest from West Asian countries will not stop at Pakistan or Afghanistan. This will impact the Muslim community in India too in some way.

When the Islamic revolution in the West Asian countries happened, they took up the cause of poor and oppressed Muslims all over the world. Its leaders spoke of the problems faced by Muslims, be it in Kashmir or the Babri Masjid incident. 

Do you see the community in India being swayed by such developments?

Today, (such) news will travel fast to West Asian countries, via online news posts or through a more graphic medium like YouTube. All these countries that are now being governed by Islamic groups will react, and Indian democracy will be viewed poorly and perceived as being against minorities.

But, it is also true that Indian Muslims do not get swayed easily. I have often quoted a statement made by the US administration -- that they have not recorded the presence of any Indian fighting the jihad in Afghanistan.

Muslims in India are working very hard to be part of the economic growth story in the country. For them, there is very little room for this sort of fanaticism over cartoons and YouTube videos.

But we cannot deny that there has been pressure. SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) has been banned and the intelligence agencies continue to maintain a vigil, but all these events occur only on the fringes of the community. The rest of the 50 million or so Muslims residing in India are busy with their everyday duties.

Are you saying Muslims in India by and large are not affected by what is going on in the community at the international level?

Muslims in India are not a monolithic entity. Muslims in Kashmir are very different from those in Kerala; the differences arise due to different demographics and so on. But, having said that, Indian Muslims do relate at some level with the larger Muslim world.

Muslims in India are already divided. Muslims living in various parts of the country, whether in Bihar or in Kerala, are influenced differently.

There are external pressures, too. The Al Qaeda is growing strong in the North African region. And in many countries in West Asia -- like Libya and Syria -- an Islamic group or parties have assumed power. We must realise the importance of this development back home.

Especially with the strategic Indo-US talks not getting any conclusive results, India is now realising that it should work with these Islamic countries for imports, food security and investment. Events in the Islamic countries have gained far more importance.

What are the long-term effects of the unrest in the Muslim world on Indian Muslims?

In India, we are trying to fit them in the larger framework of a secular and liberal democracy. It is not the same in West Asian countries, many of which are today Islamic republics.

But we should be on our guard against any repeat of events like those in Assam or Gujarat.

India also needs to participate in the resolution of the Arabic-Israeli conflict, which is understood to be the root cause of the unrest in Islamic world.