Could gagged Mumbai confession do more good than harm?

hindux1A crucial part of gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab’s hindu-articleconfession at the Mumbai attack trial has been censored by the judge on the grounds that it could inflame religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India. After stunning the court on Monday by admitting guilt in the the three-day rampage that killed 166 people, Kasab gave further testimony on Tuesday that included details about his training by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group on U.S. and Indian terrorist lists.

The front-page report in today’s The Hindu, which noted the judge’s gag order in its sub-header, put it this way:

Ajmal made some crucial statements on Tuesday as part of his confession. They pertained to the purpose of the attack as indicated by the perpetrators and masterminds and the message they wanted to send to the government of India. Ajmal also wanted to convey a message to his handlers. However, this part of his confession faces a court ban on publication.

In view of the communally sensitive nature of Ajmal’s statements, judge M.L. Tahaliyani passed an order banning the publication and broadcast of Ajmal’s statement recorded on Tuesday by any media or person, except the part which pertains to the CST. Mr. Tahaliyani remarked that the trial was at “a delicate stage.”

Given the complex mix of religion and politics in India, it’s not unusual to see the media playing down the communal aspect of tension and violence. In the recent general election, the party that usually plays up these differences, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hardly used the “religion card” in its losing campaign. But that doesn’t mean things are getting better. According to the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, the “unfortunate year of 2008 … proved to be worse than 2007.” See their two-part report on 2008 here and here.

taj-mahal-hotelBut Kasab’s testimony could shed important light on what role religion plays in Islamist militancy. How could a young man who wanted to become a dacoit (bandit) be convinced by Islamist militants to try to become a shahid (martyr) instead? Was he actually convinced, or did he do it for other reasons?

(Photo: Taj Mahal hotel burns, 27 Nov 2008/Punit Paranjpe)

Kasab told the court on Monday that he originally approached the militants to get weapons and training and won (surprisingly easy) admission to their office by saying he wanted to wage jihad. He was taken in and given extensive training in preparation for the Mumbai attack last November. All of this is detailed in published accounts of his statement in court on Monday. In earlier statements, police say, he showed little understanding of Islam or jihad, saying the latter was “about killing and getting killed and becoming famous.”

What role did Islamist ideology play in this, and what part the confused ambitions of a poor and impressionable young man? In a publication entitled Why Are We Waging Jihad?, Lashkar-e-Taiba listed its goals as:

1) to eliminate evil and facilitate conversion to and practice of Islam;

2) to ensure the ascendancy of Islam;

3) to force non-Muslims to pay jizya (poll tax, paid by non-Muslims for protection from a Muslim ruler);

4) to assist the weak and powerless;

5) to avenge the blood of Muslims killed by unbelievers;

6) to punish enemies for breaking promises and treaties;

7) to defend a Muslim state; and

8 ) to liberate Muslim territories under non-Muslim occupation.

kasabDid his handlers stress all this to Kasab? Did he want to do any of the above? What did his Islamist handlers say about Hindus? If they fed him a diet of anti-Hindu hatred, might it be better to publicise the details so they can be debated and discredited? Some of the most interesting contributions to such a debate could come from Indian Muslims, who live in the kind of secular democracy the LeT rejects.

(Photo: Kasab in detention, 3 Feb 2009/video grab from CNN IBN)

I’d be especially interested to hear the reaction from the famous Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, which is a traditionalist Sunni school but has urged Muslims to reject terrorism and vote in elections against extremists.

Right now may not be the best time to publish Kasab’s censored confession. But revealing it at a later date, for example after the verdict, might do more good than the harm Judge Tahaliyani fears. What do you think?

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