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Terrorism is terrorism wherever we may see it

Yes, I know. I should be writing about Manipur not Gaza.

But by way of explanation, I have two things to say. First of all, I have written about Manipur before and will continue to write about it especially if things don’t get better in that troubled state.


And secondly, I am not really writing about Gaza this week. I’ve never been to Israel, am no foreign relations expert and if you want to know what’s happening in that region then, since you are already reading this on the internet, all you have to do is to click on one of the many foreign news sites that are covering the conflict with such distinction. That’s much more useful than any perspective any of us can provide from here in Delhi or especially in Noida.


   My concern this week is not with events in Israel and the West Bank but with how we, in India, are responding to them.


   Let’s first of all dismiss the responses from mindless Islamophobes who will always take the side of anybody who appears to be in conflict with any Muslim entities. These are not people we should take seriously. Their views are based on prejudice not reason and even then, there is very little consistency to them. What can you say about people who claim to support Israel but also admire Hitler and the Nazis? Or of people who declare proudly that they are opposed to murder and violence for political ends but also believe that Nathuram Godse was a great patriot who should be honoured?


   Fortunately, despite the clamour on social media, these people are in a minority. The vast majority of Indians feel a more complex range of emotions.


   A little historical perspective may help. Traditionally, India has been on the side of the Palestinians and even refused to accord full diplomatic recognition to Israel till the 1990s.  It was a policy that arose out of our belief in Afro-Asian unity, our friendship with Egypt, our belief that Israel was a colonial creation and our desire to see the Palestinians get justice.


   When we first adopted this policy in the years immediately after Independence it made sense. But over the years it began to seem a little out of date. By the late 1970s, even the Arabs were re-thinking their attitude to Israel. In 1977 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and began the process of normalising relations with Israel.


   Nor was it ever clear that our Israel policy — high-minded though it might have been — actually advanced Indian interests. Whenever there was a war with Pakistan, most Arab countries either took Pakistan’s side or remained neutral.   In 1973, when the Arabs finally used oil as a weapon by instituting an embargo, India got no special treatment, suffered a huge economic setback and until we protested, we were initially included among the countries the Arabs were targeting with the embargo and price hike.


   By the end of the 1980s, it was clear that even the Arab world was reconciled to Israel’s continued existence and in 1991, the Congress government established full diplomatic relations with Israel. Though we continued to support the Palestine cause, we were no longer strongly anti-Israeli.


   There was one other contributing factor. In the 1960s, Palestinians and their supporters began hijacking passenger airliners. Eventually, a full-fledged terrorist movement emerged from the Middle East. Indians watched all this with mounting horror, especially when Pakistanis began joining these groups and adopting their methods.


   In 1971, an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked and taken to Lahore where it was later torched. In 1976 another plane was hijacked to Lahore. In 1981, yet another plane was hijacked and taken to Pakistan.


   All this was before the Punjab militancy of the early 1980s and the beginnings of the Kashmir insurgency in 1989. As those movements became stronger, Indians developed a total abhorrence to the idea of terrorism especially because we were often the victims of the terror. The Palestinians, in whose name many global terrorists operated, began to be seen less and less as the victims of a great historical injustice.


   "Despite the criticism it has evoked from a vocal minority, the Indian government’s response to the terror attack — we stand with Israel — is appropriate."

   By the beginning of this century, despite some attempts to whip up support for the Palestinian cause on a religious basis most Indians had moved on. The characterisation of Israel as a colonial creation had faded. More and more Indians found jobs in Arab countries but discovered that even their Arab employers (with some exceptions) were not terribly pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli any longer.


   None of this was necessarily fair to the Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were not terrorists but ordinary people who felt that their country had been stolen from them. Despite endless global summits and talk of a two-state solution, they were short-changed and betrayed at nearly every turn.


   Today, life in Gaza is hard: over two million Palestinians are crammed into into an area of 360 square km, the third most densely populated space in the world. Officially, the area is run by the Palestinian Authority but in reality it is governed by Hamas, a terrorist organisation that is in constant conflict with the Israeli government which treats Gaza as enemy territory.


   Under the current Israeli hard-line government, international law has been violated, say the Palestinians and yet, the world has just watched as agreements that were supposed to provide justice to Palestinians have been ignored.


   This should make us, in India, sympathetic to the Palestinians with whom we have historical links and who have a genuine grievance. But the Palestinians do not always get the sympathy they deserve, I suspect, because Indians have a visceral hatred and a deep-rooted fear of terrorism. And — let’s be honest — even liberals fear that global jehadi tendencies could flow from the Middle East and take root here.


   Sadly for the Palestinian cause, the response of fundamentalist Muslims around the globe can sometimes be terrifying. Who can watch videos of Muslims protesting in Sydney and chanting “Gas the Jews” and not be appalled?


   Then there is the nature of the Hamas attack. From all accounts, the terrorists hunted down and shot innocent civilians. They kidnapped women and children. Hundreds of ordinary, defenceless Israelis were murdered in cold blood.


   In these circumstances, what are Indians going to say? “These people are conscienceless terrorists and murderers”?  Or “but think about how badly the Palestinians are being treated in Gaza?”


   The answer is obvious.


   Despite the criticism it has evoked from a vocal minority, the Indian government’s response to the terror attack — we stand with Israel — is appropriate. To have said anything else would have been wildly inappropriate. Think of 9/11. Did you expect our Prime Minister to say: “We condemn the attack but you know, America has also done very bad things.”


   Obviously not. Not only is a condemnation of any terror attack morally necessary but it probably also reflects the views of most Indians.


   I don’t dispute that the Palestinians have been wronged. I think it is impossible for any fair-minded person to support what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said and done over the last few months. And the vengeance being rained down on innocent civilians in Gaza by the Israeli authorities is disgraceful and morally repugnant.


   But that’s not the immediate issue. Terrorism is. And as long as the likes of Hamas continue to kill in the name of the Palestinians, they will lose global sympathy for the Palestine cause. As long as radical Islamists chant slogans like “Death to Jews” (note: not ‘to Israelis’ but all Jews), the world will regard them as beyond the pale.


   To condemn Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11 was not to approve of America’s often dubious role in Middle Eastern politics. To condemn Isis is not to endorse the invasion of Iraq. It has nothing to do with Islam or with the victims of oppression. It is to stand against all terror directed at innocent civilians.


   Yes. There is a lot of bigotry in India and a worrying amount of Islamophobia. But our responses to Hamas’s terrorism go beyond that. We have reacted as all human beings must when armed men murder and kidnap innocent women and children.


   Muslim, Jews, Palestinians, Israelis: it really does not make a difference. Terrorism is terrorism wherever we may see it.




  • Upnworld 13 Oct 2023

    I came to this article after being hooked on the first 3 lines which appear on the website home page. But the article itself does not dwell on that theme much. We are much closer to Israel than USA is physically - Can India show the leadership in guiding Israel-Palestine to a two-state solution ? Or will we forever shrink away from going anywhere near caring that much for the rest of the world ?

Posted On: 12 Oct 2023 10:15 AM
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