Event ReportsPublished on Mar 02, 2010
The rhetoric and the justifications that Radical Islam employs to create willing suicide bombers must be properly understood if this menace is to be tackled effectively
Why is Radical Islam spreading in South Asia?

Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the Experimental Creative Center (ECC), Moscow, recently completed the second leg of their collaborative research project Radical Islam.

The ORF team for the event was led by Mr. Vikram Sood and included Mr. Ashok Singh, Mr. Samir Saran, Mr. Wilson John, and Mr. Indranil Banerjee. The delegation from ECC was led by Mr. Sergey Kurginyan and included Mr. Yuri Bialy, Mr. Yury Bardakhciev, Mr. Vladimir Novikov, Ms. Anna Kudinova, Ms. Maria Mamikonyan, Ms. Irina Kurginyan, Ms. Maria Ryzhova and Ms. Maria Podkopaeva.

The two-day conference on Radical Islam, held at ORF on March 2-3, 2010, addressed a vast array of topics on Radical Islam including the spread of Radical Islam in South Asia, as well as its shift towards a greater Pan-Islamic identity and the change in the general profile of terrorists.

A consensual view at the conference was that radical Islam now is being increasingly utilized as a tool in geo-political equations. It regularly and successfully taps into global energy conflicts as well as the global drug trade with fairly successful outcomes.

The rhetoric and the justifications that Radical Islam employs to create willing suicide bombers must be properly understood if this menace is to be tackled effectively. In this regard, it is vital to comprehend the media’s role in our understanding of Radical Islam and the same time remain vigilant towards the extremists’ attempts to capitalize on the misconceptions they perpetuate to spread their message. It is also crucial to have a clearer understanding of how Radical Islam deals with Modernity and its attendant problems.

Apart from theoretical and abstract issues, radical Islam also poses clear and present dangers-for example the persistent efforts by the radical elements to acquire nuclear weapons. There are several experts who fear for the safety of the Pakistani nuclear assets and the possibility or probability of it falling into the hands of Al-Qaeda. Independent radical elements and other non-state actors laying their hands on fissile material and weapons technology will be the worst nightmare for most security planners and governments across the globe. Iran’s nuclear programme in this regard will be another grave issue for the world in general and the greater Middle East in particular.

The second day of the conference opened with a discussion on the process of Islamisation and its impact in both Russia and Europe. In Russia there have been attempts to incite the Muslim population, concentrated in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Volga region. Since the Muslims are concentrated on the corridor linking Russia’s raw material producing areas in the East to the processing plants in the West, the destabilization of the region can actually cut Russia into two nonviable separate parts.

The Taliban’s pan-Eurasian vision is another challenge for Russia as well as India. In fact the Taliban is more influenced by the political philosophy of Tamerlane and Babur as well as the Sufi order Nakshbandiya than Wahhabism. The Taliban and its supporters plan to coordinate their activities in the AfPak region (including Kashmir) along with the Central Asian region- a position once enunciated by former Pakistani Military dictator Zia Ul Haq.

Addressing the issue of radical Islam in Europe, it is important that Europe explores avenues to facilitate the assimilation and integration of its Muslim immigrants into the social and work ethics of the West without undermining their fundamental values. Unfortunately Europe has so far failed to create requisite institutional structures to communicate and inculcate the core European values and norms to members of minority communities. Meanwhile, there have been several efforts from the Muslim community to outline how Muslim practice can comfortably co-exist with being European. However, these attempts have been few and far between.

Meanwhile Europe faces the danger of classifying Islamists into moderate and radicals depending on their use or non use of force. The case of Muslim Brotherhood in Europe is a good example. While the Brotherhood declares its readiness to assist in the integration of Muslims, its stated goal is to create a civilized democratic state based on Islamic prescriptions, a move supported by most well educated Muslims. However, this strikes at the root of genuine democratic principles. The European states, especially the United Kingdom feels that a solution to radical Islam can be found in furthering the collaboration with “moderate” groups like the Brotherhood.

The West thus engages in a policy of legitimizing elements of radical Islam when it suits their interests just like what it did during the Cold War. The attempt to criticize Indian presence in Afghanistan as being detrimental to Pakistani interests is a step in this direction. One way of justifying this move is the American necessity of maintaining friendship with China but this is often done at the cost of ignoring the interests of “modernized allies” like India, and Russia. Certainly, in case of success of the pro-Islamic alliance it is precisely these countries that stand to lose the most.

Moving on to South Asia, it is in fact Pakistan that faces an existential threat in the form of Islamic forces which it once helped to create and nurture. The country has ceded territory to militants and its political structure appears to weaken with every passing day. If the Pakistani state unravels under the assault of Islamic militants, it will have devastating repercussions on a global scale. One mitigating factor in this gloomy scenario is that most Pakistanis do not want Al Qaida or Taliban ruling them. The Pakistani Army too views the Taliban and other assortment of terrorist groups as “tools and not masters”. However, a heavy rate of attrition in the armed forces could force a halt to the military operations against the militants or trigger a mutiny or a coup.

While studying Radical Islam in South Asia, it is important to take note of Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives as well. Recently, India-Bangladesh cooperation on terrorism has improved a lot with several high profile arrests in Bangladesh. This has also exposed the increasing infiltration of militants in India’s neighbourhood which possibly is a direct result of Pakistan’s recent counter-terrorism campaign and the international scrutiny it has invited. Since the West maintains its focus on AfPak, India will be the only country that will attempt to contain radical Islam in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Maldives.

As far as India is concerned, it is important to understand the unique manner in which Islam arrived and developed in India, typically different from Islam’s interaction with Europe. The spirit of accommodation and tolerance has so far thwarted militancy and terrorism in India. Essentially because of this cosmopolitan social history and resilience, India has remained stable and secular unlike Pakistan. However, the trend of situating-even unintentionally- the world’s Muslims on one side has the potential to affect the peace and stability of India as well.

The Conference ended with concluding remarks given by both Mr. Sergey Kurginyan, President of the Experimental Creative Center Moscow and ORF Vice President Vikram Sood. Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, ORF Distinguished Fellow, moved the vote of thanks and also mentioned that the proceedings of the conference and its precursor in Moscow would be published later in the year.

The report has been prepared by Ajish P Joy and Hemant Nair, Associate Fellows at ORF

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