Bangladesh has become the latest hotspot of rising Islamist radicalism and jihadist terrorism in the South Asian region. The bloody siege in a Dhaka restaurant underlines the evolution of brutal Islamic State (ISIS) activities beyond its traditional theater of conflict in Iraq and Syria. What is most shocking is the growing influence of the terrorist group among Bangladesh’s youth. Even though no direct link has been established as yet, the ideological influences of ISIS on the attackers are quite discernible.
A spillover effect on India cannot be ruled out. India, having the third largest Muslim population in the world, has not seen the kind of radicalization that has happened elsewhere. Indian Islam is considered very moderate. Though Muslim religious leaders frequently vow that they not allow the jihadist propaganda of the ISIS to infect the minds of Indian Muslims, the recent arrests of ISIS recruits demonstrate that India is not invulnerable to the terrorist group’s designs. The Islamic State seems determined to spread its tentacles in India, mobilizing susceptible Muslim youth to retaliate for the perceived injustices. If children of opportunity, rather than deprivation, are being attracted to the toxic seduction of radicalism and terrorism in the name of religion, then the existing counterterrorism strategy needs to be supplemented with a fresh approach.
The endurance of terrorism and the rise of violent extremist groups around the world highlight the limits of conventional approaches to counter them. Many years of experience has proven that heavy-handed approaches and a single-minded focus on security measures are inadequate in the global fight against terrorism. What we really need is a broader and smarter approach to reverse the tide of terrorism – one that goes beyond countering terrorists with military and law enforcement tactics. An effective strategy should incorporate efforts aimed at preventing people from becoming terrorists in the first place. Only then can we ensure that the terrorists who are eliminated physically, through the use of force, are not replaced. That is how sustainable progress can be made in the fight against terrorism.
But how do we do that? It begins with addressing the forces that radicalize individuals to join violent extremist groups. Yearning for belonging, perceptions of injustice, corruption, neglect, and marginalization – all can create fertile ground for violent ideologies to grow. In the present age, digitalized communication platforms and the easy flow of people and goods make it much easier for religious extremists to penetrate our communities with hateful messages and false promises of fulfillment. Social media has revolutionized terrorism.
As traditional security tools alone cannot effectively counter this process, “countering violent extremism” (CVE) has become the preferred option. In many parts of the world, CVE is regarded as a soft approach to countering terrorism. Many Western countries have evolved certain CVE programs from their local perspectives, ranging from community engagement to winning the hearts and minds of the people. In Western countries, most of these programs largely focus on Muslim immigrant communities. The native countries of these immigrant communities also have an important role in Western CVE models. It is assumed that fixing extremism in the immigrants’ native lands will help prevent extremism in host societies.
Although some police and government agencies in India have begun to develop a counter-extremism framework, it is time that India came up with a comprehensive counter-extremism strategy to complement its counterterrorism policy. Western CVE models need to be adapted to local requirements and conditions for lasting achievement. As the CVE approach seeks to improve inter-community harmony and cohesion, there is an urgent need to link community policing with CVE for greater success. The best solution to counter violent extremism is bottom up, not top down. Law enforcement agencies should work more closely with civil society and tap the talents of communities in developing counter-narratives to those who are responsible for propagating hate narratives.
India’s ability to prevent violent extremism rests on civil society – academics, professionals, religious leaders, local leaders, and youth – stepping up to repulse horrible ideologies and promote messages of peace. Western countries can benefit from India’s example of tolerance and resilience in the face of the Wahabbism-inspired rhetoric. Extremist Islamists and their backers are desperate to divide communities but the ability of Indian society to maintain its resilience makes their divisive agenda look hollow and absurd.
Islamist radicals are playing havoc across much of the democratic world, resulting into recent terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, and Dhaka. The latest massacre of innocents in Dhaka is yet another indicator of the grave threat ISIS poses to the world, particularly to those countries with sizable Muslim populations. These attacks suggest that similar ISIS-inspired or linked attacks can be staged in any part of India in the future, despite the best attempts by government agencies to preempt them. As ISIS fights to cling to its territory in Iraq and Syria, the group is said to have recently expanded its sights to other parts of Asia in an effort to maintain its influence.
The al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has also urged Indian Muslims to start a jihad by killing the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service officers. Now that these two transnational terrorist organizations have publicized messages aimed at the Indian state, it remains to be seen whether this will translate into greater resources for local pro-jihadist forces, most of which have faced difficulty recruiting and obtaining training so far.
As we are confronted with growing violent extremism across the South Asian subcontinent, we must continue to speak out against discrimination and marginalization. Extremism of all stripes often flourishes when basic human dignity is violated, aspirations for inclusion are ignored, and young people lack good prospects. Success in countering violent extremism would depend a great deal upon government officials and administrators, as they play a crucial role by governing effectively and inclusively, which limits the grievances that are exploited by the violent extremists.
The police should play a pivotal role too in preventing radicalization and extremism from emerging by empowering the civil society and staying true to the values of tolerance and forgiveness. The policemen should listen carefully to the grievances of the people they claim to serve and diligently act to address them.
Vinay Kaura is an assistant professor in the department of International Affairs and Security Studies, and Coordinator at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jaipur, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Rajasthan, India.