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How to Combat Global Islamism



By Tufail Ahmad

14th January 2015

The continuing series of jihadist attacks by “lone wolves” – some call them stray dogs but both the terms are insults to animals – in London, Boston, Sydney and Paris illustrates the fact that modern democracies cannot take their freedom for granted. After the Second World War, democracies faced threats from armed communism.

Seven decades on, democratic nations and their liberties are still threatened, this time by radical Islamism. It is a matter of time before Indian democracy too will come face to face with such threats, especially since the signs of radicalisation are emerging in many parts of India.

The January 7 attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo illustrates two points: first, democratic nations must put in place a counter-radicalisation strategy that integrates Muslim communities and counters radicalisation. Second, big powers must join hands and evolve a global strategy against the jihadist threat currently wreaking Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and others. As of now, the Western powers are not engaging in developing a global strategy against Islamism due to the fear that they will be seen as anti-Islam.

However, the longer the West takes it to tackle this cancer, the bigger it will become. It was indeed this realisation which forced the leaders of forty countries including the UK, Israel, Germany, Palestine, Jordan, Poland and Spain to march hand in hand with the French president in Paris on January 11 to denounce the attackers of Charlie Hebdo.

Let’s explain the second point to understand how 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.

While the newly emerging nation states ended the war to the benefit of their peoples, they are now doing exactly the opposite. 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 suppresses its Muslim population in Xinjiang.

Iraq suppresses the Kurds and Sunnis while Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan allow persecution of their Shia minorities. (Kashmir is not good example because the people elect their government, can openly challenge the power of the Indian nation state and are about to overcome jihadist insurgency commissioned from outside.) The argument here is this: the international state system anchored to the United Nations since the Second World War is failing to address emerging problems caused by its member-states, notably the rise of global Jihadism. The UN is paralysed. There are two urgent needs: dismantle the UN and seed a new international state system; and evolve an international strategy to undermine the global Jihadism from within and without.

A global 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, Iran and Pakistan to jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), 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, Turkey’s support of Muslim Brotherhood, among others.

If some Western countries are willing to recognise Palestine as a state despite the jihadist ideology of Hamas, there is no reason why the Kurds who have abided by the norms of civilised behaviour should not get Kurdistan.

To return to the first point, the need for counter-radicalisation strategy, the democratic states must evolve their own domestic policies to challenge radicalisation. Over the past year, 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.

Sanjeev Dayal, Director General of Maharashtra police, has proposed a counter-radicalisation strategy, which argues for inclusive housing for Muslims, mainstreaming of madrasa education and dealing with perceived grievances, among others. Dayal took inspiration from a Singaporean law that mandates mixed ownership in housing societies for the Malays, Indians and the Chinese.

The 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 France 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 essentially separate Muslims from the practices of non-Muslims.

In Dayal’s 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 Dhalte 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.

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 temples and 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.

Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC