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Ticking Bomb in Kashmir

Kashmir may be the most dangerous place in the world. It is the only place where two nuclear powers have an active boundary dispute, and terrorism and political violence are also in the mix.

Things may be about to get much, much worse.

Kashmir is a Muslim-majority province which ended up in India back when Pakistan and India parted ways. Many Kashmiris want that to change; some would like to become independent, some want to join Pakistan. Some would like to remain in India with more local control.

Fortunately, the form of Islam most widely followed in Kashmir is Sufism; sufis are often mystical in spirituality, open to other faiths in spirit, and moderate in politics. But that could be changing. Salafi Islam is spreading in Kashmir, supported by Saudi money and, in some cases, Pakistani influence.

Tariq Mir’s article in the Boston Review, which profiles Saudi-educated Abdul Lateef Al Kindi, the main missionary in Kashmir, does well to highlight the fact that this targeted conversion does not just have implications in radicalizing Muslims against their Indian overlords, but also in cultivating distrust of the West and its clients—Israel, most obviously.

I asked him why Salafism was suddenly gaining popularity in Kashmir. “Before, we didn’t have the support that we have now,” he said. The Saudis provide free literature to anyone who cares to read, and they distribute the Salafi message over the Web, cell phones, and satellite television. One popular video clip shows Tauseef u Rehman, a Salafi cleric in Pakistan, attired in the style of a Saudi sheikh and calling for the implementation of Islamic law in all Muslim societies—a perfect synthesis of strict, old-time religion and modern technology.

Al Kindi is acutely aware of Salafism’s outsider status in Kashmir. “You know how much pressure we’re working under in Kashmir,” he explained. “You have to be careful about what you say in sermons, speeches. We have been instructed by our leadership not to talk politics.” In his sermon he whipped worshippers into a frenzy over Western aggression in Muslim lands, decried the acceptance of Western values among the population, and blasted Palestinians for harming their aspirations toward statehood by “living like Jews.” But he steered clear of the complex affairs of Kashmir, even as he ridiculed Sufi customs.

Read the whole thing here. Radical Islam in Kashmir will make the world an uglier and more dangerous place. It is a trend that needs to be watched.

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  • Richard

    Well once Iran gets the bomb, there will be another such dispute, with Israel. Though they have no physical border, Iran disputes the existence of any Israeli border at all. And Iran does not have a “moderate” version of Islam. Plus Saudi Arabia will probably follow Iran. They have a maritime border with Iran and are only a few miles from Israel. SA has much the same issue with the Israeli border as Iran and has a long-standing border dispute with Iran.

  • RebeccaH

    Things inevitably get worse when the Saudis are involved. They may be America’s “ally” in public, but in private they are our worst enemy, and the world’s as well.

  • J R Yankovic

    Finally read the “Boston Review” article: Fascinating. Succeeds in highlighting something of the real diversity of Kashmiri religion, both among and well beyond Muslims. Which in turn leaves one big question in my simple mind for all present and future lovers of Kashmir, be they pragmatists or idealists (and naturally I hope, in my boundless naivete, that all RATIONAL Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans and even mainland Chinese are listening):

    Namely, why don’t you all start emphasizing the common KASHMIRI identity of that region’s inhabitants – in addition to whatever else these good people consider or want themselves to be: Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Pandit, Pashtun, Mughal, Balti, etc? In short, why not take a second look at the kind of territorial patriotism that will best enable MOST Kashmiris to live together in some semblance of tolerance if not peace? As opposed to allowing present trends to accelerate to the point where OTHERS’ countries’ borders start seriously fraying and unraveling? And yes, I know I’m dreaming. But I find there’s a unique virtue in the sort of territorial patriotism that transcends – without either prohibiting or trying to absorb – religious, ethnic or ideological difference (e.g., where would we in the US be without it? I guess we’ll find out in a decade or two).

    This kind of patriotism is not just a wonderful recipe for keeping people who live on top of each other from tearing each other’s throats out. It is also a provenly efficient means of keeping governments limited and humble in their wilder aspirations. And mainly because territorial patriotism is by definition what I like to call STD (and I’ll admit the below definitions are entirely my own):

    1) Secular – as in making neither ultimate, “we want your soul,” nor total, all-consuming demands upon its members (unlike many churches, mosques, corporations, NGOs, clubs, fraternal orders and cults, which have been known to do both and even to take pride in the fact);

    2) Territorial (duh) – meaning delimited by fixed and recognized geographic boundaries, whose origins may be anything from largely natural to wholly man-made;

    3) Democratic – in the sense that nobody, regardless of what despised minority s/he belongs to, or however stupid, weak, eccentric, unaccomplished or unproductive s/he is otherwise perceived to be, is prohibited from having a voice and a vote.

    Some will argue that any such “love of country” taking root in Kashmir presupposes something next to impossible: – i.e., the kind of wholesale independence that precludes clientage to either India, Pakistan or China. I’m inclined to agree with them. (Notice how I mentioned needing the ear of RATIONAL Indians, Pakistanis, etc; the problem is I’m not sure any exist in this context.) Others will argue that, because nobody directly invested is able to BE rational about Kashmir, the very attempt at reasonableness has all the earmarks of a Bosnia(n conflagration) in the making. What can I say? Choose your conflagration?

    As to the likelihood of most Kashmiris embracing STD – again, I know I’m dreaming. But then is Al Kindi. And I’m sure other dreamers not unlike him – Lenin, Pol Pot, Khomeini – once faced what seemed like implacable obstacles to their utopias’ realization. Until at length (and when nobody else happened to be watching), lo, the Grand Opportunity opened up. Then again, wouldn’t it be utterly characteristic of this wise Age, that one’s own dreams of making people more open-hearted should languish, while others’ dreams of making them more obdurate prosper?

    On a less visionary and more pedestrian note, the whole business looks to me like one more chapter in the unedifying saga of our modern hotter-than-hell religion. By which I mean the highly political, thinly disguised warmed-over deism that passes for revealed religion these days. (No, I take that back: I’m sure Al Kindi’s Islamic purification campaign was the fruit of many nights’ fasting and prayer in the most direct and intimate communion with – no watchmaker god! – but the Real Thing; and that he reached his conclusions with the utmost reluctance and heartfelt nostalgia for old departing ways: “You don’t like what I’m doing? Neither do I – TAKE IT UP WITH GOD!”) On the other hand, I’m also aware of the great modern preoccupation with purifying our world religions and so returning them to their roots and original ideals. Which in practice, as I understand it, tends to mean stripping them bare of all historical and geographic accretions. Almost as if there was some inherent antithesis between a religion’s remaining what God meant it to be and ANY further contact with our lowly material and human circumstances. (And how far would that apply to an INCARNATIONAL religion, I wonder?) In that case, I have one last problem for our modern would-be puritans:

    So far as this relentless stripping-away FAILS to turn a given faith’s adherents into kinder, more peaceable, more charitable people to live with – and isn’t that after all the best kind of witness and conversion? – then I’m moved to wonder one of 2 things:

    1) Was the “original” religion any good in the first place?


    2) Assuming it was, then – far from purifying it – are we merely adding one more corruption to all the others?

  • Maura Youngman

    Thanks for this post. More of Tariq’s work on Salafism in Kashmir can be found here as part of his project with the Pulitzer Center:

  • Irfan

    Salafiyah is upon truth , they want peace on earth, they are followers of Quran And Sunnah. Those who hate them are idoits . I always see peace talks in lectures of Salafis. They call us to Allah. I love Salafis.

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