Thursday, September 20, 2012

India: Anti-US Muslim Anger in Chennai - Youth and Clergy Join Hands

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The obnoxious anti-Muslim film produced by someone in the US and disseminated through the Internet has already caused five days of daily ant-US demonstrations in Chennai.

2.Muslim youth of Chennai did not react in such a vigorous manner over the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, during the visit of former US President George Bush to India in 2006 and against the cartoons published by a Danish journal in September 2005 projecting the Holy Prophet of Islam in negative colours.

3.The surprisingly angry reaction of the Muslim youth this time could be attributed partly to the fact that the film is much,much more obnoxious than the Danish cartoons and partly to the feeling that the Government of India has not reacted against the film as vehemently as it should have.The anger in sections of the Muslim youth of Chennai also reflects the growth of religious activism among the Muslim youth in educational institutions and the dilution of the control of the elders of the community over the angry youth.

4. There are over 20 Muslim organisations in Tamil Nadu with different political agendas and objectives.The Muslim political consciousness movement in Tamil Nadu has been widely splintered. It continues to be so. However, whereas the elders constituting the leadership of these organisations are still splintered, the youth of these organisations have shown a readiness to come together and work jointly for common Islamic causes.

5. The anger of the youth belonging to different organisations ( their number is estimated at around 5000 ) has had certain characteristics that need attention. Initially, the expression of anger started in the colleges and subsequently it spread to schools.The protests attracted a number of Muslim women from colleges and schools who took to the streets in solidarity with the boys.On the fifth day on September 18,2012, some of the clergy in charge of prayers in some of the main mosques of the city were also reported to have joined.

6.On the evening of September 18, when the elders tried to persuade the youth to go back to their mosques for their evening prayers, many of them in a spontaneous gesture of Islamic solidarity prayed in the middle of the Anna Salai (road) totally disrupting traffic. An incident like this has not happened before. Details of the protests on all the five days underline the difficulties increasingly faced by the elders of the community in persuading the youth not to violate the law in expressing their anger.

7. The youth disregarding the appeals of the elders violated the law in various ways --- like acts of vandalism in and around the US Consulate-General on the first day, burning in the streets US flags and pictures of President Barack Obama on all the days and clashes with the police when they tried to prevent them from marching to the Consulate. The Chennai Police seemed to have been taken by surprise by the intensity of the anger and by the orchestrated manner in which attempts were made to give expression to it.

8. While there was apparently an attempt at competitive instigation of the anger by different organisations and youth groups from different educational institutions, the anger was kept directed against the US Government and President Obama without letting it degenerate into anger against US nationals living and working in Chennai. The anger was directed against the US Consulate as representing the US government, but not against other US establishments such as business houses.

9. The youth leaders also saw to it that the anger did not assume a communal dimension. There seems to be an anxiety among some leaders of the Muslim community that the anger could assume a communal dimension in the coming days as the VinayakChaturthi is observed. They have appealed to the youth to discontinue their protests and return to their classes. It remains to be seen whether the youth heed their appeals.

10. The Chennai Police has been doing well under tremendous pressure. They should step up their intelligence collection efforts and intensify their interactions with the influential members of the Muslim community---young and old—in order to seek their cooperation in mitigating the anger. The central intelligence agencies should pay more attention to the phenomenon of Muslim youth activism in Chennai.

11. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier article titled “Anti-US Protests By Some Muslims In Chennai” at

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.