The fuss and controversy about a recent Indian film, The Kashmir Files, had hardly died down when a similar debate over another film rages viciously – ‘The Kerala Story.’
The question is not about the integrity of the themes of these documentaries; the question is of the motivations for an abnormal phenomenon looking straight into the eyeballs of contemporary human society. The question is of effects, not causes. Let us take a walk down the lane of history.
Islamic homogeneity and the dogmatic approach both began to be questioned by enlightened Muslim intellectuals from the early days. The expansion of the faith led to the ideological polarization of Islamic society.
By the 10th century CE, when the evangelized segments in the Islamic ummah (society) became acquainted with the teachings of the great Greek philosophers like Aristotle (called ‘mu’allim-e awwal or the first preceptor), their curiosity to probe the religious doctrines sharpened considerably.
The first glimpse of serious ideological diversity appeared with the rise of the Ismaili movement around the 10th century. Avicenna, the most distinguished Islamic philosopher of that period, strongly advocated the study and use of logic as the unavoidable tool for empirical investigation into the mysteries of creation. The seeds of dividing the entire Muslim ummah into two broad segments of orthodoxy and liberalism were sown.
The struggle between the two opposing approaches was destined to stay almost permanently in Islamic society. By and large, the orthodoxy enjoyed precedence over liberalism because the ruling structures or regional satraps drew strength essentially from the clergy and the ignorant masses.
State patronage of the orthodoxy ended up in the social predominance of the clergy (mullah), whose realm of knowledge hardly went beyond the confines of the sacred book. The allegorical diction of the book resulted in producing copious but variegated commentaries and interpretations, making things more complicated.
This narrative was conducive to widening the social divide, which found entrenchment during the medieval period when various powerful Islamic ruling dynasties replaced the local warlords and satraps from Asia Minor to the Strait of Malacca in the Indian Ocean. This may be called the golden period of Islamic orthodoxy.
The Renaissance of the late 15th century in Europe, followed by the industrial revolution in Great Britain towards the end of the 17th century, led to the opening of the world of science and technology not only for the Europeans but also for the entire humanity, including the liberals among the Muslim East.
This was the ushering in of the age of reason. It warned the European colonial powers but stimulated movements led by staunch nationalists like Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran and Mustafa Kamal of Turkey. As a result of the industrial revolution, the pro-nationalists could reform and modernize the armed forces that both leaders requisitioned to support and strengthen their ideology of liberal and benign autocracy, the acceptable alternative to staunch orthodoxy.
The rise of the scientific and technological era in Europe and the US in the post-industrial revolution period, and onwards to modern times, began to be looked upon with suspicion by the orthodox Islamists. They did not hide their disapproval of modernism, scientific quest, and technological prowess and began reacting to it by taking recourse to the lifestyle and mindset of early Islam and its antiquated ideological fund.
They believed that what they called pristine Islam was chosen by Allah, which is why it spread over all four corners of the globe. Opposition to the age of science was institutionalized and earmarked as the greatest challenge to the “truths” revealed by the holy book. This was unacceptable to orthodox Islam, who decided to fight the menace. Al Ghazali was the pioneering spirit of rejection-based narrative.
Thus, we find the rise of an array of Islamic theologians who taught the ummah to walk in the footsteps of the holy prophet and the holy book with interpretations from select theologians. For nearly two centuries, these theologians held sway over the minds and emotions of the ummah and laid the roadway to recovering the lost Islamic prestige and power.
Thus we come across a galaxy of religious supremos like Hasan al Bana from Egypt, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hussein Sistani of Iraq, Abdel Wahhab from Arabia, Maulana Maudoodi in the Indian subcontinent, Taqi Usmani in Pakistan, Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Osama bin Laden and al Zawahiri in the Pak-Af region, Al Baghdadi of ISIS in Syria, and now Erdogan in Turkey.
The entire traditional Islamic orthodoxy was galvanized into action against what now resounded in the new slogan of “Islam in danger.” Who posed the danger, and what was the threat?
The Islamic liberals posed a danger as they began to draw strength from the twin source of an era of technology and the workforce of modern thinkers. One common thread in the teachings of the overriding orthodoxy of the 19-20th century is to rise in unison against the age of reason.
The prescription adopted for all centers of orthodoxy on the globe in general, like West Asia, the Middle East, Iran, and the Indian sub-continent, was first, the use of the twin forces in spreading faith — as justified by the wars fought under the guidance of the holy prophet — and second, the subversion.
The first part of the prescription for the ummah is reflected in the creation of Islamic warriors under different names and nomenclature in different operational segments, their indoctrination, training, arming, logistics, etc. This was categorized as jihad fi sabil Allah, meaning struggle in the path of faith in the name of Allah.
Therefore the 9/11 terrorist attacks in different parts of Europe or the attacks in Mumbai, Kashmir, and other places in India, or fierce opposition to all that unveils the mask (including the two films under discussion), are essentially the elements of an extended jihadist agenda.
Along with active jihadism, passive jihadism was also floated in which adherence to the tactics of “takiya” (meaning concealment) was employed as the primary strategy. Its manifestations are numerous as well as variegated. The foremost tactic is to convince the volunteers that Muslims are a different specie with the mission of destroying the non-Muslims (technically nick-named kafirs).
Though the Christians are accepted as the ahl-e Kitab, meaning the people of the book, yet under the extremist dispensation of ISIS, they will not be spared.
Thus kidnapping for ransom, hijacking, grabbing the moveable and unmoveable properties of non-Muslims, conversion through intimidation or allurement, kidnapping of young women and selling them to the puritanical as mal-e ghaneem (meaning the property of the vanquished), arranging effective brainwashing of the prospective converts, raising funds and constructing mosques, establishing Islamic seminaries for fundamentalizing the youth, encouraging multiple marriages and increasing the population, asserting Islamic identity and adopting a dress code and lifestyle, despising nationalism as contrary to Islamic teachings, etc. all of these are the manifestations of passive jihadism.
The purpose is to increase Muhammad’s ummah numerically and make Islam the only religion and civilization dominating the world.
There are wide non-Islamic circles in Indian society who think that all this is contrary to the ideals of secularism to which the Indian democratic state is wedded. They took courage and told the story in effective films like The Kashmir Files and now The Kerala Story.
Our country’s orthodox segments, pseudo-secularists and so-called Marxists, fiercely oppose both the movies that depict the nuances of active and passive jihadism.
From what has been said above, it is evident that the real problem lies in the Islamic polity and not outside of it. Because the active jihadist cannot face the might of the state in a direct conflict, they have adopted the policy of striking at such vulnerable spots as would invite massive reaction by the enemy with the resultant collateral damages.
The passive jihadists have influenced the peoples, nations, and organizations locally, regionally, and internationally, and above all, have corrupted the powerful media, particularly in Western countries.
The West is on the horns of a dilemma about dealing with this new race of humans globally. Europe and the US are utterly confused and have found no effective solution.
They are trying the panacea of appeasement for the time being. Amusingly, the US, which considers it has encapsulated the American nation after 9/11, is in a state of sordid disillusionment.
Jihadism is not going to be decimated that soon and that easily. Islamic enthusiasts are constructing a new race with the twin tools of passion and passivity.