India's programs to deter Muslim youth from joining Islamic State have found few if any takers among Muslim leaders, who say the militant group holds little or no appeal to young Indians.
Following reports from Telangana state and federal intelligence agencies of radicalized youth, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the threat of Islamic State is real in India. The ministry is developing a plan to use counseling, community programs and outreach to dissuade young Muslims from getting involved with the group.
Twelve of India’s 29 states are considered particularly at risk, and have been asked to outline their strategies to reach youth by working with parents and community leaders.
Very Few Joined Islamic State
A Home Ministry report says in the past three years about 25 Indian youths were identified as having been attracted to the IS. Eleven of them joined IS in Iraq and Syria.
Ajai Sahni, the executive director of Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, says IS is similar to al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks in that it may attract some supporters but has little real impact in India.
“Although some active groups in India transferred their notional loyalty to Osama bin Laden, it had little operational consequence or impact in the country. The situation with the IS is similar. Although some alarms are being raised, the reality is that, just a few individuals have traveled from India to join the group in Iraq and Syria,” Sahni said. “The manifest threat of IS in India, consequently, is negligible.”
Many Islamic clerics in India have condemned the Islamic State militants because of their brutal tactics.
Maolana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali is the Shahi Imam of the city of Lucknow. He said that among India's 180 million Muslims, IS is widely identified as an “anti-Islamic” group.
Thus, he said, the government’s de-radicalization plan is a meaningless exercise.
“Only 25 have been attracted to the IS. I wonder how Indian government believes with this figure in the hands of its officials that the group is a threat [to] India’s Muslims. The exercise which they are planning to launch will only end up creating a sense of terror among Muslims,” Firangi Mahali said. “More than 99.9 percent of India’s Muslims who know about IS blame it for damaging the image of Islam and they hate the group. The plan to launch de-radicalization centers for Muslim youth in different states does not make any sense.”
In Hindu-majority India, Muslims are the largest religious minority, forming 14 percent of the country's population.
'Danger of Communal Polarization'
North Eastern Hill University professor Prasenjit Biswas said that the program of de-radicalization could create new suspicion and hatred of Muslims - who in the past have been targets of sectarian violence.
“Only targeting the Muslim youth in the program is fraught with a danger of communal polarization and 'otherization' and hence the government’s approach might take the form of profiling and surveillance on the Muslim youth,” Biswas said.
Proponents of the de-radicalization plan say it paid off in Telangana and would succeed elsewhere.
“After we intercepted some boys who were set to join IS in Iraq and Syria, we put them through our de-radicalization program. We took help from their parents, some community elders and also some religious leaders. The boys responded well and helped us reach our target,” said Y. Nagi Reddy, a police commissioner in the Telangana capital of Hyderabad.
The religious leaders played a key role in convincing the young men that the activities of the Islamic State have no standing in the Quran, he said.
“Those who are speaking against such de-radicalization program should come to Telangana and see how those boys who were all set to join IS, leaving their families in agony and despair, are back to normal life bringing peace to their families,” he said.
Still, critics of the plan point out that India's prime minister and the home minister have both publicly said in the past year that recruiting efforts by al-Qaida and the Islamic State in the country would win little support.
Mohammad Zim Nawaz, a Kolkata online activist and Muslim community leader, said: “Years ago they started picking up Indian Muslims as terror suspects following bomb attacks in the country. But, the overwhelmingly high rate of acquittals in the court of the Muslim terror suspects in the past years proves that in the Indian perspective the Islamic terror has been a myth… Even India’s home minister supported this point in the Parliament in December. This de-radicalization drive of the government will trigger nothing but a more monstrous Muslim-phobia or Islam-phobia in the society.”