Since the past couple of years, India is still discussing whether Daesh is a real time threat or is it waning. Interpretations, therefore, depend from person to person. Taking no chances, Indian security and intelligence establishments, under difficult circumstances, have done a commendable job in preventing departures of youth to Syria and Iraq, and most importantly, unearthed modules from a few Indian states. However, despite the noticeable retreat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, there are other security challenges posed by this outfit in different parts of the world (including India) and this has to do with the problem of radicalization which is increasingly paving its way for violent extremism or terror. A renewed concept of ‘home-grown extremism’ is equally adding to the problem and this cannot be afforded to be underplayed.

 

In late January this year (2017), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) talked about the involvement of a few Muslim youths with Daesh. Not only did this agency expose the influence of this terror outfit in the country but it also dispelled certain myths, particularly of Madrasas being the major platform from where radicalization is taking place. It mentioned that 80 percent of all of the suspected Daesh operatives who were arrested from India in 2016 had “formal schooling” while the remaining 20 percent had gone to Madrasa. This revelation has come in consonance with the global context where hundreds of thousands of people from numerous countries, belonging to different age groups and of varied profiles, have succumbed to the fallacy of establishing a caliphate and as a result, fell prey to radicalization tactics and eventually leading to recruitment.

 

During the peak of Daesh’s recruitment activities between mid-2014 and 2016, India, too, witnessed a trend similar to that of foreign fighters leaving their employments in their respective countries and joining the outfit. As it is happening in the West, some of the arrestees (from India) have been converted from either Christianity or Hinduism although the number of them, or who are still serving in Syria/Iraq, are significantly less as compared to the European and Southeast Asian countries. After remaining in denial during the initial days that Indian Muslims are well integrated into the mainstream society, subsequent arrests and reports of radicalized individuals travelling to conflict zones dispelled the myth that they are immune to propaganda of this terror outfit as well as its radicalizing and recruiting tactics. Despite these gradual developments, India has been fortunate that it has not faced any untoward incident either directed or inspired by Daesh, thanks to the painstaking effort of the law enforcement agencies. India, so far, is in a better position in comparison to the European countries, which have faced some devastating attacks due to the involvement of their citizens who fought in the ranks of Daesh and returned home, and that of continuing threats from domestically radicalized lone individual and extremists.

 

Table 1 and Table 2 below give some statistics with regard to Daesh-related activities in India in 2015-16.

 

Table 1: indicates the age group of Indians who were arrested.

Age Group (in years) No. of People Arrested
18-25 28
25-40 20
Above 40 4

 

 

Table 2: indicates the schools of thought allegedly subscribed by youths.

School of Thought Percentage
Ahle Hadith 50
Tablighi Jamaat 30
Deobandis 20
 

This understanding of the types of schools of thought and their ideologies which are attributed to radicalization of the arrestees and other similarly influenced people could be made from the study conducted by the NIA. The followers of Ahle Hadith, in particular, are those who follow puritanical form of Islam, mostly found in countries like Saudi Arabia. That the majority of the youths arrested adhered to this school fit well into the commonly seen experience where practices of Islam —Wahhabism, in particular—being imported from abroad are instrumental in indoctrinating several impressionable youths not only in India but also in the West, South and Southeast Asia. In the immediate neighbourhood, Bangladesh and Maldives are witnessing a similar phenomenon where there is a mushrooming of several mosques, often funded by the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, and this has significantly contributed to spreading radical ideologies.

 

Presently, Indian states such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Telangana and West Bengal are increasingly becoming fertile grounds for radicalization on theological basis while others, including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan, are also gradually following the trend. These states have already witnessed Daesh-linked activities followed by arrests. Although it is clear, to some extent, where radicalization in the recent times is mostly prevalent, it is imperative to unearth the platforms from where lessons from different schools of thought are being taught, who the ideologues or the preachers are, and importantly, their interpretations that have distorted the teachings of Islam. The presence of such radicalized individuals, who often operate from the shadows, is augmenting the process of radicalization and also facilitating recruitment into terror outfits. While the arrests are a commendable breakthrough, the threats from radicalized people who remain undetected will continue to remain in the country and are unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. The presence of networks of people, both within the country and abroad, who are giving logistical and financial support to radicalized individuals with terror streak, let alone Daesh sympathizers or supporters, is concerning.

 

In general, analyses over the perceived decline of Daesh influence, is accentuated by looking at the setback—territorially, financially, physically—in Syria and Iraq. Undeniably, the outfit’s leadership and fighters have apparently lost their vigour to prevent their territories from being recaptured by the coalition security forces, but not the ability to give orders to stage brazen attacks like the ones in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016, respectively. What, however, remains a worrisome factor is the presence of extremely radicalized and zealous supporters/sympathizers who, time and again, have exhibited their prowess to attack (in the West). Attacks in the future need not be directly linked to Daesh but the possibilities of people using its brand do exist. As it is, some of the Indians who were arrested after their return to India reportedly planned ‘lone-wolves’ sort of attacks and they maintained contacts with Daesh-handlers situated in West Asia. The arrests of Subahani Haja Moideen in October 2016, and that of West Bengal-based Mohammad Masiuddin alias Abu Musa, against whom NIA filed a charge-sheet, are examples of such cases.  What was of concern in the latter case was the revelations about his connections with leaders of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Armar, and his desire to kill foreigners in India. The NIA charge-sheet mentioned that “the accused entered into a criminal conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities by way of robbing/raping/killing/beheading members and servants of one influential and well to do family, to publicize the presence of the ISIS in India and to spread terror among the people in India.” Daesh has successfully franchised its ‘ideas’ not only in the ideological sense but also in operational tactics. This is where its social media propaganda campaign still holds some relevance. Radicalized individuals and its ‘soldiers’ are apparently paying heed to publications such as Rumiyah (in English language) which lays down elaborate tactics, including where to attack, whom to attack, what kinds of weapons are appropriate and when to attack! There is a clear link between the modus operandi of Daesh and the recent incidents in Berlin, Istanbul and a few American cities. Therefore, the concept of ‘inspired attacks’ will continue to make Daesh relevant event after it is defeated militarily in the near future.  

 

The problem of radicalization in India is nowhere near its end, and this will definitely go in favour of those people who are constantly on the search for vulnerable yet potential recruits and this does not have to be only for Daesh. Moreover, the narratives for radicalization are also changing. During the early days, Syrian humanitarian crisis, ambition of establishing an Islamic state in a particular territory, etc., were some of the radicalizing and recruiting factors but the outfit brought in a local flavour by harping on the “violence against Muslims in many places, including Mumbai, Gujarat, Assam and Moradabad.”  This coincided with the alleged departures of radicalized Muslim youths to Syria, and who planned to carry out attacks in the country last year. The instructions to strike at home intensified after Daesh started losing its territories due to which its ‘caliphate project’ has visibly crumbled.  That said, how much ever one may continue to belittle the importance of radical narratives such as ‘Islam is in danger’ and ‘Muslims are severely oppressed and marginalized’, they are going to remain an inevitable part of radicalization. Unfortunately, there are no effective counter-narratives so far to challenge these misguiding narratives in India and elsewhere. Motivation for martyrdom to these vengeful youths still runs high no matter how the attributed factors for such acts are ridiculed. As long as there are networks which are assisting these people, their potentialities to create unrest should not be undermined. And, unless the problem of radicalization is tackled from the grass-root level, India will continue to face threats.

 

While the role of the government and its entities, and civilian society are significant, the Muslim community in its entirety should be at the forefront of combating the problem of radicalization, which is now being carried out in the name of religion. Considering all these factors, the challenges ahead, however are enormous, as it is not only a fight against individuals or a terror group but also against an extremely pernicious idea – which is brewing violence, sectarianism and hatred.  

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.