Peter Hartcher had an interesting perspective on ISIS recruitment in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald , concluding that “India’s success in denying volunteers for ISIS is still a mystery. It’s a mystery worthy of closer attention. Because it seems to be working.”
If a country really is succeeding in preventing ISIS from recruiting its Muslim youth, the rest of the world should absolutely pay attention.
But the piece draws a comparison between India, and countries with a smaller Muslim population but larger numbers of ISIS recruits, without discussing the key differences between them, including:
– Although a minority group, Indian Muslims represent 15% of the population, are predominantly ethnically Indian, and are an established part of Indian society.
– By contrast in Europe, much of the Muslim population are 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants. Many have had to cope with a language barrier and a huge income disparity with the existing population – often resulting in the ghettos referenced in the article – notwithstanding the fact that initially at least, immigrants have a separate cultural and ethnic identity.
– This lack of opportunity and economic disadvantage relative to the rest of society, and particularly in 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants, a sense of not fitting in to either their home or ‘homeland’, are powerful drivers in seeking answers and a sense of belonging from religion.
Given the key differences between the Muslim communities in Europe and India, Indian pundit Ajai Sahni makes comparisons based on entirely different circumstances. The European failures he references are symptoms of the long-term cultural trends highlighted above, not the root cause of radicalisation.
He also references the “explicit rejection of ISIS by senior Muslim leaders” as a reason for success, a perennial favourite of the current Australian Government.
Muslim leaders are publically rejecting ISIS here in Australia and elsewhere. It is surely not just a question of what community leaders say, but the likelihood of their community to listen. I’m not convinced that a teenager radicalised in their bedroom via social media (admittedly a lazy caricature of a complicated issue) will be swayed from extremism by a pronouncement from a so-called community leader?
The article also ignores the Elephant in the room: Kashmir.
Individuals in Europe or Australia are often radicalised by a conflict or injustice against Muslims overseas that requires their support. Currently, the cause or conflict drawing this support is the protection of ISIS and the Caliphate, but previously, conflicts in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia and Iraq fulfilled a similar role. Foreign recruits have travelled to these conflicts, sometimes in large numbers, but there has been little evidence of Indian nationals being part of this trend.
Instead, they have their own conflict in Kashmir, their own Muslim population on the receiving end of injustice, and their own cause to fight for. This is surely the most significant factor in the lack of support for ISIS?
David Wells worked for UK and Australian intelligence agencies between 2005 and 2014, specialising in counter-terrorism.