Author : Rasheed Kidwai

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jun 20, 2018
Need for major CVE programme to engage with Muslim community

There is a pressing need for a national strategy for preventing violent extremism in India.

However, in the absence of any structured curriculum for community-run madarsas or close coordination among Central, State governments and Muslim community, there are patchy efforts made by some religious institutions, NGOs and individuals to counter violent extremism.

At the political level, many politicians continue to believe that all is well. They take great pride in what President George Bush had told Laura Bish few years ago while greeting the visiting Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Bush had reportedly said, “Here is the prime minister of India, a democracy which does not have a single al-Qaida member in a population of 150 million Muslims.”

In April this year, while addressing the fourth Counter Terrorism Conference on  “Changing Contours of  Global Terror” in Gurugram, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh named  radicalisation of populace, particularly youth, as a trend and one of the most challenging problems in the West Asia, South Asia and the African continent. The shift of AQ Network from the West Asia to South Asia is a phenomenon, which is of serious concern to India. The minister observed that the state-of-the-art communication systems, available to the terror groups and access to advanced technology, including cyber-space, Internet, electronic mail, etc were providing terrorist groups a global communication system. Singh said his ministry was keeping a close watch on the growth of the IS (Islamic State) and their ways of using social media as a key tool for ideological indoctrination, recruitment and networking by targeting young generation and intellectual Muslims.  The on-going propaganda by the IS has significantly altered jihadi discourse in India, which so far was rooted in grievances against the Indian state/society, Singh said adding, “I am, however, happy that Indian social fabric has not been affected by the emergence of the Islamic State and I am sure this will not have any further impact in our country.”

Home Ministry mandarins say between January 2014 and June 2017,  a total of 88 Indians or members of the Indian diaspora are believed to have joined the IS in Iraq and Syria, and another 80 people have so far been prevented from joining the group via different means employed by agencies, including family intervention. This figure is miniscule considering India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. However, as ORF senior fellow Maya Mirchandani pointed out in a paper, these figures indicate two things:

    • A microscopic percentage of India’s Muslims, misguided or brainwashed, have a tendency to subscribes to extremist, violent ideology in the guise of faith and that the community needs to be a critical partner in the country’s resolve to counter violent extremism.

While India has taken steps for the setting up of Joint Working Groups (JWGs) on counter-terrorism/security matters with key countries and set up bilateral treaties on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLATs) in criminal matters to facilitate investigation, collection of evidence, transfer of witnesses, location & action against proceeds of crime etc. with other countries, engaging communities and community leaders within the country have not taken off in a structured manner.

As a media practitioner who has interacted closely with Muslim clergy, intelligentsia and community leaders, I feel countering violent extremism within the Indian Muslim society is being done 24X7 by the community leaders, mothers, clergy and other stake holders, particularly after 9/11.

There is virtually no school of Islamic thought in India which has not issued fatwa against suicide bombing or killing of innocents in the name of religion. More significantly, several Indian Muslim ulemas want to adopt the Amman declaration to be adopted in India. Signatories of the Amman declaration include Maulana Mahmood Madani, Kerala’s Shaikh Abu Bakr Musliyar and others. The declaration, a global Islamic consensus, was adopted in 2004 by Islamic clergy and scholars across the sectarian divide on 'inadmissibility of declaring others apostate or infidel (takfir).’ It was rooted in Islamic theology and sought to end the pernicious spate of takfirism.

Muslim parents of children between the age of 11-25 have constantly been screening social media profiles of their children. In some cases, parents in Uttar Pradesh, Telengana, Kerala and Maharashtra have, on their own, approached police when their young sons went missing while traveling abroad or showed signs of radicalisation.

The Indian madarsas are very different from Pakistan and Afghanistan. At madarsas, wards are taught “saleeqa e iqlaq” (method resolving differences) to tackle difference of opinion in amicable manner.  The text of saleeqa e iqlaq” is based on how revered associates of prophet Mohammad amicably resolved differences among themselves and how four imams of Islam expressed opinion within the ambit of faith without resorting to aggression or violence.

The sectarian differences within the Muslim community too offers a formidable challenge. Some of the roots of extreme ideology starts with hatred of other sects within the religion and often it shapes up in violence. Here again, many efforts are being undertaken to resolve issues and present a united face.

But a lot more needs to be done. There is a need to seek help of counsellors, social workers and other community members to intervene to check the danger of radicalising” as part of “Shared Responsibility.” There are seemingly minor but important issues such as lack of curriculum and explanation notes. Lack of English comprehension among Muslim masses, problem of reading and writing Urdu among Muslim youngsters and unavailability of relevant material in Hindi are some practical aspects that need to be taken in to account.

Muslim community participation is essential not only to somehow guide an initiative that will dispel violent extremism, but to feel included and participate as part of a process from the inside. This has been characterised as “having a seat at the table,” arguing that so long as Muslims want to be taken seriously and have their concerns heard, they need to be at the table to inform critical policy discussions. Democratic participation and empowerment holds the key.

At the political plane, there are many factors at play, feeding fear, stroking communal passions and leading to counter polarisation among groups and sub-groups.  Elements within the government and opposition are playing a role that is far from being conducive or helpful. As a result, youth is increasingly getting disillusioned with the political process and system. This is something extremely disturbing. Sustained democracy over the past seven decades, as Union minister M J Akbar had observed in his inaugural speech at ORF’s  ‘Tackling Insurgent Ideologies’ conclave on 11 June, 2018, is the key factor why Indian Muslims have not fallen to the “temptations” of Islamist violence.

Since the 2014  Lok Sabha polls, Muslim representation in the Lok sabha and several State assemblies has fallen drastically. There are only 23 representatives in the Lower House of Parliament, their lowest-ever tally in the Lok Sabha. The representation of Muslims in Parliament has never been proportionate to their population. The highest representation has been in the year 1980 when it was 49 members. It was 21 in 1952, 24 in 1957, 23 in 1962, 29 in 1967, 30 in 1971, 34 in 1977, 49 in 1980, 46 in 1984, 33 in 1989, 28 in 1991, 29 in 1996, 32 in 1999 36 in 2004, 30 in 2009 and 23 in the 2014 elections.

Communalism is a causative factor responsible for low representation of Muslims in Parliament and State assemblies. Fewer and fewer Muslim candidates are being given tickets to contest elections by major political parties. There is a growing sense of majoritarian worldview. Lynching incidents may have been sporadic but it has created panic and a degree of alienation. Wide spread prevalence of false and fake news on What’sApp, arrest of innocents on charges of sedition, selective use of law, deteriorating socio-economic indicators, unemployment   and a general sense of despondency among Muslims is pointing to a situation that may trigger off something obnoxious.  The clock is ticking and a major CVE programme engaging the community is urgently required.

Rasheed Kidwai is a senior journalist, author and ORF visiting fellow. A noted political commentator, Kidwai has written extensively on community relations and socio-political trends among Indian Muslims

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Rasheed Kidwai

Rasheed Kidwai

Rasheed Kidwai is Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. He tracks politics and governance in India. Rasheed was formerly associate editor at The Telegraph, Calcutta. He ...

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