Monday, February 20, 2006

Managing religious sensitivities in a multicultural society.

RE: Denmark: Managing Religious Sensitivities
by B. Raman, Camp Kozhikode
SAAG International Terrorism Monitor: Paper No. 2412
February 2006

In India, the management of religious sensitivities has always been considered an important component of Law and Order Management. When I joined the Indian Police Service in 1961, the management of religious sensitivities was an important part of our training.
2. The importance of this arises from the conflicting sensitivities of different religious communities. Examples:
§ The Muslims are opposed to any pictorial depiction of their Holy Prophet in any manner by anyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Other religious groups are not opposed to pictorial depictions of their religious leaders.
§ The Muslims are opposed to music and dance at their places of worship and during religious observances. Other religious groups are not.
§ The Muslims are opposed to pork. Others are not.
The Hindus are opposed to beef. Others are not.

One can cite many more such instances of differing sensitivities of various religious groups.

3. The failure to respect these sensitivities often leads to spontaneous outbursts of anger and violence. The temptation to exploit such outbursts for extraneous purposes has always been there. In the past, such outbursts were exploited by criminal elements in all religious communities for indulging in looting etc. Political exploitation of such outbursts became the vogue in the 1930s. The Muslim League, with the complicity of the British colonial administration, instigated and exploited such outbursts for driving a wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims in order to pave the way for the partition of India and the creation of an independent Muslim State in the Indian sub-continent.
4. After India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, the trend towards the political exploitation of religious sensitivities got aggravated in both countries, leading to frequent communal clashes, resulting in the killings of members of what were viewed as adversay religious groups. In Pakistan, it acquired an added dimension due to the conflicting sensitivities of the Sunnis and the Shias. Similarly, in India, it acquired an added dimension due to the differing sensitivities of Hindus belonging to different castes. The large-scale migration of Hindus from Pakistan and of Muslims from India made the problem even more difficult to handle.
5. The techniques adopted by those responsible for law and order management in India included:
§ Issue of advisories, informal or formal, to the media to observe restraint in reporting on matters affecting religious sensitivities and to avoid identifying the communities involved in any incident.
§ Ban on the sale and distribution, if necessary, of newspapers and journals publishing reports etc, which could disturb law and order. District officials have enough powers under the law to be able to do so.
§ Constitution of committees of representatives of different religious groups to help the administration in managing religious sensitivities on occasions when an outbreak of violence is feared or takes place.
Constitution of committees of different political parties in order to pre-empt their exploiting the situation for political purposes and to seek their co-operation in dealing with the situation.
6. In the management of religious sensitivities, the most important task is for the political leadership in power and the officials to convince an offended religious community that they are aware of its hurt religious feelings and would try to do justice to them in whatever way possible under the law.

7. The Danish Government cannot escape its share of responsibility for the outbreak of violence in different countries due to the hurt feelings of Muslims over the deplorable caricaturisation of their holy Prophet by a Danish journal in September last year. The way it conducted itself after the publication when justifiable anger started building up among sections of the Muslims in Denmark showed shocking ineptitude and insensitivity to the hurt feelings of the local Muslims.
8. The Danish Government had two responsibilities----to the media in order to protect the freedom of the press and to the Muslim minority in order to protect their religious sensitivities. It seems to have attached greater importance to the first than to the second.
9. In the past, the exploitation of such anger was generally by criminal, fundamentalist and political elements. In recent years, particularly after 1995, other dangerous elements have entered the fray. Among these one could mention the Al Qaeda, the International Islamic Front (IIF) formed by bin Laden in 1998 and the Hizbut Tehrir (HT). These organisations, in order to achieve their pan-Islamic objectives, have been exploiting every instance of Muslim anger to advance their agenda and to drive what they hope will be an unbridgeable wedge between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. As pointed out by me repeatedly in the past, they have been propagating pernicious ideas such as:
§ The loyalty of a Muslim is first to his religion and then only to the nation of which he is a citizen or resident.
§ Religious solidarity comes before cultural solidarity.
§ The Muslims do not recognise national frontiers and have, therefore, a right to go anywhere to join a jihad to protect their co-religionists.
§ The Muslims have a religious right and obligation to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and use them, if necessary, to protect their religion.
The Muslims should think first as Muslims and then only as human beings. They and particularly the HT, stress the importance of creating a Muslim mind-set so that all Muslims think and act alike.
10. The Muslims too cannot escape their share of responsibility for the relative lack of sympathy for their hurt feelings over the Danish cartoons. Normally, the vast majority of the liberal elements in the world would have rushed to express sympathy with the hurt feelings of the Muslims. This did not happen in the wake of the Danish incident because there has been a growing feeling in large sections of the world that under the influence of such organisations, many Muslims have been conducting themselves as if there is one code of conduct for Muslims and another for non-Muslims and as if the sensitivities of Muslims are more important than those of others.

11. Examples of such conduct of Muslims are:
§ While the Muslims condemn insults to their religion, they do not equally condemn insults by Muslims to other religions. A shocking example was the failure of the vast majority of the Muslims of India and the rest of the world to condemn an Indian Muslim painter, who hurt the feelings of millions of Hindus, by painting in the nude a Hindu goddess, who is as holy and sacred to the Hindus as the Holy Prophet is to the Muslims. There are innumerable instances of similar insults by Muslims to the Hindu and Jewish religions, which have never been condemned by those Muslims who are now condemning the Danish cartoonist.
§ The Muslims emphasise their right to convert non-Muslims to Islam, but do not concede a similar right to non-Muslims. In many Islamic countries, any attempt by a non-Muslim to convert a Muslim is a severe offence punishable with death or long terms in jail.
§ The Muslims emphasise their right to run madrasas to impart religious instruction to their children, but do not concede a similar right to non-Muslims. In many Islamic countries, religious instruction in schools is not permitted for the children of other religions.
§ The leaders of Pakistan keep sermonising to India on the importance of following a secular policy, but insist on the right of an Islamic State to be a theocracy.
§ The Islamic States make it obligatory for non-Muslims to observe the traditions and restrictions imposed by their religion (Islam) such as covering their head, not exposing their legs and arms etc, but insist on their right not to respect the traditions and restrictions of other societies where Muslims take up residence.
Recently, there was an instance in which some non-Muslim Ministers of the Cabinet of a Muslim majority country wrote to their Prime Minister expressing their disquiet over some aspects of the treatment of non-Muslims in that country. There was criticism of their action in openly articulating their disquiet in the form of a joint letter. They had to withdraw their letter. A Muslim has the right to demonstrate, take to violence and even indulge in acts of terrorism if his or her religious sensitivities are hurt, but non-Muslims do not have the right even to write a joint letter of criticism.
12. One can go on citing dozens of such examples which have inevitably been creating an impression in the minds of many that an increasing number of Muslims consider themselves a law unto themselves. This is a trend, which can be arrested and corrected only by enlightened leaders of the Muslim communities all over the world. If they fail to do so, the current backlash against the Muslims is likely to grow worse, which will not be in the interest of peace and harmony.

13. Was the outbreak of violence over the Danish cartoons spontaneous or orchestrated? The way it broke out four months after the publication and spread thereafter indicates that it was more the result of careful orchestration than spontaneous. The needle of suspicion points to the HT, the IIF and Al Qaeda in that order. In this connection, reference is invited to my earlier article on the suspected role of the HT in the outbreak of violence in Afghanistan following allegations of the descecration of the Holy Koran in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba last year. (
14. The international community has not paid much attention to monitoring the activities of the HT, whose ideas are as pernicious as those of Al Qaeda, though it claims that it is opposed to terrorism. I am giving below an extract on the HT taken out from an article on Jihadi Terrorism in Central Asia written by me in response to a request for publication in a foreign journal later this year.
15. Denmark and Norway have always been among the targets of Al Qaeda, which has been particularly critical of them because of their role in Iraq and Afghanistan. An Al Qaeda or IIF strike against Danish citizens and interests is an increasing probability in reprisal for the cartoons.16. The evidence of any role of Iran and Syria in the orchestration is more circumstantial than direct.)(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail:

41.The HT was formed in 1953 by Sheikh Taqiuddin an-Nabhani al Falastini , a Judge of the Shariat Appeal Court in Jerusalem. After Nakhbani’s death in 1979, Abad al-Qadim Zalum, a Jordanian, took over as its leader. The party’s headquarters were moved to London. Its Multilanguage website is also reportedly operated from London. The London headquarters used to be headed by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, a 42 year-old Syrian, but he is no longer associated with it. One does not know who is its present leader.
42. It has the same objectives as Al Qaeda, namely, introduction of Islamic rule according to the Sharia in Muslim majority countries and the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate, but projects itself as different from Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is essentially an Arab organisation, with Arabs holding senior positions and exercising command and control. As against this, the HT projects itself as a multi-ethnic Islamic organisation in which membership and senior positions are open to any Muslim, irrespective of his or her ethnic background.
43. Its Aims and Objectives say: “The Party accepts Muslim men and women as its members regardless of whether they are Arab or non-Arab, white or coloured, since it is a party for all Muslims. It invites all Muslims to carry Islam and adopt its systems regardless of their nationalities, colours and madhahib (Schools of Thought), as it looks to all of them according to the viewpoint of Islam."
44. Al Qaeda is often accused of working for the Arabisation of Islam in non-Arab countries. The HT seeks to protect itself from such charges. At the same time, it admits that in its work it gave the first priority to the Arab countries and explains it thus: “Although Islam is a universal ideology, its method does not, however, allow one to work for it universally from the beginning. It is necessary, however, to invite to it universally, and make the field of work for it in one country, or a few countries, until it is consolidated there and the Islamic State is established. The whole world is a suitable location for the Islamic da’wah. But since the people in the Muslim countries have already embraced Islam, it is necessary that the da’wah starts there. The Arab countries are the most suitable location to start carrying the da’wah because these countries, which constitute part of the Muslim world, are inhabited by people who speak the Arabic language, which is the language of the Qur’an and hadith, and is an essential part of Islam and a basic element of the Islamic culture. The Hizb began and started to carry the da’wah within some of the Arab countries. It then proceeded to expand the delivery of the da’wah naturally until it began to function in many Arab countries and also in non-Arab Muslim countries as well."
45. It projects itself as a politico-religious movement. It says: “Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political party whose ideology is Islam, so politics is its work and Islam is its ideology. It works within the Ummah and together with her, so that she adopts Islam as her cause and is led to restore the Khilafah and the ruling by what Allah revealed. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political group and not a priestly one. Nor is it an academic, educational or a charity group. The Islamic thought is the soul of its body, its core and the secret of its life. Its purpose is to revive the Islamic Ummah from the severe decline that it had reached, and to liberate it from the thoughts, systems and laws of Kufr, as well as the domination and influence of the Kufr states. It also aims to restore the Islamic Khilafah State so that the ruling by what Allah revealed returns. The Party, as well, aims at the correct revival of the Ummah through enlightened thought. It also strives to bring her back to her previous might and glory such that she wrests the reins of initiative away from other states and nations, and returns to her rightful place as the first state in the world, as she was in the past, when she governs the world according to the laws of Islam. It also aims to bring back the Islamic guidance for mankind and to lead the Ummah into a struggle with Kufr, its systems and its thoughts so that Islam encapsulates the world."
46. It projects its struggle as directed against "the disbelieving imperialists, to deliver the Ummah from their domination and to liberate her from their influence by uprooting their intellectual, cultural, political, economic and military roots from all of the Muslim countries. The political struggle also appears in challenging the rulers, revealing their treasons and conspiracies against the Ummah, and by taking them to task and changing them if they denied the rights of the Ummah, or refrained from performing their duties towards her, or ignored any matter of her affairs, or violated the laws of Islam. So all the work of the Party is political, whether it is in office or not. Its work is not educational, as it is not a school, nor is its work concerned with giving sermons and preaching. Rather its work is political."
47. The HT has a three-stage strategy for achieving its objectives. In the first stage, which it claims has already been completed, it concentrated on making individual Muslims all over the world aware of its ideology, message and political programme of action. The goal to be achieved was to create in individual Muslims an Islamic mind-set and Islamic emotions. In the second stage on which it is presently embarked, it concentrates on educating the Ummah as a whole as an entity. In the third stage, it proposes to focus on the achievement of political power in order to pave the way for Islamic rule according to the Sharia all over the Islamic world and the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate.
48. The HT projects itself as an organisation opposed to the use of terrorism or other forms of violence for achieving its objectives. It claims that it wants to achieve its objectives through AGITPROP (agitation-propaganda) techniques. This should not be mistaken to mean that it advises individual Muslims, including its followers, to shun the use of terrorism for promoting the interests of Islam. It sees no contradiction between its opposition to terrorism as an organisation and its followers resorting to jihadi terrorism in countries where such a dichotomy may be required and justified.
49. To quote the HT: "Whenever the disbelieving enemies attack an Islamic country it becomes compulsory on its Muslim citizens to repel the enemy. The members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in that country are a part of the Muslims and it is obligatory upon them as it is upon other Muslims, in their capacity as Muslims, to fight the enemy and repel them. Whenever there is a Muslim amir who declares jihad to enhance the Word of Allah and mobilises the people to do that, the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir will respond in their capacity as Muslims in the country where the general call to arms was proclaimed."
50. What, in effect, it says is that its members have two obligations. As members of the organisation, they cannot take to violence. As members of the Muslim community, they can take to arms if such a course of action is warranted by circumstances. Thus, in the CARs, the HT, as a universal organisation of Muslims, will not issue a call to its members to take to arms, but if the local leaders of the community issue a call to arms, its members would be free to join in their capacity as individual Muslims and not as HT members.
51. Thus, it would be quite in order for a Muslim to propagate overtly the non-violent ways of the HT and, at the same time, take to terrorism covertly as a member of Al Qaeda or the IIF. The clandestine ways of the HT, about whose leadership not much is known, add to the fears about the real nature of the organisation and its linkages with Al Qaeda and the IIF.
52. Some analysts, particularly in Pakistan, describe the HT as an international Sunni movement, similar to Al Qaeda, but the HT itself says that its message and appeal are addressed to all Muslims, whether Sunnis or Shias. It wants its movement to be seen as a universal Muslim movement and not as a Sunni one.

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