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Radical Islam in the West & South Asia post-26/11: An Exploratory Study

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  • June 04, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Prof. Kalim Bahadur
    Discussants: Brig.(retd.) Rahul Bhonsle and Prof. Anwar Alam

    On June 4, 2010 Mr. Alok Mukhopadhyay, an Associate Fellow at IDSA presented his paper titled: “Radical Islam in the West & South Asia post – 26/11: An Exploratory Study.” He started the seminar by summarizing the main points of his paper, which were divided in four sections. The presentation was divided into sections titled: 1) Radical Islam rising in the US, 2) Rise and Fall of ‘Londonistan’, 3) Jihad Jane: New faces of Radical Islam in the West, and 4) Hyphenated identity or Hyper-Identity.

    In the section titled ‘radical Islam rising in the US’ it was noted that the nature of radicalism in the US was remarkably different from that in Europe. Fewer numbers and a higher level of prosperity of Muslim immigrants in the US has meant that Islamic Activism is much less in the US, in comparison to Europe which has a longer association with Muslim immigrants who came to Europe for blue collared jobs. The Rise and Fall of ‘Londonistan’, which is an uncomplimentary sobriquet given to radical Islamic activities in London and its mythical tolerance of these activities was mentioned to illuminate the fact that UK has been under a ‘severe’ terrorist threat since January 2010.

    ‘Jihad Jane: New faces of Radical Islam in the West’ in essence argues that many converts to Islam in the West have been radicalized and have been involved in militant activities, posing a new angle to Islamic radicalism which now seems to be influencing even converts who come from varied backgrounds. Hyphenated identity or Hyper-Identity, which refers to the plurality in the identity of the migrant youth population (examples, Pakistani-American, Turkish-German, etc.) has been an issue of concern lately. They are seen to be vulnerable to radicalization because of their inability to integrate into Western society for various reasons including prejudice and hence are facing an identity crisis. Mr. Mukhopadhyay pointed out that in the US Muslims becoming terrorists could be better explained by individual pathology than by rising Islamic militancy due to group dissatisfaction.

    It is believed that Europe has experienced relative success compared to the US in checking the proliferation of radicalism among sections of the Muslim youth by focusing more on monitoring and prediction of radical behavior which leads to early prevention of attacks. On the other hand, inadequate information about terrorist networks, especially in the Af-Pak region, has led the US to resort to drone attacks which has also led to collateral damage which in turn has increased America’s unpopularity among the Muslim community and has further fueled radical ideologies. The burgeoning international profile of India as an important country and Indians traveling all over the world for business and education has increased the risk of some young Indians being recruited by terrorist networks in many Western cities. The June 2007 terrorist incident in Glasgow was indeed a watershed moment when a young Indian professional was found to be a terrorist. Therefore Mr. Alok Mukhopadhyay stated that security and intelligence cooperation between Western countries and India would benefit India given aforementioned risks and the unstable security situation in South Asia, especially in the Af-Pak region.

    In the discussion that followed Mr. Mukhopadhyay’s presentation, many issues were discussed. The importance of transnational efforts to de-radicalize was emphasized by pointing out distinct differences in the way the US and Europe have been tackling radicalization. It was suggested that the US has a more nebulous policy towards de-radicalization unlike Europe. It was also suggested that this may be the case because of the relatively recent origins of radicalization within the US. It was noted that India’s de-radicalization policy has been fairly successful and that Western countries could study India’s de-radicalization methods to strengthen their own de-radicalization efforts. Although Pakistan has emerged as the hot bed for Islamic radicalization, it was noted that no visible steps of de-radicalization had been taken in Pakistan.

    It was also suggested that the term ‘radical Islam’ was problematic and a suitable alternative had to be found. Though there was a general consensus about the problematic nature of the term and the need to re-evaluate the terminology, the lack of a ready alternative led some participants to conclude that people had to compromise with the existing terminology until scholars come up with an acceptable terminology in the future.

    In the discussion it was suggested that America’s role in promoting extremism is an important feature that helps explain, at least to a degree, the existence of what has come to be known as Islamic extremism. Their support for the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is well known and documented. It was implied that Islamic extremism is a phenomenon which has developed into what it is today partly because of US support for extremism in the past decades. It was also stated during the discussion that there was a need to scrutinize, if not challenge, the extremist interpretations of Islam by the Islamic community worldwide. If the extremist groups could be theologically ‘defeated’, eradicating extremism from the minds of the affected sections of the people would become much easier.

    Finally, it was mentioned that integration becomes difficult and fault lines become wider during times of economic downturn when fewer resources have to be shared. This leads to a ‘clash of civilization’ scenario where one community is seen as encroaching upon the resources and culture of the host community. As an off shoot effect, many (not all) young Muslims have voluntarily decided to wear the hijab and burkha, or have decided to sport beards to assert their identities. On a brighter note, it was perhaps implied that economic recovery in the future may help ease the tensions between the migrant and host communities. Although an economic boom by itself would not help bridge differences, it may very well provide a fertile ground for the same.

    Report prepared by Prashant S. Hosur, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi