Indian Muslims seem to be waking up to the threat of Islamic State or Daesh. There seems to be a realization among the community leadership that the radicalization threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant was real and so some Muslim organizations have started campaigns across the country to create awareness about the threats posed by these international terrorist groups.
There seems to be an urgency in this regard, especially following the disappearance of some two dozen young men and women from Kerala. While there is no clear evidence that they have landed in Syria, there are some reports that a few people might have landed in Raqqa, the capital of the newly founded 'caliphate' stretching from Mosul in Iraq to Aleppo in Syria.
Initially Muslim leaders in India, echoing the Union government, claimed the Islamic State posed no threat in India. While there may still not be any direct threat from the terrorist organization, there is enough indication that it has a potential to radicalize the Muslim youth in many parts of the country.
Islamic State is not the only organization with the potential to radicalize the Muslim youth. There are others like Hizbut Tahrir too that are doing precisely the same thing. Nonetheless the reach of the radical groups in the Muslim community in the country seems to be very limited.
Limited potential of radicalization among Indian Muslims
While Muslims make up more than fifteen percent of the population in India, there is a very limited scope of radicalization among our Muslims. From Kashmir to Kerala and West Bengal to Gujarat, most of our Muslims adhere to the Sufi brand of Islam, which despises extremism and follows a very moderate version of the religion. Sufis have always been traditionalists and have adhered to traditions. Unlike Salafists who follow puritanical Islam and other reformist movements among different sects of Muslims throughout the world, the Sufis have remained close to their religious leadership, which abhors extremism.
Besides Sufis, the Deoband school of thought with a huge number of followers in all parts of the country also seems determined to fight extremism among Muslims across the country. The Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a social organization attached to the Deoband school of thought, has launched a campaign across the country trying to educate the Muslim youth about the threat of extremism. They have been trying to create awareness about the destructive face of the Islamic State and the fact that such organizations have nothing to do with Islam or Islamic revival.
In one such huge program organised in Mumbai that was attended by, among others, political leaders and police officials, the Jamiat leadership asked Muslims to remain vigilant against this threat. Maulana Muhammad Zakir Qasmi, the secretary general of the Jamiat’s Maharashtra branch, said, "Daesh has nothing to do with either Islam or Muslims. On the contrary it is misusing the name of Islam to create anarchy, disorder and chaos in different parts of the world. Its sole aim is to tarnish the name of Islam and we need to remain awake to this threat."
Islamophobia, a poison
The Washington DC based Georgetown University’s website while defining Islamophobia has this to say, "Islamophobia is prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims due to their religion, or perceived religious, national, or ethnic identity associated with Islam… Like anti-semitism, racism, and homophobia, Islamophobia describes mentalities and actions that demean an entire class of people. Jews, African-Americans, and other populations throughout history have faced prejudice and discrimination. Islamophobia is simply another reincarnation of this unfortunate trend of bigotry."
Islamophobia has become a fact of life in our country. Muslims are depicted as the dangerous others and Islam is presented as a threat to the nation. There are media organizations that depict Muslims in negative light on a daily basis and a small or even insignificant incident is used to tar the entire Muslim population as suspect.
If you want to see the scale of Islamophobia creeping in our society, scroll down any news report in any of the leading news websites and read the comments section. The comments sections of most news websites have become a battleground to present the community in the worst possible light and a whole army seems to be deployed for this task.
Suchitra Vijayan writing in The Hindu says, "The constant depiction of Muslims as the "problematic other" plays a major role in dehumanising the entire community. The act of systematic dehumanisation of a community has historically been used to justify mass violence as retaliation, and shifts the burden of responsibility for the violence on the marginalised communities. The radicalisation discourse not only defines itself in opposition to the "other", but often engages in violence against this "other". In India, the discourse has overwhelmingly contributed to the normalisation of prejudice, dehumanisation of an entire community, legitimated violence and enabled a steady erosion of rights."
Islamophobia encourages radicalization
There is no doubt that the level of radicalization among the Indian Muslim population is very limited, if not non-existent. Nonetheless the demon of Islamophobia has the potential to drive the community towards radicalization.
Tahir Abbas, in Critical Studies on Terrorism talks at length about how Islamophobia feeds radicalization. "While radicalisation feeds off Islamophobia and vice versa, it is also the case that Islamophobia feeds off the success of Muslim communities in society. Similarly, radicalisation is generated by reactions to the ineffectiveness of attempts to integrate, which are a reﬂection of the inadequacies of equality policies at home and foreign policy abroad, but locally also the actions of far-right groups and rightist policies in society more generally. There is a particular symbiosis between Islamophobia and radicalisation, the context of which is the discussion of Islamism and multiculturalism," he notes.
Islamophobia breeds suspicion in the minds of Muslims about their place in the society. While it makes them suspects in the eyes of fellow countrymen, it also has the potential to play into the hands of those people who want to radicalize the community's youth by talking about their deprivation and lack of respect.
While Islamophobia is spreading like wildfire in the country, there is sadly little attempt being made to stop it from spreading further. Vernacular newspapers in many parts of the country, along with some cable networks, have been poisoning the minds of everyone. As for the Urdu newspapers, they seem to be harping on the deprivation angle and driving it home into the minds of the Muslim youth. There is an urgent need to fight Islamophobia to stop radicalization spreading further.
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