Over the past year, the Islamic State’s (IS’) malevolent shadow has spread across a swathe of West Asia. Millions of Arabs have been terrorised, women taken into slavery, homosexuals thrown off buildings and priceless artefacts smashed to smithereens.
The purveyors of hate have also struck well into enemy territory, taking down a Russian plane in Sinai and bringing unprecedented terror to Paris. To these many sins, now add one more: Racism against their own. Intelligence agencies have told the Union home ministry, based on the interrogation of Indians returning from Syria and brief tours of duty with the terror organisation, that it considers its South Asian volunteers inferior to Arab ones. The intelligence reports say that Arab fighters from Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Palestine are given officer rank, better weaponry, accommodation and salaries. South Asian fighters slum it in small barracks and are also thrown to the frontline as cannon fodder while Arabs are positioned at safer points.
The form of apartheid institutionalised by the IS should not come as a great surprise. In a sense the Caliphate is just reflecting what the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) and, indeed, most of the Gulf region practise. Employment conditions there for construction workers from South Asia are pathetic, verging on inhuman; why then should conditions for volunteers for jihad be any different? At least an outfit claiming a basis in theology should not be discriminating between believers — but that just goes to underline that there’s nothing truly Islamic about the IS. Now, to be discriminated against in salary and housing by a group that, after all, brings grisly death, to many across the world, might seem a relatively trivial slight. But it raises some very fundamental questions for those Indians who are willing to give it all up and journey to the world’s most dangerous region in search of a ‘holy war’.
If they are not accepted as equals, are they fighting — probably to the death — in someone else’s war? Are they being exploited in the name of religion? Are they cut-price martyrs? This is relevant especially because the IS apparently considers Islam as practised in South Asia as impure and a departure from the original teachings of the religion.
India should use this intelligence report to try and warn off disaffected youth; such insights should be embedded into a composite programme of rehabilitation and reassimilation. Reports that the imam of Bengaluru’s Jamia Masjid has written to mosques across the city to propagate the humanist message of Islam and counter the IS propaganda are encouraging; a sermon on how the group treats Indian recruits may be apposite.