Recent media reports have talked of a considered strategy being evolved by Government of India to try to wean away from forces of extremism those youth who can fall prey to the advances of ISIS and Al Qaeda. The approach is unexceptional in the sense that it seeks to inculcate a sense of resistance amongst impressionable minds towards a “destructive” influence.
The prospect of succeeding with the “de-radicalisation” of the vulnerable section of our youth will, however, rest on three parameters — a deep understanding on the handlers’ part of the faith-based militancy in which the appeal of the radicals is rooted; the degree of socio-political consensus that exists in the concerned community on this issue; and the resourcefulness of the security agencies in keeping the “hard core” of converts from the mainstream of the youth, who, in turn, would require a well-designed mix of control and incentive to keep them on the straight path.
It has to be admitted that Islam, the youngest of the Prophetic religions, holds a powerful appeal for its claim as the “perfect” message of Allah — the only God — that came from “the last of the Prophets”. The simplicity of its mandate of going to eternal Heaven — a proclamation of faith in the exclusive God and participation in the prayer, marking a total submission to Him — exercised a great pull on the followers of Islam. Laying down one’s life in defence of the faith against its enemy also guaranteed the same bliss. It is no surprise that faith-based indoctrination in this setting succeeds more easily.
It is with this motivation that the Islamic radicals took on the US-led West in the “war on terror”, which was launched post-9/11. The attack on the twin towers was, in turn, traceable to the ouster of the Taliban-Al Qaeda rule in Afghanistan. The revival of radical Islam had already been triggered when the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan, conducted on the slogan of jihad, brought the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine to the fore. These forces carried the historical memory of the first jihad launched by the ulema in Algeria, Arabia and India in the middle of 19th century against the Western encroachment on “Muslim land”.
These ulema had maintained that deviation from the extreme puritanism of religion, as it existed in the times of the pious Caliphs, had caused the political decline of Muslims. Islamic radicals led by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine, today fanatically whip up this belief, and, in the process, also indulge in the most brutal violence against innocent civilians to gain political power, which can never be validated on any ground.
In India, any attempt to check the youth from taking to extremism will require a socio-political convergence in the country to oppose the spread of radicalism. It is relevant to recall that in India, the disciples of Abdul Wahhab had led the anti-British jihad in the mid-19th century, and after being defeated, they had gone on to establish Darul Uloom Deoband. This seminary accepted free India as a Darul Aman and confined its activity to teaching puritanical Islam, while retaining an anti-West outlook. Deobandis, who represent a major segment of Muslims in India, do not uphold the ways of ISIS, but sympathise with the cause of Islamic radicals against the US. It should not be difficult to bring them on board for preventing the radicalisation of the youth.
As things stand, Shias are a prime target of Sunni extremists, since the historical legacy of the revolt against Ali, the fourth Caliph, still operates. This makes Shias — along with a big chunk of Sunnis called Barelvis, who are in the Sufi line of venerating the shrines of pirs and fakirs, jointly with their Hindu followers — an intrinsic source of resistance against the spread of Islamic radicals.
Strangely, however, the elite, which has traditionally monopolised the political leadership of the Muslim minority in India right since the pre-Independence days, has not yet unreservedly denounced the rising tide of faith-based militancy within and outside the country. In its constant search for a communally-based share of political power, it puts up with militant sections of the Sunni ulema, such as the Maudoodians and the pro-Saudi salafis. The link up of Indian Mujahideen (IM) with the ISIS is yet to be condemned by the political leadership of the community, some sections of which have even defended IM for reasons of internal politics.
India has to find a way of not letting the issue of terrorism get enmeshed with the communal problem of the country. A big danger to India is from the likelihood of Pakistani proxies instigating radicalism and blaming it all on ISIS.
On the domestic front in India, “de- radicalisation” should be attempted through a combination of moves. First of all, a consensus should be built among all sections of the minority community on the need to supplement madrasa education with the teaching of national languages, computer science and the Indian Constitution. This might already be happening to an extent. The idea is to facilitate the entry of these students into the national mainstream of education. The government should render suitable support to those who worked for this expansion.
Secondly, the state should persuade all idaras as well as the political and non-political organisations working for the minority community to express their opposition to the use of violence for any “cause” in the name of religion. The mainstream political parties of India should also make this declaration at their conventions.
And finally, the families of the youth who attracted notice for suspicious activity on social media should be contacted by the district administration to work out corrective action to wean them away from the unlawful path.
This, however, must not detract from the drive to get harsh punishment under the law for those who had knowingly acted as enemy agents.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director Intelligence Bureau.