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De-radicalization a forgotten challenge in countering extremism

14 June 2019 02:34 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Terrorism based on radical Islamist perceptions dominates the global terrorism as shown in this photograph which has captured the destruction caused by an explosion at St.Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade. 

 

Introducing a new legislation to control terrorism has become a subject matter of debate in the wake of the radical Islamist wave that hit Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday killing over 254 people and wounding many. Some argue that the draft of the Counter Terrorism Act enables us to fight global terrorism, while pointing out loopholes of the existing law. Some argue that the Counter Terrorism Act is the ultimate solution, whereas some are of the opinion that such widely construed provisions would function as a draconian law that has the tendency to restrict people’s movements and curtail basic freedoms of citizens. 
Even the proposed counter terrorism legislation relies upon traditional anti-terrorism measures which cannot, for sure, address deep issues related to radicalization.  Traditional approaches to defeat terrorism mainly focus on the imposing of measures in advance in order to prevent terrorist activities, arresting terrorists and the diffusion of terrorist missions. This also includes precise identification and hunting of the terrorists and destroying their assets. The classic example is the ‘War against Terror ‘carried out by the United States of America with the view of countering global terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, mainly deploying their superior military power and intelligence services. However, according to critics, the American mission has not gained a considerable success despite the investment of four and a half trillion U.S Dollars and military power exceeding two and a half million soldiers during the past 18 years. Analyzing the reasons for such a failure becomes important for us in the current context when the country is faced with a tragedy of similar repercussions.


As terrorism remains a key challenge for many countries across the globe, terrorism based on radical Islamist perceptions dominates the global terrorism. Since this is not limited to a particular group of people living in a specific geographical location, the conventional modes of tackling terrorism have a higher likelihood of being unsuccessful. While ISIS was defeated in the Syrian territory, it could emerge from anywhere else without warning. A religious terrorist does not have any sound political demands; hence the same methodologies employed in containing political terrorist groups,  the LTTE for example, are not going to be sufficient in this context. With a terrorist group like the LTTE, it was possible to engage in dialogue and analyse the legitimacy of their claims and propose politically viable solutions. In contrast, religious terrorism entertains no such specific political demands in the first place. A suicide bomber disillusioned by religious radicalism would demand extreme bloodshed with the ultimate hope of ending up in heaven. The irrationality of such claims indicates how the traditional modes of conflict resolution are incapable in addressing the problem at hand. 

Religious terrorism

According to the global terrorism index, four Islamic terrorist groups: IS, Boko Haram, Taliban and Al Qaida are responsible for about 75% of deaths caused by terrorism in 2016.  The main reason behind expansion of Islamic terrorism is not their having higher weapon power or technology, but their having a social structure at their disposal where religious terrorism could flourish. According to some researchers, religious terrorism is the most dangerous face of terrorism, since it operates without any guilty feeling with regard to violence, in the form of a religious ritual. 
If we are to examine as to why Islamic communities are so vulnerable to radicalization and extremism, we have to go back to the Crusades and wars of early Islamic civilization, where violence in the name of religion was nourished and promoted. The memes and slogans of these campaigns were later used to justify religious extremism and violent cult activities. Some critics say that the early Islamic civilization, which had produced a splendid culture, later collapsed as a result of falling victim to extremism. 

 

  • According to some researchers, religious terrorism is the most dangerous face of terrorism
  • Radicalized extremists engage in violence in the name of religion for self-conviction

 

Religious radicalisation and falling victim to extremism could occur in Islamic communities comparatively easy, as a result of the nature of their communal structure itself. One reason is the in-built fundamentalist nature of Islam as nourished from the time of great wars of early Islamic civilization. Fundamentalism basically means strict adherence to rules of any set of belief and belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts, where descendants are often identified as enemies of religion. While it is difficult to manipulate other religious texts to justify violence against ‘others’ or ‘non-believers’, the Quran itself provides texts justifying violence against non-believers who are named as “Kafirs”. The Quran and Hadith scriptures offer little rights to these Kafirs, while violence on them is often justified. According to these scriptures, Kafirs are allowed to be humiliated and enslaved. Unfortunately this is not a misinterpretation of text, but the text itself, which emerged as a result of long wars in early Islamic empire. These texts in Quran and Hadith scriptures provide a religious framework for the Islamic extremist to attract the young to engage in heinous violence against the others.   

 

"Those who have become victims of fundamentalist transformation during the past two decades or so need to go through specific programmes"


Joshua D. Wright, a researcher on religious terrorism, points out a number of reasons as to why Islamic communities could easily become breeding grounds of religious extremism.  According to him, the inherent fundamentalist nature of Islam itself is the primary cause. Apart from that, he examines the coalitional relationships of the community based on religion. Islamic communities are basically religious communities, of whom the social relationships are mostly based on religion. Commitment to such coalitions based on religion could easily be misused by religious extremists. The feeling of religious insecurity and the perception of increasing threats against their religion also contributes to promote tendency to violence. Seculariaation of the world is a nightmare for the religious extremist. Once a community embraces a religion with a fundamentalist framework, then a perception of a possible threat to the religion could produce trends of violence as a reaction.  Another reason is the homogenous nature of Islam in comparison to other religions which have a large number of subdivisions and branches of thoughts. Sunni Islam is the largest faction of Islam consisting of 85% to 90% of the world Islamic population. This homogenization is also a contributing factor when it comes to religious manipulation of the world Islamic community under the theme of apparent uniformity and common identity. 
Radicalized extremists engage in violence in the name of religion for self-conviction that he/she is a special individual. Some engage in such activities for feeling of power and denomination over the society. For some religious extremists the mere belief that such violence is a pure religious ritual is sufficient to engage in violence. These aspects have their roots in socialization process of the child and the young in a given society. 

Curing a society infected with extremism

Accordingly, it is doubtful if the religious terrorism could be overpowered merely by deploying punitive measures and military machinery. Curing a society infected with extremism is a more complex process, therefore arresting and prosecuting terrorists are not going to address the root-causes of the radicalisation. Those who have become victims of fundamentalist transformation during the past two decades or so need to go through specific programmes for socialisation and de-radicalisation.
 At the centre of this is the dramatic transformation of Kattankudi during the recent years, with women in black Abayas, sign boards in Arabian, and landscape with Date palm trees, visually opposing any merging with the  Sri Lankan environment. In comparison with early Muslim settlements in Sri Lanka, this alien appearance is something recently introduced, with the arrival of Wahabian variety of Islam. Condemning it is easy, but reversal is difficult, unless specific structural interventions are initiated to counter the discourse that produces extremism. Pedagogy is the main tool to be used for the gradually eradication these trends, but what if the educational system itself has succumbed to the control of fundamentalists and extremists? Madrasa schools have allegedly become breeding grounds of a socially ignorant and intolerant young generation, without the touch of the common education system. 
Initiatives to de-radicalise or disengage from terrorism are yet to be introduced in Sri Lanka while many other countries have developed such programmes. Fundamentalism cannot be revised within a month or two, merely by arresting the remaining terrorist suspects. The above structural vulnerabilities of the Islamic community are to be addressed, while initiatives are necessary for rehabilitation of already radicalised generation and for prevention of ‘at-risk’ generation from falling victim to religious fanaticism. Studying the Australian and Dutch de-radicalization programmes against Islamic radicalization could be a better staring point in this effort. Reintegration programmes for already radicalized individuals also need to be designed and implemented. Apart from state-led programmes, community initiatives are much preferred, where Islamic community and religious institutions could independently take the lead in designing and implementation of such initiatives.

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