Osama is dead!

But his legacy and that of the Americans who created and nurtured him, and of Pakistan that gave him life far beyond his years, and of India that has learnt to exploit the backlash against its own minorities, will live on

The first phone call I made after hearing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s assassination was to my brother, a top corporate honcho. “At least the Mustafas should now be off the hook,” I said to which the response was a hearty laugh and yet a fervent “I hope so.

” Both of us were referring to the harassment the family has faced, miniscule of course in comparison to the systematic targeting and demonization of Muslims across the world and in India. The failure of the Indian government to take a position to protect its minorities from US inspired targeting is both shameful and condemnable.

Not so long ago the police visited the posh Mumbai residence of this Mustafa brother, asking the chowkidars and the staff about his movements and activities. This Mustafa was connected enough to raise a hue and cry, with his multinational company supporting him through the din. The police said that they were tracking him because of his regular travels abroad (being a top executive of a multinational was this not but natural?) and wanted his passport details, and the reasons why he was travelling. Given the high level intervention and media reports, the cops backed off but several Muslim executives spoke of facing similar harassment. Why didn’t you protest, I asked one who is known to have excellent political and official level connections. He shrugged, “its humiliating, I did not even want to admit it, let alone talk about it.”

Again the same Mustafa brother, who has lived abroad, has been travelling since his teens, was told by the dour faced US official that his visa could not be renewed as his name had flashed on their screens. So? So nothing, said the official, we will get back to you. In his case they did after over a month of checking him out where they finally came to the conclusion that he was not a terrorist, or one associated with the al Qaeda despite being a Muslim. A Mustafa nephew, with the same surname, who has been working abroad and has been travelling to and fro, is now waiting for his visa to come through as his name too has flashed on the American screens.

More recently, a US bank refused to open a bank account for a Mustafa family member because it wanted certain questions to be answered. The covering letter was of course polite saying that the bank conducts a “name screening process of all the important personal (sic)” but the list included only Muslim names. This particular Mustafa was asked to let the Bank know if he was related to a strange Pan number belonging to some stock trader, and to the Beirut Governnorate. After all all Muslims are related, and the one working in India must have something to do with those in Beirut? The other chap was asked to verify whether he was related to Bronx, New York, to Mardan, North West Frontier Province, to Tehrik Nefaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi of Swat, North West Frontier Province or to the Son of Syed Nazeem-uz-Zama. This was in April this year, in the 21st century.

More recently, a Mustafa nephew, was prevented from boarding a flight out of India to the US because his name too flashed on their screens. At least that’s what one presumes happens, no one really tells you, just look at the person concerned suspiciously and make him feel as if he is carrying bombs and grenades in his hand bag with the one point mission to destroy the world.

The targeting is designed to humiliate and harass innocent Muslims across the world in every conceivable way. The sophisticated US intelligence is not able to discriminate between the profiles of the terrorist and the common Muslim, at a time when we are told that the US has the technology to ensure that its President can talk directly to a US foot soldier in any part of the world! I am definitely one of those who has great admiration for US technology and intelligence, and therefore know that when people are singled out for severe humiliation, it is not because of a lack of information but because of a well thought out design. The intention is to let the world know that Muslims cannot be trusted, and ensure that the Muslims themselves realise that.

The Indian government, always helpful and willing, has not hesitated to comply with the American diktat and target and profile its citizens all over the country. Instead of protecting its citizens, the UPA government has helped the US to target individuals, and to spread the “watch out for the Muslim” message with the police cracking down on innocent young people even in big cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad. Most have been arrested, detained, tortured, on suspicion of being terrorists, most have also been released after their health and their lives were destroyed. There has been no compensation, no apologies, no attempt by the central and state governments to help them pick up the pieces and rehabilitate themselves. Nothing, just stony silence strengthening the message that as a Muslim you should be prepared to pay for your identity at all levels.

Ahmad, a great scholar, an international figure could not find a house in Delhi to live in. He spent months searching in all kinds of colonies, and while houses were available in places like Zakir Bagh which have been turned into Muslim ghettos as a result, he could not get rented accommodation in South Delhi. Property dealers told him as much, but this Ahmad refused to succumb to the pressure of moving into a “Muslim” locality and finally found a small apartment to live in. The catch: the landlord is a Muslim, and did not mind renting the house to him. In cosmopolitan Mumbai a Muslim cannot even buy a house in a residential colony, with the associations making it very clear that they do not want a Muslim moving into their neighbourhood.

And strangely enough we accept all this as we do not want to rock the boat, and we do not want to offend genteel sensibilities by raising issues of identity politics. But this has nothing to do with identity politics, it is to do with secularism, and the fact that the environment of unity and harmony is being vitiated at an amazingly fast pace. The Americans are creating the global environment which then half witted governments and right wing forces as in India cash in on to what they think is their political advantage. But which weakens the nation, as it weakens the people.
So the observation reported in the first paragraph of this column was not without reason. Osama bin Laden might be dead, but his legacy and that of the Americans who created and nurtured him, and of Pakistan that gave him life far beyond his years, and of India that has learnt to exploit the backlash against its own minorities, will live on. None of the players seem to have realised their own complicity in making the world a difficult—- and for some an impossible— place to live in for millions of people who inhabit it with the result that bin Laden can be killed a million times over without making even a miniscule change on the ground.
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