Monday, March 27, 2017

My comments on Sunday TOI webpage article: Adityanath’s rise marks the end of a 100-year-old battle By Amit Varma

My comments on Sunday TOI webpage article: Adityanath’s rise marks the end of a 100-year-old battle By Amit Varma:

Ghulam Muhammed

If 100 year long struggle achieves its first
 glimpse in the identity of Yogi, then one
 can safely assume that the next 100 year
 long battle has just begun.

The Times of India

Adityanath’s rise marks the end of a 100-year-old battle

Amit VarmaTOI Contributor | Updated: Mar 26, 2017, 02.56 PM IST

There comes a moment in some lives when a sudden, unexpected event makes you look at the world with greater clarity than before. It could be a happy moment: a childhood friend proposes to you, or you stumble into parenthood. It could be a sad one: you are diagnosed with cancer and told you have six months to live. It makes you look at the world differently, and some things seem so clear that you wonder why you did not notice them before.

In the life of our nation, the rise of Yogi Adityanath to the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh+ might well be one such unexpected yet clarifying moment. I was stunned when it was announced; and yet, it makes so much sense that any counterfactual now seems absurd. It was, I have come to believe, a decisive and inevitable event in a conflict that has been simmering in India for at least a century.

The great battle that took place on our peninsula was not between the natives and our colonial overlords, but between a new way of thinking and an old way of existing. While the Enlightenment swept its way across Europe and the US in the 18th century, its influence was felt in India only in the 19th. Liberalism, however one tries to spin it, was an import from the West, and it is ironic that many of our finest freedom fighters were influenced by British thinkers. The great early figures of our resistance — heroes of mine such as Naoroji, Ranade, Agarkar and Gokhale — were essentially British liberals.

Until Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom struggle was a battle between the British empire on one hand, and Indian elites inspired by Western ideas on the other. Gandhi did catalyse it into a mass movement, but his intellectual influences weren't Indian either. He was more influenced by John Ruskin and Tolstoy than any Indian thinker, and V S Naipaul once called him "the least Indian of Indian leaders." By the time the British finally quit India, the liberalism of the Gokhale years had been replaced by the soft socialism that was then in vogue. Do note that both these strains, the early classical liberalism and the socialism that is so antithetical to it, were Western imports.

The Constitution, intended as an operating manual for this new nation, reflected this. The commentator Nitin Pai, in an essay in Pragati, a magazine I edit, wrote: "On 26th January 1950, the Enlightenment... was injected into the veins of Indian society in the form of a written statute. We are still dealing with the shock of that moment."

'Into the veins of Indian society.' It is worth reflecting here that the state and society are two different beasts. This difference is a cornerstone of conservatism, which the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines as a "political doctrine that emphasises the value of traditional institutions and practices." Who were the Indian conservatives who would lead the fightback of society against the state?

The biggest manifestation of conservatism in India is what we call the Hindutva right. I used to be sceptical of it, as I consider 'Hindutva' to be an artificial construct, an insulting caricature of a great inclusive religion. But even if that is so, Hindutva is authentically conservative because it arises out of a nativism that is inherent in human nature — and consequently, rooted in our culture. (Culture can both mitigate and reinforce human nature, which is the whole struggle right there.)

Early Indian conservatives were more interested in social rather than political battles, which is why they didn't play much of a role in the freedom movement. After Independence, the Nehruvian big state seemed to have subdued the Hindutva social project — but this was temporary. Journalist Rishi Majumder, who is writing a biography of the conservative leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee, describes in a forthcoming essay how "the RSS, as well as other right-wing groups, organisations and movements, have thrived and grown through many years when the BJP was not in power."

Top Comment

At last , minority appeasement for votebank politics and caste based division of Hindus coming to an end . Kudos to Mr. Modi for his " Development for all Appeasement for non " policy .Kathakam Kathakam

Much modern politics is the battle between these competing visions of the state. Should the state be a superstructure that imposes certain values, decided upon by elites, upon society? Or should it be a servant to society, protecting its traditions without judging them from the prism of other value systems?

Narendra Modi's rise to power was fascinating because he embodied the hopes of people on both sides of that spectrum. Some classical liberals dismayed by Nehruvian socialism backed him because they saw the damage Nehru's ideas had done to India, and wanted their values imposed from above. And the whole Hindutva movement, obviously, fell in behind Modi because his ascent was the culmination of their century-long struggle.

These two strands are incompatible. And now, with the rise of Yogi Adityanath, there is no more ambiguity.

After Terrorist Attack, a British City Linked to Jihadis Winces and Asks Why -

After Terrorist Attack, a British City Linked to Jihadis Winces and Asks Why

MARCH 26, 2017

The minaret of a mosque in Birmingham, England, where Khalid Masood resided before he attacked Parliament in London last week. CreditChristopher Furlong/Getty Images

BIRMINGHAM, England — Outside the Maasha’Allah internet cafe, Mohammed Hussain raised his voice over the recorded Quranic verses blaring from the abaya shop two doors down. He was furious that Britain’s latest terrorist attacker had amplified his city’s stigma.
“Why do all the jihadis come to Birmingham?” he half-shouted, prompting a passing group of teenage girls in bright-colored head scarves to frown, then giggle.
Exaggeration or not, many people are asking that question. Khalid Masood, 52, the Briton responsible for the deadly attack outside Parliament last week, remains a puzzle to investigators working on how, why and when he was radicalized.
But one aspect is familiar: He had a connection to Birmingham, having moved almost a year ago to this city of 1.1 million, where more than than one in five residents declare Islam as their religion.
As if to further punctuate the connection, the police announced Sunday that they had arrested an unidentified man in Birmingham as part of the investigation of Mr. Masood.
Members of Birmingham’s Muslim communities acknowledged the linkage between their city and Islamist extremism, which many attribute to poverty and drug abuse that make youths vulnerable to jihadist recruiters who operate like gangs. But Muslims in Birmingham also deeply resent what they see as a grossly unfair reputation, countering that most residents are proud and law-abiding.
Many also see their neighborhoods as reassuring refuges from the backlash of anti-Islam bigotry roiling Europe and elsewhere.
The bigotry has often focused on Birmingham. A few years ago, a Fox News terrorism commentator had to apologize for describing Birmingham as a “Muslim-only city” where non-Muslims “don’t go.”
Nonetheless, Birmingham, Britain’s second-biggest city behind London, has produced a disproportionate number of convicted Islamist militants, including some linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, and to last year’s bombings in Brussels.
So many Islamist militants have been born in Birmingham — or have passed through — that the Birmingham Mail newspaper once lamented that the city had the dubious distinction of “Terror Central.”
“The extremist schools of thought seem to have become more embedded in Birmingham than in other parts of the country,” said Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for northwest England, who is from Birmingham.
Mr. Masood, who converted to Islam in his late 30s, was born and raised in an affluent village in southeast England. He spent much of his adulthood in and around London, interrupted by jail time and two yearlong relocations to Saudi Arabia. But Birmingham was his last residence.
Birmingham was the birthplace of Britain’s first suicide bomber, the residence of a financier of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the place where Al Qaeda hatched a plot to blow up a commercial airliner in 2006. When a masked member of the Shabab, the Somali extremist group, celebrated the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby in a 2013 video, he listed Birmingham as the first source of its fighters.
Soho Road, Handsworth, in Birmingham. In the city of 1.1 million, more than one in five residents say they are Muslim. CreditChristopher Furlong/Getty Images

The man who is believed to have recruited the militant known as Jihadi John, the Islamic State executioner with the King’s English accent, was from Birmingham, as was his closest associate. Other prominent militants who have come through the city’s underground networks include Abdelhamid Abaaoud, organizer of the 2015 Paris attacks, and Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian national who helped plot the 2016 Brussels attacks.
In 2014, Birmingham was at the center of a so-called Trojan Horse plot in which, it was alleged, a group of Islamist extremists had sought to infiltrate and take over two dozen state schools. A recent report by the Henry Jackson Society, a politically conservative research organization, found that one in 10 convicted Islamist militants in Britain come from five Birmingham neighborhoods.
David Videcette, a former senior counterterrorism official, said that Birmingham had a better established extremist network than London — a city of seven million — which helped to explain why, in his view, many investigations lead “back to Birmingham.”
Part of Birmingham’s allure to prospective militants is its diverse sprawl of Muslim neighborhoods where they can blend in easily, local activists said.
“It’s a hiding place or a passing place to do what they want to do, and keep a low profile,” said Mohammed Ashfaq, director of Kikit, a community organization that helps young people who are drawn to drugs and extremist ideology.
If a militant were to hide, for example, in Birmingham’s Muslim neighborhood of Sparkbrook, Mr. Ashfaq said, “no one looks at them twice.”
Birmingham is also much poorer than London, providing a more exploitable population for extremists, Mr. Ashfaq said, recalling how his organization dissuaded two youngsters from joining the Islamic State. Both were drug addicts.
“A lot of kids are on drugs, or from single-parent families, or who experience domestic violence,” Mr. Ashfaq said.
In the neighborhoods of Sparkbrook, Washwood Heath and Alum Rock, where many of Birmingham’s Muslims live, mosques dot the cityscape, some offering Shariah councils for family matters. After-school madrassas serve a growing demand for parents who want their children to study the Quran. Even state-funded schools often accommodate religious demands, allowing for lunchtime prayer, shortened days during Ramadan and optional head scarfs.
To many outsiders, the segregation is striking. But Muslim residents, particularly women, speak of their neighborhoods as safe havens from an increasingly hostile society.
“There is safety in numbers,” said Sara Begum, 20, shopping on Coventry Road, a bustling area where eateries advertise halal meat from Kashmir and Syrian cuisine. Ms. Begum, who wears a face-covering niqab, rarely leaves her neighborhood for fear of being insulted or worse. She said a friend’s head scarf had been ripped away by far-right youths near Birmingham’s downtown train station.
“I feel safe around here because a lot of other women dress like I do,” she said. “Other people look at this neighborhood, they see a lot of brown people and a lot of Muslims and they worry about security.”
Within hours of last week’s attack, Muslim women in Birmingham received text messages warning about the far-right English Defense League mobilizing, and urged them to stay inside after dark.
Police officers at a residential building in Birmingham after it was raided by anti-terror forces on March 23.CreditPaul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Small Heath Park, where girls in head scarves play soccer and men in Muslim garb huddle to share a picnic, feels like a different world than the city center, a 10-minute drive away.
There are recently arrived Somalis, third-generation Bangladeshis and European converts, like Alicia Fierens, who moved here with her Chinese husband, also a convert, six years ago because Belgium had become too anti-Muslim, she said. “We were having our first child and we didn’t want him to grow up with that,” she said. Birmingham is friendlier, “as long as you stay in the area.”
One problem, said Nicola Benyahia, who runs Families for Life, an independent organization that helps parents detect radicalization in their children, is the mistrust between Muslim communities and the authorities.
“It doesn’t help when the community feels on the defensive,” she said, sitting in a sparsely furnished first-floor office.
Residents were angered and appalled when the government in 2008 secretly placed hundreds of close-circuit television cameras in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. “It didn’t feel like it was for our security,” Ms. Benyahia said.
But she readily acknowledged that recruiters prey on Muslim youths. Her son Rasheed, then 19, abruptly left for Syria in May 2015 and was killed six months later, which prompted her to start her charity to help other parents avoid the same fate.
Ms. Benyahia, a Welsh convert married to an Algerian, said she believed someone in Birmingham had radicalized her son. When her daughter once asked him, Ms. Benyahia said, he recoiled and responded, “Don’t ruin it for anyone else.”
Birmingham’s Green Lane Mosque, a red brick building with a clock tower that was formerly a public library, once had a reputation as an “incubator” of militants, Khalid Mahmood, a local lawmaker, said. Now the mosque seeks to counter them.
Last week the mosque quickly condemned the attack in Westminster, saying it would “only strengthen our ongoing work in exposing deviant extremist ideologies, to ensure that we safeguard vulnerable individuals susceptible to radicalization.”
Mr. Videcette, the former counterterrorism official, said extremist networks are run “like the mafia” and include bookshops that sell extremist literature. They also organize tours and talks involving hate preachers, he said, and use some mosques to raise funds.
“It’s a business for them,” he said. “When we say terrorism, people tend to think it’s about religion. It’s not. This is always about money.”
One man in Britain who blurred the boundary between religion and violent extremism is Anjem Choudary, a founder of Al Muhajiroun, which is classified as a terror organization.
Mr. Choudary, who is now in prison after he was convicted last year of encouraging support for the Islamic State, had preached in Birmingham several times in recent years. His entourage would arrive in big vans on Coventry Road, an area associated with conservative Islam, preaching and distributing leaflets.
“They turned religion into a gang-type thing, with thugs around him saying, ‘Come join our gang,’” said Mr. Ashfaq, the director of Kikit. Their message, he said, was “you can be cool, you can become a gangster jihadi.”
A version of this article appears in print on March 27, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: An English City Linked to Jihadis Is Left Wincing and Asking Why. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe