Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Glasgow bomb maadi

I am sure we have all read and heard enough about the Glasgow airport attack and the Indian connection, but I couldn’t let this news story go without expressing my opinion on it.

A south Indian did it?
The fact that the driver of the jeep was a South Indian muslim intrigued me. I was under the impression that south Indian muslims were more integrated with society compared to Muslims elsewhere in the country, who felt more persecuted and ostracised. I believed that in south India, religious or caste identities were subordinate to regional ones, a person was a Kannadiga first, Muslim or Vokkaliga or Mangalorean Catholic second. You saw the environment in South India getting communalised only in response to events elsewhere in the country. Does the fact that Kafeel Ahmed came to harbour such feelings of exclusion indicate that South India is more fragmented than I believed? Either way, I have realised I am more than guilty of buying into the idea of South Indian exceptionalism. This incident will serve the healthy function of keeping that in check.

PhD Jihadi
The Glasgow attack is similar to Sept 11 in the kind of highly educated terrorists involved. Kafeel Ahmed had done his engineering in India with a master's degree from Queen’s university in Northern Ireland. But this fact shouldn’t be of surprise to anyone. Sept 11 had already done much to change the public stereotype of the terrorist from a Kaleshnikov-waving Mujahideen to the modern, educated Muslim who is seemingly an active participant in Western society.

Laila and Majnu
I do have to make a point about one aspect of the media coverage. Kafeel’s cousin, Mohammed Haneef and his detention in Australia has become a human interest piece, the storyline being that of a husband being kept away from his wife and children by a cruel government in a far away land. What I don’t appreciate about this is that if it turns out that he did have some intentional involvement with the attack, I would feel cheated for having sympathised with him during his detention. I don’t especially care for people who could have had a hand in plotting to take away other’s lives. But the investigations are still on, and it could turn out that he is innocent. So until we know for sure, wouldn’t a better approach for the media be to avoid humanising him?
It seems that Kafeel was a loner who ate up whatever was dealt out at various fundamentalist websites. One video that was found on his computer was that of a Chechen militant being beheaded by the Russian military. Muslims have always believed in a universal brotherhood (which it seems is called ‘ummah’ and not ‘qaum’ which stands for nation) and the internet plays a role in sustaining that solidarity. By allowing twisted, fundamentalist minds from Algeria to Indonesia to peddle their wares, the internet makes it easier for ostracised Muslims to make the transition into disgruntled agents, without ever having to step out for a visit to their local Imam.

Infosys training Al Qaeda?
Given that part of my background is in business journalism, I had to point out one particular story. This is about Kafeel being part of a Bangalore-based aviation firm Infotech, which handles outsourced work from Boeing and other US companies. An article in NYT raised up memories of Sept 11 by implicitly suggesting that high-end outsourcing by aircraft manufacturers like Boeing could be a security risk. But the article never explained how the technical knowledge gained during Kafeel's stay could lead to planes becoming less safer. And if in any case it were possible, there isn’t much that Kafeel wouldn’t have already known given his education in aerospace engineering. I haven’t really been convinced that there are security implications for western countries when it comes to high-end outsourcing.

*'Glasgow bomb maadi' roughly translates to 'please bomb Glasgow' in Kannada

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