India was an early supporter of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afganistan. However, as the U.S. has relied more on Pakistan, India’s arch-rival, anti-American sentiments have been echoed throughout the country.
BOB ABERNETHY (anchor): Next, reaction from India to events in Afghanistan. India was an early supporter of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. However, the U.S. has seemed to rely more heavily on arch-rival Pakistan. We have a report from Fred De Sam Lazaro.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s become a familiar sight across the Muslim world — worshippers fired up by imams after Friday services, chanting slogans against America, against Israel, for the Taliban.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Osama bin Laden was a creation of America; now he has turned against them and they are crying. I think the whole thing is against Islam.
DE SAM LAZARO: We spoke to this man outside Delhi’s main mosque, built at the same time as the Taj Mahal 400 years ago. Like the surrounding Muslim community, it is the legacy of the Mughals, who reigned here for three centuries before the British colonized India.
In numbers, India has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. At 130 million, it’s second only to Indonesia — more than any Arab state.
But many Indian Muslim leaders insist this fiery rhetoric reflects only a small minority of their generally liberal community. In 1947, the departing British partitioned the country to create the Islamic state of Pakistan, but many Muslims, by choice or circumstance, stayed on in India.
MR. SALMAN KHURSHID: If their forefathers decided they wanted to stay with 80 percent Hindus rather than 100 percent Muslims, go to Pakistan — if they decided to stay here, it means they’re liberal, it means they want a secular country, they want a country that isn’t dominated by religion.
DE SAM LAZARO: India is a democracy, with no official religion, but it hasn’t been free of religious strife. In spite of their large population, Muslims are outnumbered six to one by Hindus. In recent years, the country has seen a rising influence of Hindu nationalist parties … who want a more Hindu, less secular India.
And when nationalist Hindus see these fundamentalist Muslim demonstrations, they brand all Muslims as unpatriotic or sympathetic with Pakistan, leaving moderate Islamic leaders in the middle, according to Salman Khurshid.
MR. KHURSHID: We get rapped from the majority, saying “This is what your Muslims are saying.” If we come to their defense, we become targets ourselves. If we don’t defend them, we become alienated from our community. They’re destroying the basic links between the majority and the minority by taking these extreme positions, positions in which they cannot achieve anything. I mean, if they want to do that, they should just get together and go to Afghanistan and fight the Americans. They only make speeches in the streets of Delhi.
DE SAM LAZARO: On most days, life in the streets of Delhi’s Muslim quarter goes on as it always has.
Opinion we sampled randomly seemed no different than that heard generally in India: cautious support for the U.S and opposition expressed in antiwar, rather than Islamic, terms.
(To unidentified man): What was the reaction here to the World Trade Center bombing?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It is not a good thing, nobody can support it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This war should be stopped for the civilians, for the peace[ful] people, because American people are also very peace[ful] people. That’s why I say, please stop the war.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: India has already told that in Kashmir and other places so many terrorists are already coming; nobody listen to it. Now, when thing happen at U.S.A., everybody is saying there is a terrorist, there is a terrorist.
DE SAM LAZARO: Many Indians see the U.S.-led war on terrorism as a vindication of India’s long-held position. Tens of thousands of Indian lives have [been] lost in various separatist conflicts, including the one over Kashmir, an area claimed by both India and Pakistan. India supports the U.S.-led military action, calling itself a victim of terrorism.
MR. KULDIP NAYYAR (Columnist/author): Terrorism, if it is allowed to breed in one country, at one place, is going to spread out, and this fundamentalism of any kind, of any religion, whether it is Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, everything — that’s not the thing, because it doesn’t fit with a democracy.
DE SAM LAZARO: Indo-Pakistani tensions flared up recently, after a suicide bombing killed 38 people in Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir. A Pakistan-based group was implicated in the blast.
The U.S. urged India not to respond militarily, but last week Indian forces attacked Pakistani positions across the Kashmir line of control. Muslim leader Khurshid says India resents being asked to stand by helplessly.
MR. KHURSHID: Somebody walks into your living room, you’re told not to be on the doorstep. You can drive them out, not beyond the doorstep. And when the U.S. is hit, it can cross seven seas to hit the enemy. Why these double standards? Why the double standards? We are perturbed about Pakistan harboring terrorists who would hit India. Everyone wants Osama; nobody wants the people who inflicted pain and injury to us. They are in Pakistan, they are in Sri Lanka, they are sitting in other places and nobody is talking about them.
DE SAM LAZARO: In the end, many here say that the course and length of the American-led war on terrorism will determine if pro-Taliban rallies remain relatively isolated — or if they grow into a larger, anti-American sentiment in an India frustrated that the global war on terrorism doesn’t target groups it has fingered as terrorist.
For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred De Sam Lazaro, in Hyderabad, India.