With its Muslim population of around 150 million making it the third largest Islamic nation in the world, it’s no wonder India’s government is treating the Haneef case with more than a little caution.

Whatever the views of the nation’s billion or so Hindus on the subject of religious terrorism, the last thing the government wants is for such a substantial minority to believe it’s not doing everything possible to ensure that one of their own is fairly treated. Just as surely, the Indian government is not in the business of condoning Muslim extremism. Hence the balanced, and quite low-key but nevertheless pointedly critical, response to the travails of Dr Haneef made yesterday by the country’s External Affairs Ministry (MEA).

“The MEA has expressed its concern to the Australian government that Haneef should be treated fairly and justly under the Australian law,” MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna told newspersons in New Delhi last night.

According to a report in the Deccan Herald, the English language daily published in Dr Haneef’s home town of Bangalore, the Indian government is puzzled and angry:

[Based on an impression given by Australian authorities that Haneef was involved in “assisting a terrorist organisation”] the Indian security agencies had also extended assistance from its side to help investigations. It is believed to have provided the Australian authorities with details of the money remittances Haneef had made to his family members in Bangalore.

But, last Friday, when the Australian authorities charged Dr Haneef there was no mention of his involvement in “assisting terrorist organisation,” as was given to understand to the Indian [government]. Quoting the charge levelled against Haneef, Mr Sarna said he was charged with “intentionally providing SIM card to a terrorist organisation under relevant section of the Australian criminal code.”

That was not convincing enough for the court to deny bail to Haneef which was granted on Monday. The Indian High Commission had extended help to Haneef’s family to arrange legal assistance in his bail plea. But the sudden move thereafter by the Australian Minister for Immigration Affairs to revoke his work visa has angered the Indian side.

For the purpose of detaining him, a normal visa was issued to him and the continued detention was done on the plea that he had failed the “character test” on account of his association with “someone else or with a group or organisation” whom the Immigration Minister reasonably suspected of involvement in criminal conduct. This particular development prompted the Indian government to convey its concern to the Australian High Commission here.

Officials in the government found it amazing that the Australian side took so many days to revoke the work visa. “If he was reckless in giving his British SIM card while he was still in Britain, it could at best be a violation of British law in Britain and does not constitute any violation of Australian law,” said sources.

The national daily, The Hindu, raised similar concerns in line with the MEA’s in its editorial:

The several twists and turns in the Australian Federal Police’s investigation of Mohammed Haneef have raised important issues of balancing the implementation of the country’s tough anti-terror laws with sensitivity to the basic rights of individual suspects.

By the accounts that have come out so far, Haneef’s connection with the failed London bombing and with the Glasgow airport attack appears to be peripheral … No doubt terrorism has to be dealt with firmly and all nations need to extend their cooperation in apprehending and investigating suspects.

Yet in the course of implementing anti-terrorism laws, care must be taken to ensure that the innocent who are thrown into an accidental association with terrorists are not harassed. … One hopes that the Australian criminal justice system will play fair by Haneef, guarding against overreach by the police and the executive.

In a display of balance, The Hindu also had on its op-ed page a well written piece by Muslim writer Hasan Suroor headlined “Debate or denial: the Muslim dilemma”. He argues that more Muslims need to realise that Islamist terrorists are not simply “misguided” individuals acting on a whim but people who know what they’re doing:

Broadly, the Muslim argument is that it is all down to a host of external factors. Top of the list is the western foreign policy, especially with regard to the Palestinian issue, compounded by the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. Then there are social and economic reasons such as lack of education and high rate of unemployment in the Muslim community — again attributed to external causes such as racial or religious discrimination. In other words: don’t blame us; it is all other people’s doing. We are only the victims.

As someone who feels the same pressures as other Muslims, I wish this was true. But it isn’t. It not all other people’s doing. We are not just the victims. I used the term “default position” as an euphemism. There is a more robustly appropriate term, which is being increasingly used to describe the Muslim position: denial. The view that Muslims are in denial of the extent of the problem and their own responsibility in dealing with it is no longer confined to right-wing Muslim-bashers. Even liberal opinion has started to shift.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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