New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Nov 25, 2015
Reports of discrimination against South Asians show true colours of IS
By Hindustan Times
Intimidation, imitation, economics: Why youth are taking to terror
By Abhijit Banerjee
By Syed Badrul Ahsan
The conflict in Syria and Iraq has now drawn more volunteer fighters than past Islamist causes in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. (AP File Photo)
Over the past year, the Islamic State’s (IS’) malevolent shadow has spread across a swathe of West Asia. Millions of Arabs have been terrorised, women taken into slavery, homosexuals thrown off buildings and priceless artefacts smashed to smithereens.
The purveyors of hate have also struck well into enemy territory, taking down a Russian plane in Sinai and bringing unprecedented terror to Paris. To these many sins, now add one more: Racism against their own. Intelligence agencies have told the Union home ministry, based on the interrogation of Indians returning from Syria and brief tours of duty with the terror organisation, that it considers its South Asian volunteers inferior to Arab ones. The intelligence reports say that Arab fighters from Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Palestine are given officer rank, better weaponry, accommodation and salaries. South Asian fighters slum it in small barracks and are also thrown to the frontline as cannon fodder while Arabs are positioned at safer points.
The form of apartheid institutionalised by the IS should not come as a great surprise. In a sense the Caliphate is just reflecting what the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) and, indeed, most of the Gulf region practise. Employment conditions there for construction workers from South Asia are pathetic, verging on inhuman; why then should conditions for volunteers for jihad be any different? At least an outfit claiming a basis in theology should not be discriminating between believers — but that just goes to underline that there’s nothing truly Islamic about the IS. Now, to be discriminated against in salary and housing by a group that, after all, brings grisly death, to many across the world, might seem a relatively trivial slight. But it raises some very fundamental questions for those Indians who are willing to give it all up and journey to the world’s most dangerous region in search of a ‘holy war’.
If they are not accepted as equals, are they fighting — probably to the death — in someone else’s war? Are they being exploited in the name of religion? Are they cut-price martyrs? This is relevant especially because the IS apparently considers Islam as practised in South Asia as impure and a departure from the original teachings of the religion.
India should use this intelligence report to try and warn off disaffected youth; such insights should be embedded into a composite programme of rehabilitation and reassimilation. Reports that the imam of Bengaluru’s Jamia Masjid has written to mosques across the city to propagate the humanist message of Islam and counter the IS propaganda are encouraging; a sermon on how the group treats Indian recruits may be apposite.
Nov 25, 2015
While there are people who take to violence only because they feel a threat to their religion, for many of those involved the possibility of violence is exciting and a big part of the attraction, just as it is for the drug dealers and the political hoodlums, writes Abhijit Banerjee. (Reuters Photo)
Men between the ages of 18 and 35 become terrorists. They kill rationalists in Karnataka and cartoonists in Paris, in the name of Mao, Mohammad, or the mother religion. The same demographic supplies most drug dealers or violent criminals everywhere in the world, as well as that uniquely American phenomenon, the lone deranged gun-man. In south Asia and probably elsewhere, they also become the foot soldiers of political parties, offering intimidation wherever needed.
These are not new patterns; probably the same kind of people fought in the crusades, joined Gengis Khan in his marauding, manned Walter Raleigh’s pirate ships. Nor is it a universal — far from it. Most young men, now and perhaps always, opt for the mundane pleasures of love and work and family.
But it is definitely a pattern and it is worth thinking about what it means. The first point to be made is just as no one becomes a terrorist for the money, the same is also true of drug dealers. Steve Levitt of Freakonomics fame and Sudhir Venkatesh, a Columbia University sociology professor, collected data on this, and their finding is that the average person in the drug trade in the United States makes substantially less than minimum wages — indeed so little that they have no choice but to live with their parents. And while I don’t know this for a fact, I strongly suspect neither Uddhav Thackeray nor MK Stalin pays his boys a lot.
This is even more remarkable given that these jobs are risky — terrorists often end up dead, and Levitt and Venkatesh estimate that the monthly death rates in the community of drug dealers they studied were between one and 2%, orders of magnitude more than the average death rate for their age group. Most were killed. Even the Sena boys must worry about ending up in MNS territory and getting thrashed.
Why do they do it? In part because of imitation and/or intimidation. It is what a lot of my friends are doing; it is what the local big guy or the coolest dude wants me to do; and I dare not say no.
Two economists at UCLA, Leo Burzstyn and Rob Jensen, carried out a fascinating experiment to demonstrate the enormous power of conformity in the lives of the young. In three Los Angeles high schools that draw mostly from low-income populations, students in the 11th grade were offered free SAT coaching by a reputable coaching outfit. The offer was made in the middle of a class, and they were asked to take a decision on whether they wanted it then and there. Some were told that their decision will remain private; the rest were told that it would be shared with the rest of the classroom.
Read | Fighting Islamic State, ending blowback terrorism
What they found was rather remarkable. Those who, purely by chance, happened to be in an honours classroom (where the studious go) when they were asked to choose, were less likely to opt for the coaching when the decision was private. They clearly believed that the cool thing to do in an honours classroom would be to go for the coaching and therefore, when everyone was going to find out their decision was what they chose. By contrast, otherwise identical boys and girls who ended up being asked to make that same choice in a non-honours classroom, where the norm was to disdain school work and play tough, were much more likely to choose coaching when it was a secret than when it was not.
The power of cool is why organisations like the Islamic State (IS) rely so heavily on charismatic recruiters to fill their ranks and why it may be very important to expose young people to a diverse set of role models. It is also why ghettos are so dangerous — it is much harder for any one group of people to take charge of defining the cool in diverse environments where there are competing definitions of success.
Imitation is of course not enough of an explanation. We have wars over religion and drugs and politics, but no wars over cricket or free speech, even though many people also feel passionately about them. The key difference comes from the fact that there is a group of people who find it in their interest to encourage and fund violence in defence of their religion, their drug sales or their political influence, whereas cricket supporters may get into a fight but there is no one whose overarching interest is in people fighting over cricket.
While I do not doubt that there are people who take to violence only because they feel a threat to their religion, for many of those involved, the possibility of violence is exciting and a big part of the attraction, just as it is for the drug dealers and the political hoodlums. It is telling that many of those involved in the Paris massacre had at some point been petty criminals or drug dealers, and most of them seem to be into violent computer games, drugs and alcohol — their Islamic allegiances notwithstanding.
I imagine them to be more or less normal young men, a bit bored with their lives and unable to find anything in their future to redeem their unexciting present, looking for some way to shake things up. In African-American communities in many US inner cities, they might have become drug dealers, in Mumbai or Chennai, an agent of political muscle.
In this view, economic stagnation is at the heart of the problem. The West is now full of communities where the promise of the future has been lost, where each generation can at best expect to maintain the standards of living that their parents had already achieved for them. This is the history of many of the Paris gunmen whose parents came from north Africa or west Asia in a successful search for a better living, and who are now either unable get the jobs that their parents had or unwilling to do them. It is also the history of the African-American community in the US, though there stagnation already hit a generation ago.
If this analysis is correct, we are getting it exactly wrong in India right now. Muslims were always somewhat ghettoised, but by all accounts, the brazenness with which Hindu landlords refuse Muslim tenants has gone up a notch. At the same time the educational deficit that Muslims already face and the kind of discrimination in the labour market recently splashed across the newspapers, makes it more likely that young Mussalmans would end up frustrated with their economic options and tempted by some ideology of violent reprisals.
Abhijit Banerjee is Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics, and director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT. The views expressed are personal.
By Syed Badrul Ahsan
November 25, 2015
The early Sunday executions of two politicians convicted of war crimes in Bangladesh’s liberation war of 1971 are, for Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League government, a major challenge overcome. These executions are not the first on Hasina’s watch. Two other convicted war criminals, both belonging to the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, were executed earlier. The difference is that the executions of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid were preceded by a flurry of activity at home and abroad to save them from the gallows.
The government refused to give in to pressure, despite the fact that such pressure came from global bodies like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. These groups, along with friends of the two men and their parties, constantly raised questions about the fairness of the trials, even though the government maintained that under the law, the accused had been provided with an open trial followed by the right to ask the Supreme Court for a review. The final option, in the event of a rejection of the review petitions, was an appeal for presidential clemency. The government did uphold all these aspects of the law against the overwhelming evidence of crimes committed by Chowdhury and Mujahid in 1971. In Chowdhury’s instance, eleventh-hour efforts by his lawyers to prove that, at the time he was said to have killed Hindus and other Bengalis, he was actually a student at Punjab University in Lahore failed. The failure had to do with the fact that the documents supposedly obtained from the university turned out to be forged, or hurriedly manufactured by the defence.
These two executions are significant. Despite Chowdhury and Mujahid’s role as prominent collaborators of the Pakistani occupation army in 1971, they were able — thanks to a seizure of the state by rightwing forces in the aftermath of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination — to return to open politics. Chowdhury served as a minister in the military regime of dictator Hussein Muhammad Ershad and, later, as parliamentary affairs advisor to Khaleda Zia in her last stint as prime minister.
Mujahid, a key leader in 1971 of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing and commander of the fearsome goon squad al-Badr, served as minister for social welfare in Zia’s cabinet. Neither Chowdhury nor Mujahid ever expressed contrition for their roles against their fellow Bengalis. Rather, Chowdhury proudly declared publicly that he had been a collaborator of Pakistan and dared the government to act against him. In his days as a minister, Mujahid outraged Bengalis by his statement that there were no war criminals in Bangladesh.
For Bangladeshis, the executions of Chowdhury and Mujahid are a clear sign that the rule of law has been upheld. There were noisy celebrations on the streets of Dhaka and other places. Social media is replete with messages demonstrating clear satisfaction. It’s seen as one more important step towards a return to the original principles of a secular Bangladesh. A key factor in Bangladesh’s social scene today is the revulsion with which the ageing collaborators are treated. This explains why crowds in Dhaka have been roundly condemning Pakistan for expressing concern about the trials. The media, too, has shown its sense of relief, considering the executions a triumph of justice.
Given the indignation the war criminals have aroused among the public, with their refusal to express regret or acknowledge their guilt, it’s unlikely that organisations like the Jamaat can cause any more problems for this government. For the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, instrumental in rehabilitating the collaborators, the hanging of Chowdhury — a member of its standing committee — is a major embarrassment. Of the four war criminals to go to the gallows till date, three were Jamaat leaders. Chowdhury was the only one from the BNP.
In Bangladesh today, the truth is palpable — the irony has finally been replaced by the reality. The irony was the emergence of pro-Pakistan wartime collaborators as influential voices under the successive governments of General Ziaur Rahman, General H.M. Ershad and Khaleda Zia. The reality is a necessary remembrance of the crimes against humanity these collaborators committed. There are others who are yet to answer for their crimes. But these two executions hint at closure for the people of Bangladesh.
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