In what could be one of the most significant and timely strategic partnerships from a geopolitical perspective, India and the United Arab Emirates are poised to play a major role in addressing extremism. Amongst the similarities that India and the UAE share, the one that stands out is the manner in which both have come to be seen as melting pots of the various religions and the cultures of the world.
In the maiden speech of his second-term, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019 coined a new slogan where he added “sabka vishwas”, which means “trust of everyone” to what has been the guiding factor of his premiership, “Sabka Saath, Sakba Vikas” or “partnership of everyone and development for all”. In the same light, the proclamation of His Highness Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the President of the UAE, that 2019 would be the “The Year of Tolerance” in the UAE, highlighted UAE’s commitment to entrenching the values of tolerance, dialogue, coexistence, and openness to different cultures.
Countries such as India and the United Arab Emirates need to be prepared for war, but not of the traditional kind. Today, the world is a different place, and consequently, the weapons have changed, too. It’s not an army marching across the border that is the main threat. Rather, one needs to be on-guard for the dangers of infiltration by individuals and propaganda, whether from cyberspace or elsewhere, which can sow strife in a polity. In a recent report released by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), a US-based conflict monitoring and crisis mapping body, it was revealed that India is among the new countries where the Islamic State (IS) terror group has found a footing.
Spearheaded by jihadist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the regrouped IS has for the first time carried out more activity outside of West Asia than inside it. The degree of danger to India becomes more pronounced when a few facts about its demography are examined. As of now, nearly 65% of India’s 1.3 billion population is under the age of 35 and almost 50% is below 25. When juxtaposed with the world’s second-highest Muslim population being in India, India’s youth is what extremists would consider “fodder”. With its intensive and deep intelligence prowess, and it’s focus on tolerance, the UAE is leading the fight against radicalism, and can assist others, such as India.
The danger of extremism in the Subcontinent does not only come from IS. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, recently called for a Muslim Brotherhood of sorts in Kashmir, a variant of radicalism that also needs to be checked, lest it become a menace that is too big to tackle. An example of a threat that was left to fester is the northern states of India, Manipur and Nagaland, where extremism has metastasized into a situation where armed insurgents routinely attack the security forces. One of the principal outfits that regularly attacks the government of India is the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland), which wants to establish a theocratic state “for Christ”. Then there is the Khalistan Movement, which has little support among the Sikhs it claims to represent, but has been used as a tool by outside powers to destabilize India.
The forces of law and order in India are capable and even-handed. They deal with extremist Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus all the same. In a crackdown in August 2018, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the state of Maharashtra arrested three men affiliated to radical Hindu outfits in the state. They were charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist deed. In recent times, the topic of Hindu terrorism has become popular in foreign discussions about India. Incidents of cow vigilantism and mob lynching are woven into a narrative about a push for a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu Nation. The truth is a bit more complex.
Firstly, Hinduism has no concept of conversion, thus the ideological predicament is a bit different to what some call the “triumphalist” religions. Secondly, and more importantly, a homogenous “Hindu” identity does not really exist. Derived from the Sanskrit word “Sindhu”, which is the name for the Indus River that flows through the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent, the word “Hindu” is essentially a geographic designation, encompassing all people living in this zone. In 1995, a judgment by the Supreme Court of India defined Hindutva or Hinduism as a “way of life”, something distinct from the narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry.
Beyond these theological points, the more material issue of taking the law into one’s own hands has been strongly condemned by Modi and the Indian authorities, which are committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting the life and liberty of every citizen.
India, like all countries, has work to do, but it has tolerance and inclusivity as ideals, like the UAE. With radicalism on the rise around the world, including even in the democratic West, it is vital that states like India and the UAE strengthen their bonds in various fields — strategic, intelligence sharing, social — so that they can better confront the radical agendas at play in the world. Such joint efforts are the need of the hour, not only to make the world safer in the here-and-now but for the next generation.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.