India: No Country for the Islamic State

On the Islamic State’s anniversary, we take a look at what India’s doing to keep the terror organisation at bay.

3 min read
This image is from a video released by Islamic State militants on August 19, 2014 to show the killing of journalist James Foley. (Photo: AP)

This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives in the light of the suspected ISIS terror attack in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport that claimed at least 36 lives on Tuesday, 28 June. Incidentally, it was exactly on this day, two years ago that ISIS declared itself as a caliphate.

This article was first published on 29 June 2015.

A beheading in France, a gun-battle at a tourist resort in Tunisia and an explosion at a Shia mosque in Kuwait had the world aghast at the acts of hatred across three continents on Friday, June 26, 2015.

While the beheading was perpetrated by a man with vague links to Islamist militants, the other two attacks were openly claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — the terror organisation that is so brutal that even the Al Qaeda has disavowed it and the Taliban has declared jihad against it.

June 29, 2015 marks a year since ISIS’ declaration that it was re-establishing the Muslim caliphate and, henceforth, preferred the name the “Islamic State” to establish its credentials. Under the leadership of ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group announced the formation of a government based on its own strict interpretation of the laws of Islam.

The tragic events of June 26, at least the attacks in Kuwait and Tunisia, are believed to be the consequence of ISIS’ call for violence during the holy month of Ramzan. If this is true, then the group’s aim to radicalise and recruit beyond its on-ground stronghold of Iraq and Syria seems to be inching towards fulfilment.

 People carry the body of a victim in a mass funeral procession for 27 people killed in the suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in Kuwait. (Photo: AP)
People carry the body of a victim in a mass funeral procession for 27 people killed in the suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in Kuwait. (Photo: AP)

ISIS’ Foreign Fighters

ISIS has found considerable success in its recruitment drives across the world. While the majority of the group’s fighters are from the Middle East and North Africa, there are significant numbers from countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Numbers from February 2015 estimate nearly 20,000 recruits from 90 countries.

With news reports about the Islamic State flag being waved in Kashmir and the arrest of 14 students who were trying to make their way to Iraq and Syria from the Hyderabad airport, there are concerns about ISIS making inroads into India. The group also reportedly released recruitment videos in Hindi, Tamil and Urdu to target Indian youth.

India, at present, is home to the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan respectively. According to official estimates, only a handful of the 180 million Muslims living in the country have joined the ISIS. One of these recruits, Arif Majeed, has returned to India.

Clearly, India is doing something right.

 ISIS flag spotted in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district. (Photo: ANI screengrab)
ISIS flag spotted in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district. (Photo: ANI screengrab)

Why Can’t ISIS Recruit in India?

The nature of the Muslim tradition in India is essentially syncretic and is a big piece of this puzzle. Indian Muslim leaders have also publicly denounced the ISIS, further reducing the group’s legitimacy.

To add to this, ISIS does not have any significant on-ground presence in India and most of its propaganda reaches Indians via social media. But Internet penetration in the country is still at a low 19.19% making this message inaccessible to large sections of the population.

Indian security forces have tried to follow a lenient policy of monitoring and counselling suspected recruits — and this seems to be working well.

The Dangers of ISIS

Despite these figures, the ISIS still remains a dangerous terror organisation that is attempting to justify its violence through the misinterpretation of the ideology of the second largest religion in the world.

South Asia is home to about 25% of the world’s total Muslim population — the largest geographical concentration of the religion’s followers. Thus, it is a key target for ISIS.

India has a difficult tightrope walk ahead; the country must remain vigilant in its battle against radicalisation, but at the same time, must refrain from slipping into the trap of persecution on religious lines.

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