By Tufail Ahmad, New Age Islam
28 Nov 2016
The current threat to India's security is typical of the threat faced by modern democracies. Jihadist attacks – whether they are carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda or by lone-wolf jihadists acting on their behalf – threaten to overturn the civilisational order. The attacks in Florida, Boston, Toronto, London, Paris, Kabul, Peshawar, Mumbai, Dhaka or Sydney illustrate the fact that modern democracies cannot take their freedoms and security for granted.
On July 9, it emerged that 15 Muslim youths from Kerala had gone missing, feared to have left the country for Afghanistan and Iran on way to join the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. Later reports put the number of the missing youths varyingly at 17, 19 and 25. The youths belonged to mainly the Kasaragod and Palakkad districts. This development has raised alarm that radicalisation of Muslims is underway in many parts of India, especially in regions around Hyderabad and Mumbai.
After the Second World War, democracies faced threats from armed communism. Seven decades later, democratic nations are still threatened, this time by global jihadism. It is a matter of time before Indian democracy too will come face to face with such threats. The jihadist attacks underline two points. First, democratic countries must put in place a counter-radicalisation strategy that integrates Muslim communities and counters radicalisation. Second, such a strategy must also be coordinated internationally because the nature of the threat is global in its character.
Let's take the second point first. The jihadist threat has acquired an international character because the international system of states has become problematic. The modern nation-states – with sovereignty and non-interference in each other's affairs being their defining characteristics – emerged after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, an agreement which ended the Thirty Years War during which conflicts between the Protestant and the Catholic states had transformed into a war between the great powers of the day.
As a result of the 1648 agreement, while the newly emerging nation-states ended the war to the benefit of their peoples, they are now suppressing their own peoples. For example, the Pakistani nation-state crushes its people in Balochistan. The Sunni nation-state of Bahrain tramples upon its Shia majority. The Chinese nation-state oppresses its Muslim population in Xinjiang. Iraq suppresses the Kurds and Sunnis while Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan allow persecution of their minorities such as Shias and Ahmadi Muslims.
(Kashmir is not a good example because the Kashmiri people elect their government regularly, can openly challenge the power of the Indian nation state and are about to overcome jihadist insurgency commissioned by Pakistan.)The argument is this: the international state system anchored to the UN since the World War II is failing to address emerging problems caused by its member-states, notably the rise of global jihadism. There are two urgent needs: one, dismantle the UN and seed a new international state system; and two, evolve a global strategy to counter the global jihadism.
An international strategy must take into account the suppression by nation-states of people within their own borders as well as the state support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan to jihadist groups like the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Canadian-Pakistani writer Tarek Fatah has suggested that global extremism can be undermined from within by addressing the issues of Balochistan, Kurdistan and Turkey's support of Muslim Brotherhood.
Of the big countries, only the U.S., Britain and Russia have inclination as well as diplomatic and military resources to counter this threat. As of now, the Western powers are not engaged in collectively developing a strategy against global jihadism due to the fear that they will be seen as anti-Islam. The longer the West takes it to tackle this cancer, the bigger it will become. It was this realisation which forced the leaders of forty nations including the UK, Israel, Germany, Palestine, Jordan, Poland and Spain to march hand in hand with the French president in Paris on January 11 last year to denounce the jihadists who shot dead the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine.
To return to the first point, the need for counter-radicalisation strategy, the democratic nations must evolve their own domestic policies to challenge radicalisation. Over the past few years, India has witnessed worrying symptoms of radicalisation: Muslim youths posed for a group photograph in ISIS T-Shirts in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, stickers in favour of ISIS were seen on cars. In Kashmir, masked youths waved ISIS flags. In the toilet of a Mumbai airport, a passenger wrote ISIS threats. In Jharkhand, someone deemed it fit to print 'ISIS Pakistan' on T-Shirts.
Muslim youths from Mumbai went to Iraq and some were detained in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad over ISIS links. At least one Mumbai youth wanted to carry out a suicide attack on the American School in Bandra. In July 2016, security officials arrested a number of radicalised Muslim youths, especially from Aurangabad, Parbhani and greater Mumbai. In 2014, Sanjeev Dayal, the then director general of Maharashtra police, had proposed a counter-radicalisation strategy, which argued for inclusive housing for Muslims, mainstreaming of madrasa education and dealing with perceived grievances, among others.
Sanjeev Dayal took inspiration from a Singaporean law that mandates mixed ownership in housing societies for the Malays, Indians and the Chinese. The then police chief also warned against online propaganda that radicalises Muslim youths. All the suggestions are practical, but there is no short-cut solution to integrating Muslim communities, whether in Europe or in India. This is because Islam does not allow Muslims to fully integrate with local communities. As a system of ideas, Islam is designed to separate Muslims from the practices of non-Muslims.
In Maharashtra state, this writer asked a Muslim man, who has not gone to college, a question: what do Urdu religious channels like the Peace TV of televangelist Zakir Naik teach? His response: they teach us about Islam. Probed further as to what he and his family learn from these channels, he explained: Wo Hamein Islam Ke Saanchey Mein Dhaalte Hain (they shape us into the mould of Islam).Muslims everywhere will continue to separate themselves from the rest of society. Islam doesn't permit integration, despite which some Muslims do integrate in some spheres of society.
Nevertheless, attempts for reform must be made on an urgent basis. India needs to think long term and evolve a 100-year strategy, seriously. Such a strategy must do the following: all madrasas and mosques should be registered and their finances audited by local officials, a task unachievable if the same is not done for churches; madrasa syllabi should be reformed to include – in addition to the teachings of the Quran, Hadiths and Islamic Studies – English and material sciences as well as a primer on need-blind subjects like liberal arts from the primary standards. Reform must begin among children below 18 years of age and in the field of education. If Lord Macaulay could do it, Indian democracy can do it much better.
* Former BBC journalist Tufail Ahmad is Executive Director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He is the author of "Jihadist Threat to India – The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim."A version of this article appeared in the Onam special issue 2016, published by Malayalam-language daily Janmabhoomi.
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