By Arun Bothra
16th March 2017
After a failed attempt on the life of the then British PM Margaret Thatcher, the Irish Republican Army sent her an unnerving message: “You need to be lucky all the time; we need to be lucky once”. Thatcher lived a full life of 87 years and the IRA is almost history now. But the spine-chilling threat conveyed through this missive still haunts security agencies across the world, albeit in a changed context. With the new phenomenon of religious terrorism armed with lone wolves, this threat holds truer in present times.
Today, terror outfits like IS or Al Qaeda needs to radicalise just a few individuals. The earth-shaking events of 9/11 in the US were planned and executed by a handful of zealots. In recent times, attacks in Boston, Nice, Paris and closer home in Dhaka were carried out by a few, sometimes even by a lone fanatic. On the other hand, civil society and its security agencies need to be lucky at all times to ensure people do not get radicalised.
India has been more or less lucky to be safe in the last few years despite being high on the hate list of terror groups. These outfits have their focus elsewhere at the moment. Syria, the US and Europe are their priority. No doubt, our security agencies have put in a lot of visible and invisible effort in neutralising their local variants like Indian Mujahedeen and Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). However, our entire focus has been on apprehending and prosecuting such elements. There has not been much of an effort to counter radicalisation which draws people to these groups.
Essentially, the security apparatus can only take care of those directly indulging in unlawful activities. There are no sure-shot remedies to tackle radicalised people or those radicalising others in the name of real or perceived injustice to their religion. Radicalisation is a state of mind and no law can control minds, especially in a democratic society like ours. As seen in the case of Zakir Naik, there are only limited legal ways to control such elements.
Dealing with radicalisation is highly complex and perhaps the most difficult challenge for any society. In a free society with the fundamental right to freedom of expression, the issue gets further complicated. Recent incidents in two main universities of Delhi have again underscored that the line between freedom of expression and propagating toxic ideas is not very clear. Easy access to the internet and a free for all on social media has made the task tougher. There are ample examples of young men and women radicalised on their own by reading and watching inflammatory materials on the internet. In cases like the Dhaka attacks, even the attackers’ parents did not know how and when their children turned to the path of terror.
The leftist narrative of deprivation and individual injustice does not hold good anymore. Many involved in terror in the West had no personal grievances against society. They came from well-to-do families; some were highly educated. They could have led a normal life but chose to kill people. These new terrorists are not always disadvantaged or crazy. Most of them are in search of meaning to their lives and for an identity bigger than themselves. Radical religious ideas are just what they are looking for.
In spite of complexity, the state and society cannot afford to ignore the problem of radicalisation. While terror outfits go all out to win over hearts and minds, the society cannot passively wait for violence to occur. Around the world, various strategies are used to counter radicalisation. The experiences of Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and UK have shown involving the community in deradicalisation has been the most successful among such efforts.