India needs to prevent radicalisation of youth via Internet

  • Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 04, 2015 01:19 IST
File photo of Kashmiri protesters displaying the flags of IS and Pakistan flag during a protest against the alleged desecration of Jamia Masjid by police in Srinagar, Jammu-Kashmir.(Photo by Waseem Andrabi/ Hindustan Times)

The ultra-conservative Islamic State ideology is gaining root among a section of Muslim youth in India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.

Worried by this, the Union government has tasked its security agencies to monitor social media sites and twitter handles promoting violent extremism. This heightened concern is due to the spread of this hate ideology in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and its ramifications for the Valley.

The BJP-led NDA government rushed its National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to Srinagar in July to gauge the situation after a top Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) interlocutor sent a terse message that Kashmiri youth had taken to the gun in the 1990s for azaadi (freedom), but they now were doing so to die.

While the idea of propagating moderate Islam or taking down radical sites or twitter handles may be a step in the right direction, the task is humongous and requires a much faster technological and ideological response from Indian society.

The IS group is known to operate 96,000 Twitter handles, each spewing out 2,000 venomous tweets daily. Each minute 300 hours of content is added on to YouTube, which includes terror propaganda and radical Islam with an aim to recruit global Muslim youth.

The problem is the servers of these social media platforms are not in India.

The government does not have the technological capability to track, monitor or react to this avalanche of bytes in the virtual world which are radicalising youth in the name of Islam or a romantic Caliphate concept of yore.

A handful of countries led by the US have this capability but are not yet willing to share it.

India and the US have a strong cooperation in counter-terrorism but this is limited when it comes to the Af-Pak region. Until India develops the cyber capability, the government and society must come up with a counter-narrative to prevent Muslim youth from getting radicalised over the Internet or other mediums.

The lack of a counter-narrative was evident during the hanging of 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Yakub Memon with social media and armchair strategists on the news channels equating a hardened criminal with discrimination against Muslims.

The fact is that the last three men who went to the gallows were Muslims and were also responsible for the deaths of more than 500 Indians including Muslims and for an attack on the seat of democracy in New Delhi.

Steps should be taken so that none of the 5,000-odd grieving people who followed Yakub Memon’s body to the graveyard in Mumbai convert from being passive observers to violent actors through radicalisation.

The root of radicalisation lies in the sociopolitical alienation of a vulnerable individual and according to available literature goes through four stages: what is happening is not right; it is not fair; laying the blame on or demonising the perceived enemy.

This is followed by desensitisation to extreme acts by dehumanising the perceived enemy with religion providing the legitimacy for such acts as beheading and the sex slave trade as practised by IS.

The Internet provides a great opportunity for terror groups to radicalise youth as it is an inexpensive way to connect, communicate, validate by finding out that the thoughts are widely shared and create a collective identity transcending national culture and ethos.

The current trends in Jammu and Kashmir reveal that a religious Islamic identity is trying to overtake a political movement. This was recently manifested in 11 unmasked Kashmiri youth armed with assault rifles uploading their photographs in IS style on Facebook.

Counter-terror experts say that the Internet in comparison to physical contact and training drastically reduces the time to radicalise any individual. With Facebook, Twitter or Google servers in the US, India can only request these mega national corporations to delete the uploads or give out details of the source.

The other alternative is to invest in creating an Indian version of cyber world like China.

There is, however, another option in the Indian context which is worth exploring. The Indian polity, judiciary and society should make serious attempts at addressing the sociopolitical alienation of Muslim youth.

Just as the hanging of Yakub Memon was in a sense closure for the innocent victims of the 1993 serial blasts, the same should be the case for those accused in the 1992 Mumbai riots as many in the minority community feel that the blasts were an answer to the earlier humiliation.

This is akin to the humiliation of the Sikh community with hardly any politician jailed for the 1984 carnage.

The Centre and state governments should ensure that communal riots should be curbed with an iron hand with proper scientific investigations and all those involved being punished according to the law.

The same applies to terror investigations and punishments. With the arrest of proscribed Indian Mujahideen co-founder Yasin Bhatkal in August 2013, it is evident that the 2010 Pune’s German Bakery blast death row convict Himayat Beg or the majority of the 2006 Mumbai train blasts accused had no role to play in the two attacks as the identity of the actual perpetrators is now known and documented by the law enforcement agencies.

Fair play demands that innocents not be harassed or humiliated just as any heinous crime must be punished.

India can only provide a counter to the IS hate ideology by ensuring justice and also taking the help of venerable Islamic religious schools like Deoband to challenge Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s concept of Caliphate or hijrat on the basis of the Koran.

In the context of Jammu and Kashmir, the answer lies in good governance by the Mufti Sayeed government with radicals using the fear of the BJP in power in the state to poison young minds.

The Indian security agencies cannot rest easy that only 18 Muslim youth have joined the IS fight in Syria-Iraq. The radical ideology is feeding on the perceived alienation of youth in Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra with no counter-narrative.

Monitoring IS sites provides a partial diagnosis of the problem but cannot prescribe the solution.

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