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Countering Radicalisation - Need to Widen the Canvas

The terms ‘counter-radicalisation’ and ‘de-radicalisation’ are not to be used synonymously. Counter-radicalisation refers to policies and programmes aimed at addressing some of the conditions that may propel individuals down the path of terrorism. It is used broadly to refer to a package of social, political, legal, educational and economic programmes specifically designed to deter disaffected (and possibly already radicalised) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists. The term de-radicalisation, on the other hand, is used to refer to programmes that are generally directed against individuals who have become radical with the aim of reintegrating them into society or at least dissuading them from violence.

Radicalisation forms a key theme in terrorism discourses and has been approached as a psycho-social process of gradual progress from context, to thought, and finally to action. Hence, it requires micro (at individual level) and macro (at societal level) examination of context-specific variables to explain causation. Advocating racial or religious supremacy opposes egalitarian principles of democracy and are markers of radical thought and action. We need to guard against these and build upon the strength that our socio-political fabric possesses.

The State alone does not have all the resources necessary to counter radicalisation. The Central Government needs partners to carry out this task. Involving civil society and local communities is key to a range of tools and resources not available to governments. Working with communities and civil society enhances trust and transparency and strengthens social cohesion. Civil society organisations can reach segments of society that governments may find difficult to engage. They can help counter extremist ideologies and promote peaceful dialogue. Along with the local community, NGOs could be incorporated towards identified goals.

The Government has demonstrated sensitivity towards the spreading influence of terror groups, especially the Islamic State (IS) and is in the process of formalizing a strategy to neutralize extremist ideologies, which have influenced thousands around the world. According to an official estimate, around 25 youth have been identified across the country as having been attracted to the idea of IS and wanting to join the group. While there have been arrests in some cases, it is being propounded that arrest should not be the first option, and rightly so. The government has decided to strengthen the capacity building of police officers in states through training programs to be organised by central intelligence and security agencies. There is also a move to look at modalities of analysing social media platforms to identify those sites suspected to be run by terrorists and criminal outfits with a view to fan radical thought. Government sources have claimed that monitoring of social media has already begun and efforts are on to gain the confidence of the Muslim community. 

The threat of radicalisation in India has so far not been as grave as in nations of Europe, West Asia and even in our South Asian neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives. Indian youths are more inured against the lure of IS recruitment because of India’s multicultural democracy. There are opportunities for individuals to have a voice, and to address grievances. India respects human rights, has democratic values, all patterns that allow for individuals to feel included in society. It is in the absence of these that individuals feel alienated. Studies have found that personal grievances and a sense of alienation among Muslim youth in Western countries are the main reasons for joining the IS.

The Government plans to first use persuasive tactics in a departure from its traditional strong-arm tactics. Strong arm tactics may have an adverse impact and create further problems. There appears to be growing consensus that extreme measures should be taken only in exceptional cases. A counter-radicalisation strategy has to be all encompassing, to go much beyond the realms of security and law & order. Response will have to operate at several levels; individual, family, community, education, employer, media, government and security forces.

At the individual level youth will have to be constantly guided to stay on the correct path by providing alternate channels for airing grievances as well as managing concerns, be it of education or employment. The role of the family is important, where influence could be used to cajole the subject to dis-associate and if necessary return to the desired path. Mothers, sisters and wives have a major role to play to keep male members in the family away from the path of extremism and violence.

At the level involving community leaders, in the case of Muslims, the role of Ulema, heads of seminaries and clerics is important. In India there are a number of Muslim clergy who have condemned violence by terrorist groups unequivocally, repeating the message is necessary where media will have an important role. Partly in response to the barbaric atrocities of IS and Boko Haram, Muslims around the world have begun to speak out for religious reforms. Meanwhile, events in the West, such as the shocking Charlie Hebdo massacre, have forced western liberals to recognize that political Islam poses a moral threat to free speech. This narrative has to be tapped and strengthened by the Ulema and intelligentsia.    

Education, both syllabi and institutions are an important intervention for counter-radicalisation. The syllabus duly vetted by acknowledged educationists and social scientists must ensure that information and knowledge is presented in a way to inculcate the right values of tolerance, equity and pluralism. Any parochial (real or perceived) attempt to colour interpretations of history must be refrained on part of the State, since untoward perceptions are whipped up for consumption of the targeted audience.    

Continously expanding reach of social media has played an extremely crucial role towards revolutionising the manner in which ideas and opinions spread. Radical terror groups like IS have taken optimal advantage of the potential that the social media holds. In our context too, indoctrination that was witnessed in case of handful of youngsters, social media has been the game-changer. The Government is seized of the matter and monitoring of social media is to be one of the key measures likely to be instituted. As per the latest indicators from the Government sources, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is being geared up to take on the effort, including recruiting, training and capacity building.  

The media should also highlight atrocities committed by terrorists and publish interviews of those who have returned and who are amenable to shed their links with the extremist groups. The electronic media – television and radio will have an important role to play in the same, mainly owing to its reach. Media sensitisation for the envisioned goal need to be initiated by the State which in turn should exhort the corporate world to take the ownership as redefined ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’.    

At the next level, government will have to provide direction in the form of a national strategy, policy or guidelines for countering radicalisation. Pluralism should be encouraged as core essence of ‘idea of India’ and leaders should avoid falling prey to indiscretions. Security forces should avoid getting discriminatory by targeting youth of a particular community merely on the basis of information or hearsay. A wrong arrest can lead to adverse reaction in the community at large and should be avoided. Intelligence will remain a key tool to focus on actual offender while avoiding targeting innocents. International affirmation towards building a pluralist and humane society has to be led by the highest religious and national leadership denoting the moral compass to shun extremism and violence. Cooperation amongst intelligence agencies will be a contributory factor but use of inputs has to be based on national strategy of counter terrorism, which needs delineation.  

There is a gigantic task ahead in which the society and the Government will have to move ahead in tandem, with the ‘root cause’ philosophy providing the terms of reference. The threat posed by radicalisation has potential to derail not only the security situation but also over-all national progress. An effort to counter the same has to be nothing less than a focused national campaign comprising multi-pronged approach. We have been suffering insurgencies for last six decades; underlying the fact that radicalization has existed, all along. Given our not so encouraging track record in formalizing national strategies related to field of security, media and intelligentsia shall have to keep the issue alive, so as to push the envelope for needful, fuelling our democratic pillars i.e. legislative, judiciary and executive, to act.

The author is Senior Fellow, CLAWS. Views expressed by the author are personal.





1. Özerdem, Alpaslan and Podder, Sukanya. "Disarming Youth Combatants: Mitigating Youth Radicalization and Violent Extremism." Journal of Strategic Security 4, no. 4 (2011): 63-80.

2.  http://www.un.org/en/terrorism/pdfs/radicalization.pdf

3. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/counselling-persuasion-part-of-new-antiterror-strategy/article6922525.ec

4. A Seven Level Counter Radicalisation Response by Rahul Bhonsle http://www.security-risks.com/print-article-details.php?article_id=4084

5. Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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Shashank Ranjan
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