Mapping the Indian Muslim Mindscape in flat Homogeneous Patterns Indian Muslims and Media Images

A statement purporting to come from a son of Osama bin Laden denounced the al Qaeda leader’s killing as “criminal” and said his burial at sea had humiliated the family, an online monitoring service said.
The statement, attributed to Omar bin Laden, bin Laden’s fourth eldest son, said the al Qaeda chief’s children reserved the right to take legal action in the United States and internationally to “determine the true fate of our vanished father,” the SITE Intelligence Group said.
There was no independent confirmation of the authenticity of the letter, published on the website of Islamist ideologue Abu Walid al-Masri, although several specialists on militant propaganda said the text appeared genuine.
Omar bin Laden, who has been based in the Gulf in recent years, did not immediately respond to emailed and telephoned requests for comment.
The letter said, in part: “We hold the American President (Barack) Obama legally responsible to clarify the fate of our father, Osama bin Laden, for it is unacceptable, humanely and religiously, to dispose of a person with such importance and status among his people, by throwing his body into the sea in that way, which demeans and humiliates his family and his supporters and which challenges religious provisions and feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims.”
The letter said the U.S. administration had offered no proof to back up its account of the mission. It alleged the goal of the raid had been to kill and not arrest, adding that afterwards the American commandos had “rushed to dispose of the body.”
Some Muslims have misgivings about how U.S. forces killed bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan on May 2 and disposed of his body in the ocean.
Questions have multiplied since the White House said the al Qaeda leader was unarmed when U.S. helicopter-borne commandos raided the villa where he was hiding in the city of Abbottabad.
Bin Laden’s swift burial at sea, in what many Muslims say was a violation of Islamic custom, has also stirred anger.There are many unanswered questions and potential uncomfortable truths swirling around OBL’s death.
While Pakistan’s role in bin Laden’s living conditions for the past seven years should absolutely be scrutinized (see below), please let’s first examine the role of the entities that we actually had a reasonable expectation in locating bin Laden for the past seven years — namely our U.S. intelligence agencies.
As a 9/11 widow, I fought very long and hard to make sure our intelligence agencies were operating at their optimal performance post-9/11. That’s why I find it reprehensible that OBL was living in a million-dollar, custom-built home in the open Pakistani countryside, a mere mile from an ISI military base, 30 miles from Islamabad, and 100 miles from the Afghan mountains.
So please, with all the hullabaloo surrounding OBL’s execution and the incredible cache of intelligence material found at OBL’s compound, let’s not lose sight of the fact that while it is undoubtedly a SOCOM success story, it is also a stunning seven-year-fumble by U.S. intelligence and foreign policy.
Abbottabad was not an unknown place to our intelligence agencies. It is a well-known military town, home to Pakistan’s “West Point.”
Abbottabad was also apparently a well-known destination for terrorists who, as it now turns out, might have been touching base with bin Laden during the past seven years.
For example, in 2005, al Qaeda’s No. 3, Abu Faraj al-Libi, lived in the town before his arrest. Wasn’t bin Laden’s home just nearing completion in 2005?
Moreover, earlier this year, Indonesian terror suspect Umar Patek (wanted for the 2002 Bali bombings) was caught by Pakistani intelligence at a house in the town. Ironically, news reports stated at the time of his arrest in March: “Details about what Patek was doing in Pakistan also remain murky, raising questions about whether he was there to plan an attack with al-Qaida’s top operational leaders as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack nears.”
Now, given its status as a home to an ISI military base and also the place of al-Libi’s arrest in 05, why was Abbottabad not considered a ripe place to infiltrate back in ’05?
If our spy satellites and eavesdropping capabilities were not geared toward this town and its installations since ’05, then we need to know why.
What potentially more important Pakistani quadrant or target could NIMA, NGA, or NSA been calibrated to other than a military town like Abbottabad?
Will there be any post-mortem? Will old images be reviewed to determine if something was overlooked — namely a six-foot bin Laden (or his shadow) strolling through his cabbage fields? Because it simply defies logic to believe that bin Laden never took a single stroll outdoors in sunlight during the past seven years.
Will anyone at NGA, NIMA, or NSA be held accountable for this seven-year failure? Or are we just too distracted by our victory and comfortable in our complacency to bother to look back, learn vital lessons, or hold anyone accountable?
And what about the CIA?
The big question for the CIA is what role, if any, Raymond Davis played in the taking down of OBL. Recall that Davis was the American who was arrested back in January for gunning down two men in Lahore. At the time, several media reports stated that Davis was CIA and had a history with both Special Forces and XE.
According to the Guardian, it was confirmed that Davis was a CIA agent who was “on assignment at the time” of the killings.
Additionally, when Davis was arrested, Pakistani officials remarked, “This is not the work of a diplomat. He was doing espionage and surveillance activities.”
So what was Davis’ assignment? And who were the men he killed? Did they have any relation to OBL? Or OBL’s couriers?
Quite interestingly, the Guardian had this to report:

Some reports, quoting Pakistani intelligence officials, have suggested that the men Davis killed, Faizan Haider, 21, and Muhammad Faheem, 19, were agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency (ISI) and had orders to shadow Davis because he crossed a “red line.”

ISI agents? A red line?? Wonder what that could be.
But perhaps what remains most damning to me when it comes to Pakistan and its blatant complicity of harboring OBL for the past seven years is what was so obviously missing during the SEAL’s raid: any large-scale, legitimate resistance.
Here you had the world’s most wanted individual. A $50 million bounty on his head. Stories heard throughout the past 10 years of a dizzying array of body doubles and bodyguards, a man who allegedly took his own security and protection to the paranoid extreme.
And yet, frankly speaking, those SEALS would have met more resistance breaching my residence in the middle of the night — and all I’ve got are motion cameras, an alarm, and two dopey (though loyal) retrievers.
In short, it is downright suspicious that there were no bodyguards, body doubles, security personnel, alarms or even dogs protecting the world’s most wanted man and his family.
It’s almost as if OBL had a tacit understanding that he would be left alone and kept safe.
And considering the $1.5 BILLION in taxpayer dollars Congress hands over to Pakistan each year, I sure hope President Obama demands some answers. Because, it makes me sick to think that any of our tax dollars might have been spent on keeping OBL safe and worry-free for the past seven years.Those fond of mapping the Indian Muslim mindscape in flat, homogeneous patterns might perhaps quote separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani’s endorsement of deceased Osama bin Laden as a martyr in the cause of Islam and say it’s reflective of the aam Mussalman’s sentiment. But the hardliner’s voice hasn’t been echoed even by other Hurriyat leaders, some of whom might not be averse to realising their dream of azadi with American and western help in Kashmir, which has a very different Muslim political context from the rest of India. The sentiment closest to Geelani’s voiced by any prominent Indian Muslim is that of Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, who has said, “Hum America ke kahne se hi kisi ko dahshatgard nahin maan lenge (We wouldn’t call anybody a terrorist just because America says so).” But even Bukhari, who can be acerbic and unrestrained, refrains from projecting Osama as Islam’s holy warrior.

In fact, the US execution of its arch enemy has stirred a complex and varied emotional response in Muslim neighbourhoods across India, in which the gloating executioner’s tone weighs more than the death of Osama. For Osama’s rhetoric had only touched Kashmir and never the concerns of other Indian Muslims, yet America’s wars in Muslim lands, wreaking havoc on their inhabitants in the name of punishing Osama and Al Qaeda, had never gone down well with Muslims here. As an example of the nuanced reaction to Osama’s death, I would like to share a maulvi’s words, “In President Obama’s opinion, the victims of 9/11 have got justice with bin Laden’s death. But what about justice to the millions whose lives were destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan?” Words probably harsher than even that of the Egyptian Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood), which wants the US and Western troops to withdraw from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since their arch foe is finished, but certainly more reasonable than that of the Hamas, which has hailed Osama unequivocally as a martyred holy warrior of Islam. Ironically, or perhaps more motivatedly than ironically, officials in the Israeli embassy in New Delhi seem more active in propagating the Hamas’s extreme view among Indian Muslims than Hamas itself. Urdu journalists have received an e-mailed communique from an Israeli embassy official containing the statement made by Hamas. Actions like these, as also the hasty burial at sea and circulation in the media of a fake photo of Osama’s body, seem to upset Indian Muslims and give birth to conspiracy theories and urban legends in Muslim neighbourhoods and on the internet circuit. One such legend is that Osama didn’t fall to an American bullet but killed himself heroically to avoid the ignominy of being taken alive by the Americans. Another one: the Americans killed him several years ago, but they kept alive his fiction in order to justify their wars, which were undertaken for oil or for subjugating Muslims. Of course, there is also an extremist fringe among Indian Muslims that would like to capitalise on conspiracy theories and legends doing the rounds. There is some concerned buzz among enlightened Muslims about fundamentalists preparing a booklet for distribution about Osama’s ‘heroic deeds in the service of Islam’ and muted concerns also about the recently increased traffic to Deoband from Pakistan.

For many Indian Muslims, Osama and Al Qaeda have always been a creation, even if they physically existed, of the intelligence czars of the CIA and the Mossad of Israel to fight wars, first against the Soviets and then against Muslim nations. This view finds echo even in the aam Indian Muslim’s reaction to Osama’s death at American hands. It has been expressed resoundingly by a Lucknow-based Urdu daily, Waris-e-Awadh, which headlined its lead story on Osama’s death, ‘America ne Khud ka Tarasheeda But Tod Dala (America Destroys the Idol it had Itself Fashioned).’ Talking of Urdu newspapers, it is interesting to note the difference in tone between prominent dailies based in the North and those from the South. Most prominent dailies in the North, like Urdu Sahara, Sahafat, In Dinon, Aag and Awadhnama are owned, controlled, edited or influenced by Shias. They have covered the event extensively but in rather neutral tones. They also underplayed the Shahi Imam’s rhetoric. Most prominent Urdu dailies from the south, on the other hand, are controlled by Sunnis—like the Inquilab, Urdu Times, Siyasat, Munsif, Rehnuma-e-Dakkan and Salar. Their coverage is even more extensive, the headlines and reporting more charged and loaded against US, and their portrayal of Osama is tinged with a bit of sympathy. All said, I have yet to meet an Indian Muslim who approves of bin Laden’s violent methods or hear about an Urdu publication supportive of them.

The book ‘Muslims and the Media Images: News versus Views’ edited by Ather Farouqui, has some interesting observation made by the leading Indian journalist that needs to be brought out in popular discourse.

This book is divided into four parts: English Media: Image and Depiction; Transcending Boundaries; Muslim Journalism: A Phenomenal Dichotomy; and Popular Images and the Story of Stereotypes. There is an inevitable overlapping of themes between articles so all those that are thematically interlinked follow each other in succession.

Outlook editor, Vinod Mehta’s essay entitled ‘Muslims and Media Images: Where Things went Wrong’ has two main points. One with regard to Muslim’s expectations from the so called mainstream media and they expect all unbiased non-Muslims to promote the Muslim cause. He says that the expectations of the Muslim community are misplaced because Indian media faces may compulsions and challenges in their depiction.

According to Mehta there is a lack of understanding between Muslims and the Indian media. The media gives space to ether Muslim socialites that dominate the public space or to fringe Muslim voices no one knows. He warns that the situation is unlikely to change unless the common Muslim makes efforts to be heard. The onus is really on the Muslims themselves.

Academic Rajni Kothari’s article asserts that the role of the media in independentIndia has been negative as far as Muslim representation is concerned. The media has not provided enough space for minority opinions and has portrayed them negatively. He appeals the Muslim leadership to work hand in hand with secular Hindu elements towards a realignment of forces that can rebuild India’s democratic secularism. He is optimistic and believes that once this happens the press will have a very positive role in building constructive cooperative relationships.

Noted journalist, Kuldip Nayar’s article states that strained post- Partition Hindu–Muslim relations have affected journalism as a whole. He agrees that there do exist irresponsible journalists but emphasizes that these are in a minority. As far as the role of the English language press is concerned he feels, it’s more balanced, albeit subtly biased towards majority concerns. He believes that the national press is, on the whole, balanced and fair.

He do not agree that national press is a puppet controlled by majoritarian communal forces and dismisses such claims by Muslims as a product of fear psychosis. He urges the Muslim community to encourage their youth to come forward and represent the community in the national press.

The well known Hindi journalist, Mrinal Pande provides a gender-centric viewpoint on the issue. She points out that the press often fails in its role of a powerful social watchdog as far as women and minorities are concerned. Minorities and women lose out in a situation as male members of the majority community control media coverage and its institutions. A male preserve and its chauvinism are evident in the quick politicization of issues concerning women belonging to the minority community, she says. 

The Pioneer editor, Chandan Mitra in his contribution, ‘The Print Media and Minority Images’, says that the generalization that the media is biased against Muslims is not true.

He points that in the English media two polarities exist, one patronizing and the other antagonistic. The former tends to understand the issues concerning Muslims and the latter believes that Muslims are prisoners of their own image.

As a BJP-backed MP, Mitra for long has espoused the RSS viewpoint and reiterates that the Urdu media is also not interested in projecting a positive image of the community or in raising awareness among Muslims about social changes and developments that are affecting the rest ofIndia.

He concedes the point that there are biases existing in the media, but makes this up saying there are also dedicated people who go to great lengths to rectify such distortions.

Siddharth Varadarajan of the The Hindu argues that though the mainstream media after Independence did not openly support communal forces, the press, in common with the ruling Congress, arguably gave undeserved prominence to the views of the mullahs, portraying them as the leaders of the Muslim community. With the emergence of more virulent communal politics from the 1970s onwards, the communal biases of a section of the print media became more pronounced, and this came into stark relief every time a major incident of communal violence occurred.

He then provides an insider’s insight on riot reporting in the mainstream press and its invariable bias against Muslims, though veiled under a garb of impartiality. He bewails the fact that the compulsions of the market dictate that trivialities concerning celebrities get much more prominence than serious national issues.

Varadarajan notes that he has the liberty to bluntly speak the truth about communalism in the media because he is a Hindu, and a Muslim journalist or an intellectual might not find this so easy to say so.

The author while addressing the issue of the Indian Muslims and the media images raises the point why Muslims have been misunderstood not just by Hindus but also by other religious as well. It’s a matter of fact that wherever Muslims have a sizeable presence, certain misunderstandings about them persist in the non- Muslim mind.

Such attitudes or positions that have led to this general distrust should be studied and identified very carefully and placed in perspective and needs to be tackled with greater sensitivity and understanding. In such efforts, Muslims need to come forward ad address them, as they are the victims of this mindset.

The author also feels that Muslim studies have often received marginal and shabby treatment globally, and India is no exception. Since India is home to about 200 million Muslims, Muslim studies should be a serious academic pursuit, but the available writings on Indian Muslim society, culture, psyche, and problems in Indiararely reflect the complexities of issues involved.

‘Muslims and the Media Images: News versus Views’ edited by Ather Farouqui, is published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, November 2010.

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