A Comprehensive Strategy For Countering Radicalization-II

–Abhinav Pandya

1)     Counter-radicalization Law- Radicalization is a phenomenon which is the most important element or rather the bedrock of the overall war effort of terrorists. It provides the foot-soldiers of terrorism and prepares a fertile base enabling the smooth supply of the sinews of war. Therefore, a stringent and effective legal apparatus is needed to check radicalization. Always, while discussing the legal instruments in counter-terrorism, there arise the issues of the curtailment of civil liberties like freedom of expression. However, it must be borne in mind that counter-terrorism is like a war-effort. We are fighting a global war against terrorism. And, unlike conventional wars, this war is very unusual. The enemy is elusive, civilians are used as shields, ethical codes are distraught and the rules are hazy. The strategy, methods and the modus operandi of the terrorism are widespread and multi-dimensional including bioterror, cyber-attacks, information and psychological operations, insurgencies, lone-wolf attacks etc. so we have to be extra careful, attentive and sensitive in cognition, identification of the enemy and the reflex response mechanism. All this requires us to have an understanding of this time as a wartime against terrorism. And, in wartime civil liberties do not necessarily have a free run. They can be and must be restricted if the need arises for the sake of national security. If there is a trade-off between national security and civil liberties/human rights then the state authorities have to strike a judicious balance between the two.
Hence, extremist ideologies like Wahhabism/Salafism and Deobandis need to be examined and analyzed beyond the conventional framework of freedom of expression, minority rights and the freedom of religion. Strong legal measures need to be put in place to check the preaching an spread of such ideologies. The glorification of jihad in peaceful ways by Islamic scholars and editors must be made a criminal offense. The law enforcement machinery and intelligence agencies must get a legal protection in the execution of their duties. FBI like sting operations must be used and they should be admissible as evidence in the courts.
2)    Effective Oversight and Accountability – To prevent radicalization, counterterrorism policies need effective oversight and accountability mechanisms involving executive, legislative and impartial, and independent judiciary.  And, they should also include civilian oversight by media, NGO, and the general public. In the absence of an effective accountability mechanism, there may be gross human rights violations which may facilitate the process of radicalization and extremism leading to terrorist violence by providing a fertile ground to the terrorist outfits engaged in radicalization. UN bodies like Counter-Terrorism Committee and Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force have developed an array of best practices which can be immensely helpful in developing a sound legal apparatus to tackle radicalization, in compliance with international human rights law. The law enforcement machinery in different states must be given training in such best practices through workshops, seminars, crash-courses and short-term and long-term training sessions. 
3)    Regulating Madrasas– The world of Madrasas is like a dark world which has so far stayed immune to state and general social surveillance. These are the channels through which extremist ideologies are disseminated. The propagandists of extremist’s ideologies spread their religious message at the congregations in the madrasas and mosques. So far they have remained sanctimonious because in general parlance they are religious symbols and are sentimental issues for the entire community.  However, it is time now that the dark and murky world behind the nurseries of terror must be penetrated. The Madrasas must be derecognized as schools.  All the children of 6-14 must attend the schools and the religious education should be allowed only after one reaches 18 years of age. As regards religious education the emphasis must be on the core philosophical message and not on the ritualistic and scriptural aspects as they have the potential to breed dogma, exclusivism, superstition and a narrow-minded approach. Science and Math must be taught to students in madrasas.
Jessica Sterns in her study of Madrasas found that children studying in madrasas face sexual abuse. After such traumatic experiences, the children face low self –esteem and PTST (Post-Trauma Stress Disorder) which make them vulnerable to extremist propaganda. Therefore, there has to be an openness in the activities of madrasas and such activities of sexual abuse must be tracked, reported and the culprits brought to justice at the earliest.  All the madrasas, mosques, khanqaas and dargahs must be registered as NGOs. Funding sources, channels, disbursement of funds and the use of money must be strictly scrutinized. They all must furnish the quarterly report of their finances, activities, visitors, and outreach to the government. The foreign funding of madrasas must be curved effectively. 
4)    Responsible, honest and objective analysis by media, academia and public intellectuals– It has been observed that there are clusters of journalists, intellectuals, and politicians which favor and propagate a highly one-sided view of socio-political happenings in the country and the nation. They do it for vested political and economic interest or ideological hatred or rather an ideological blindness. For example, rumors of “saffron terrorism” were doing rounds in India. Later, systematic investigations found such theories baseless and lacking evidence. Such conspiracy theories serve no good end except narrow and short-term political objectives. But in the society, such theories fuel the fire of radicalizing Hindus and Muslims both. Further, one comes across several academic campuses with tons of research papers raising the specter of Hindu fascism often making comparisons of Hindu nationalist parties with Nazi Germany. The incidents like Babri mosque demolition and Gujarat riots are portrayed in such a manner that the doomsday has arrived for India’s religious minorities at the hands of Hindu nationalists. Further, Dalit and minority issues are blown out of proportion making without a nuanced understanding of the evolution of India’s social institutions, religious traditions, and cultural moors. The coverage of communal incidents is also one-sided. For example, while reporting of the Malda riots of 2015, the majority of media outlets were deliberately not reporting on the emergence of Malda as a hub of Jihadi activities and the role of jihadi ideology in such disturbances. On the other hand, the role of Hindu organizations was portrayed in an exaggerated and distorted manner.
Such an approach is a double-whammy. It injects fear and insecurity in the minds of Muslims, legitimizing and strengthening the narrative of “Islam in danger” on which the terrorist organizations mostly thrive and spread. And, aiding the process of radicalizing. On the other hand, Hindu nationalist organizations feel that they have been misrepresented and the over-all media and the academic set-up are nurturing hatred against them. In turn, they get alienated and antagonized and in order to woo the common people to their side, propagate the duplicity and biased attitude of media/academia/political groups (the “politico-intellectual complex” of India)pursuing appeasement politics at the cost of national security.
Further, there is also a tendency to come with an apologetic defense for dreaded terrorists. Such attitude was seen in the case of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, both proven terrorists awaiting death sentence. A prominent historian compared a Hindu nationalist organization with ISIS. Conspiracy theories alleging a prominent Hindu nationalist organization of orchestrating the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai were patronized by the politicians of national stature, for petty electoral gains. Even the ISI-funded stone-pelting/civil unrest, terrorist movement and the separatist leaders in Kashmir also get the shield of such an apologetic defense by the self-proclaimed left-liberal intellectuals.
Such intellectual dishonesty and spin-doctoring at the least shield the slow process of radicalization and at the most bolsters the process of radicalization. Therefore, the intellectuals, historians, and journalists need to introspect on their role in this war on terror and act wisely, listening to their inner conscience, to protect the lives of those innocent civilians who meet with brutal deaths in terrorist attacks. They should be honest, impartial and objective. It must be kept in mind that media is the biggest weapon in the hands of terrorists. 
5)    The domain of Intelligence- An effective and smart intelligence and counter-intelligence apparatus is again a bedrock of a sound counter-radicalization strategy. Unfortunately, in India, currently, most of the state intelligence agencies (CID Zone Offices) are in a dysfunctional state. They are understaffed, lack of sufficiently skilled personnel and weak in infrastructure. The officers lack motivation and passion. CID postings are regarded as punishment-postings with no illicit monetary benefits. They lack sufficient knowledge of terrorism issues like geopolitics of terrorism, terror financing, radicalization and theoretical structure of extremist ideologies. Personally, I have come across senior IPS officers commanding districts and rages who have never heard of terms like barelwi and Deobandi. At the district level, one finds very low levels of awareness on rituals, dress-patterns and theocratic systems of extremist ideologies. And, the infrastructure is in shambles. I met a district IB chief in Rajasthan who barely had a staff of 5 people with no advanced communication systems and weapons.
We need a revolution in intelligence affairs (RIA). Regular training, workshops, and seminars must be conducted for field level and senior intelligence officers on terrorism issues. Such workshops and training modules must aim to carve a sharp and incisive intelligence brain who is sensitive and alert to the social-cultural, economic and political developments related to terrorism.
In every district, a counter-radicalization cell should be constituted as a part of the counterterror apparatus.  Officers and staffers of the counter-radicalization cell must be expert in tracking online recruitment. They should be trained in online infiltration and exfiltration in closed online jihadi groups and portals. Further, they should have keen eye on local developments. For example, recently, in a small place like Udaipur (Rajasthan), the local Muslims agitated in the favor of accepting Rohingyas as refugees. The said development should raise alarm-bells in the intelligence world as Udaipur is relatively peaceful place where the local Muslims are least bothered about global Islamic issues. The intelligence agencies should investigate if there is any underground activity of terrorism propagandists/recruiters and agents cultivating the mindset of hatred. The activities of madrasas, visits of religious scholars and preachers also must be tracked and carefully studied. If in small villages, lavish mosques are coming up then inquiries must be done to find out the funding sources.
In addition to the intelligence set-up, the district and sub-district level police and administrative officers should be given a basic level exposure to terrorism issues such as the theoretical knowledge of the extremist ideologies, identification of propagandists through their dress patterns, belief systems, rituals, behavioral attitudes and lifestyle.
6)    Community-Policing Approach to Preventing Terrorism and Countering VERLT (Violent Extremism and Radicalization That Lead to Terrorism)- The terrorism and violent extremism are the threats to community security, not just state security so communities have emerged as the focal points in counter-terrorism policies. Community-oriented approaches are based on involvement, support and the trust of men and women from the local communities in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of counter-terrorism policies to enhance their effectiveness.
OSCE[1] (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)define Community Policing or police-public partnerships “as a philosophy and organizational strategy that promotes a partnership-based, collaborative effort between the police and the community to more effectively and efficiently identify, prevent and solve problems of the crime, the fear of crime, issues of physical safety and security, social disorder and neighborhood decay in order to improve everyone’s quality of life”.
Community-policing can be very useful in countering VERLT but its limitations should also be realized. They emanate from the fact that the police have a key role in criminal justice response to VERLT but their role in proactive-crime prevention initiatives is highly confined as that involves several social, economic and political factors. It can benefit terrorism prevention in the following ways-
  1. a)     Anchoring police into respect for human rights and the rule of law- Community policing if implemented in compliance with international human rights, can very beneficial in building public trust in police. For this, community police officers must get specialized training in human rights issues.
  2. b)     Improving public perceptions of the counterterrorism effort, and the interaction with the police,
  3. c)      Improving communication with the police on counterterrorism and thereby raising general awareness among the public of the threats from extremism
  4. d)     Improving public vigilance and resilience
  5. e)     Enhancing police understanding of communities as a basis to better engage and cooperate with them-Community police officers should be posted for the long enough period to build trust and confidence with the public. Once the community members build trust-based relations with individual officers it is easier to track the activities of the extremists and terrorist elements in the community.
  6. f)       Helping in timely identification and referral of critical situations,
  7. g)     Improving the quality and quantity of intelligence- But it has to be ensured that community policing does not become a front for running a covert espionage operation against a particular community
While implementing community-policing programs, the state agencies must make sure there is no over-reliance on community police officers for intelligence as specialized counterterrorism officers and intelligence officers have a different skill-set. The motive of community policing is to build trust to facilitate effective implementation of over-all counter-terrorism policies and prevent radicalization. However, there should be regular interaction between the counter-terrorism officers and community police officers. Further particular communities should not be stigmatized and the community policing should not intensify the frictions within the community.
Most importantly, it must be kept in mind that international norms of UN and OSCE have been documented and formulated for a general guideline and to provide an overarching framework, but while putting them in practice in India they must be chiseled to suit India’s domestic socio-political conditions. For example, in Jammu and Kashmir and Naxal areas, it may be very challenging to use community-policing approach. The terrorist cadres have a good base among the local communities. And, they often act as spies for terrorist organizations. They also provide cover to terrorists’ activities and their movements. We have to be very guarded and cautious while using community policing as it may threaten the life of our armed forces personnel.
7)    Dealing with online-recruitment and Virtual Jihad-
In 2002, Osama bin Laden wrote to Mullah Omar, “It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods; in fact, its ratio may reach 90% of the total preparation for the battles.” Supporting this view, Ayman al-Zawahiri opined in 2005, “More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our umma”.The virtual jihad or online jihad has gained prominence and credibility. It has emerged as a strong alternative for those who cannot go to the field to fight the real jihad. Besides providing an alternative to real Jihad, it also facilities and strengthens the real jihad by intense radicalization drive. The online jihad prepares fertile ground for the real jihad. The deft use of social media and online presence by ISIS cost the humanity of hundreds of innocent civilians dying.
Smart and efficient mechanism to counter online radicalization is a quintessential part of a counter-radicalization program. In each district, there must a cyber wing in the radicalization cell. It should have expert cybersecurity experts and social media experts. They should also have the exposure to the youth mindset, their concerns, aspirations, and sentiments. They should track their social media profile and updates, and identify at-risk individuals. The members of the cyber tram should also be skilled in infiltrating and subverting the online closed-radicalization groups.
Tackling online radicalization is a must as it is the most potent medium for youth radicalization. And, the issues of privacy, sovereignty and its elusive nature make it a very sensitive area needing a specialized and highly sophisticated approach.
8)   Building Social Harmony– The counter-radicalization strategy should also focus on building social harmony between the different communities. The activities of Hindu extremist groups create a sense of fear in the minority community. Such activities include volatile speeches, provocative statements by prominent Hindu political and religious leaders, violence including killings and murders over beef-eating and love-jihad. Such activities provide a much needed spark for communal riots. Such activities lend credibility to notions like “Islam in danger” from the increasing Hindu extremism.
9)    De-glamourize terrorism- Terrorism is an inspiring field for many youngsters where there is no good alternative. The lack of economic opportunities, underdeveloped state institutions, bad law and order situation, poor development administration and educational backwardness creates a vacuum in which terrorism emerges as a lucrative career option. It brings monetary benefits in the form of large salary package and social status as a freedom fighter. For youth, it holds a special charm as it offers a thrilling life full of adventure. In Kashmir, terrorists like Burhaan Wani and Sabzar Butt often uploaded their pics with latest gadgets and automatic weapons. Such a lifestyle has an appeal with the youth. Many of foreign fighters who joined ISIS were lured by the adventure, glamour of militaristic life, sense of fulfilment and purpose (fighting for a divine cause)and sex slaves. Efforts are needed to deglamorize terrorism by unleashing the opportunities for economic growth and political dialogue. Social life should be made vibrant. Often the fact that several groups and individual have strong economic stakes in terrorism is overlooked. Radicalization drives are organized to furnish a ready supply of recruits for terrorist war fronts across the globe.
By unleashing economic growth and creating employment opportunities, the dependence on terrorism will end. New positions in the corporate sector, development sector and administration will have greater social prestige, administrative authority, job satisfaction and a good salary. I have come across Kashmiri youth joining IAS/IPS with the dream of making Kashmir a better place. They have no faith in the ideology of gun and jihad. They strongly believe in the democratic ethos of India. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the American investment in development has borne results. Now, the youth is studying in American and Indian universities and they are attracted to lucrative careers in development sector, consulting, management, government and international
Organizations like UN and ASEAN. In addition to economic opportunities, gates must be opened for political dialogue. Civil liberties must be improved and cultural activities like music, poetry recitals must be promoted. Vibrant campus life full of diverse cultural activities and exchange programs should be developed. And, communications channels must be created. The aforementioned steps will reduce the grievances and with that the appeal for radicalization which emanates from social and political injustice. And, with economic growth, scientific education, the influence of backward and rigid extremist ideologies will also reduce.
The economically developed Muslim groups like Dawoodi Bohras and Chiliyaas have stayed away from extremism and terrorism. And, in India, one hardly comes across Bohra-Hindu riots. Though Bohras are very religious and particular in observing their customs they have smoothly mingled with rest of the communities as their interaction with other non-Muslim communities is dominated by economic factors rather religious ones.
In this essay and the last essay, I discussed the counter-radicalization strategies at length. The analysis was informed by international best practices and the modifications and improvisations needed to suit the domestic conditions of India. Any discussion of radicalization is incomplete without discussion the de-radicalization measures. De-radicalization has a different target group and it needs a specialized approach. I will discuss de-radicalization in the next essay.
  1. Pakistan-Between Mosque And Military, Hussain Haqqani
  2. Tinderbox-The Past and Future of Pakistan, MJ Akbar
  3. The Shia Revival, Vali Nasr
  4. The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple
  5. Understanding Radicalization in India, Abhinav Pandya, PPF Foundation
  6. Post-ISIS-Future of Global Jihad, Abhinav Pandya, Vivekanand Foundation
  7. Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman
  8. We are losing Kashmir to Islam-Ten ways to counter radicalization in India, Tufail Ahmad, First Post
  9. The Virtual Jihad, Akil Awan, Combating Terrorism Center
  10. Preventing Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism That Lead to Terrorism, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
  11. Radicalization, De-radicalization and Counter-Radicalization- A conceptual Discussion and Literature Review, Dr. Alex P. Schmid
  12. STRATFOR Briefs
  13. Mind Over Martyr, Jessica Sterns, Foreign Affairs
[1] http://www.osce.org/secretariat/111438?download=true

The views expressed are authors own views and does not reflect of the organization.



AUTHOR: Abhinav Pandya
Abhinav Pandya is a policy analyst who specializes in counterterrorism, Indian foreign policy and Af-Pak geopolitics. A graduate in public affairs from Cornell University, he has more more than seven years of experience in public policy, counterterrorism, electoral politics and the development sector in India and the US. Pandya has worked as a member of the United Nations’ (UN) national level specialist team to review the flagship employment guarantee scheme of India. He regularly writes for the Huffington Post, Fair Observer, Indian Military Review and Vivekananda Foundation, India’s premier think tank, on security affairs and diplomacy. He has also written an evaluation paper on the counterterrorism committee of the UN. Pandya is currently a consultant with Vidya Bhawan, Udaipur.