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Indian Muslims Largely Shun Islamic State Lure

The pro-IS Twitter user @ShamiWitness was revealed to be an Indian man living in Bangalore.

He went by the handle @shamiwitness, and he was one of the most followed pro-Islamic State Twitter accounts with almost 18,000 followers.

Daily, he posted a torrent of updates from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, extolled the good life in the Islamic State, disseminated IS propaganda, interacted with known jihadists, praised suicide operations and spewed an extremist view of Islam.

But yesterday, @shamiwitness was revealed by Britain’s Channel 4 to be a man named Mehdi, a marketing executive living thousands of miles away from the Islamic State in Bangalore, India. His Twitter account soon went dark.

But Mehdi’s support for IS is not the norm in India.

Despite having a Muslim population of nearly 180 million, the third largest in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan, India has seen very few of its people join the fight in Iraq and Syria.

There have been cases of Indian Muslims becoming radicalized, but they are so few that exact numbers are hard to come by, analysts say. This despite Indian Muslims having a minority status and being generally being less affluent and educated than the Hindu majority.

Perhaps the most well-known Indian jihadist is Areeb Majeed, who came back to India earlier this month disillusioned with his jihad because IS made him clean toilets, he said. Adding to his disappointment was being left unattended in a hospital for two days after being shot, he said.

"Only after I begged them, I was taken to a hospital. I was treating myself, but the injury was worsening as there was no proper medication or food available in the camps," Majeed told investigators, according to the Times of India.

"There was neither a holy war nor any of the preachings in the holy book were followed. ISIS fighters raped many a woman there," Majeed said, according to the Times.

Majeed said he’d been radicalized online, but the number who have left to fight for IS is negligible, according to Ajit Doval, India’s national security advisor.

The reasons for the lack of radical extremists in India are many.

For one, Islamic leaders in India have condemned IS.

“Not even one Muslim religious leader has supported ISIS,” Doval said at a November leadership summit. “All of them have issued fatwas against it saying it is unislamic.”

India’s secular tradition has also played a role.

Secularism “has been a key to why there’s been religious moderation, “ said Sajjan Gohel,the international security director at the Asia Pacific Foundation and an expert on terrorism.“Secularism is a very important cornerstone of India’s institutional makeup, and India was created so that all religions could live side by side."

According to Dr. Mujibur Rehman, a faculty member at the Centre for Minority Studies at the Jamia Millia Central University in New Delhi, most Indian Muslims don’t have an us versus them mentality.

“Their Islamic identification is mediated by the presence of other religions, and they don’t look at the others as distinctly different as Arabs look at the West,” he said. “Most Indian Muslims are not part of a global understanding of Western aggression.”

He also said Indian Muslims “don’t look at themselves as custodians of the global Muslim world,” in which something is so wrong that it compels them to make a contribution.

In fact, the concerns of most Indian Muslims tend to be very local, according to Madhavi Devasher, a political science lecturer at Yale University.

“The Muslim population is heterogeneous and divided by regions,” she said, adding that there’s “no national agenda for Muslims.”

“If you start there, it seems likely Muslims aren’t going to feel a common cause with what’s happening in the Middle East,” she said.

Rehman added that most Indian Muslims are “too busy handling regular life,” adding that many Indian Muslims are also too poor to have access to the Internet where they might be exposed to radical messages.

While India is home to many religions, languages, and cultures, one commonality is the importance of both the nuclear and extended family.

In fact, @shamiwitness told Channel 4 that his family kept him from waging jihad.

"If I had a chance to leave everything and join [IS] I might have ... my family needs me here. My parents are basically dependent on me," he said.

The family bond also plays a role nipping radicalization in the bud.

“There have been at least five or six cases where some youth showed some inclination to join the ISIS,” said Doval. “It was their parents who approached the police and intelligence agencies and sought their help in preventing their wards from joining.”

“They might get angry for a moment,” said Rehman, adding, however, that the family obligations would likely trump any fleeting desire to wage jihad.

Madhavi echoed this sentiment, citing that many Muslim families live close together or in the same house, allowing more social observation in what the young are doing.

But the lack of radicalized Indian Muslims may be something more fundamental in the Indian national character.

According to India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, a huge reason for the lack of radical Muslims is the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.

“That’s in our very nature,” he said during a speech at the Council of Foreign Relations earlier this year.

He said that while India has experienced terrorism, that activity “has been exported to our country.”

“It's not homegrown,” he said. “And that is why the Muslims in India -- once CNN had asked me that Al-Qaeda is saying such-and-such things and what will happen? And I said, the -- Indian Muslims will fail al-Qaida.”