Over the course of my time at Lawrence, I have had the privilege to be able to travel for field experiences and study abroad programs. While in Morocco and India, I was able to speak with people working on the front lines to fight radicalization by reaching out to the hearts and minds of the youth who these terrorist groups are targeting. Recently, in Iraq, four Indian nationals were found to be missing. Two of the young men’s parents said they have been contacted by their children and have found out that all four of the missing young people have joined up with ISIL. In the editorial piece I read about the men in The Times of India, the prognosis was quite dire. It seems many Indian counter-terrorism experts believe a whole new wave of radicalization among young people in the country is rising, which, coupled with ISIS’s need for bodies, makes the country’s 172 million Muslims a target. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP regime’s perceived and real Hindu nationalism, called Hindutva, further marginalizes the Indian Muslim community which, along with poverty, makes them more susceptible to radicalization.
Radicalization, Islamic and otherwise, must start to be viewed as a public health problem, not a ideological war. The populations most brutalized by radical Islamic terror are Muslim. All of the Muslim people I know from countries with Islamic terrorist groups hate those groups and many have had family members killed by these groups. NGOs, governments and the private sector have to partner with these communities so that they can protect their children from the poison of radicalization. I think, in India’s case, they focus solely on radicalization coming from Pakistan because of lasting Partition hostilities instead of looking to counter radicalization efforts from the Islamic State. Furthermore, Hindutva rhetoric must be toned down because of its marginalizing of Muslims.
In the modern age, anyone with access to a computer can become radicalized to commit violence in the name of any number of radical groups. One Indian state, Kerala, has become a target for ISIL recruitment efforts in particular. There have been dozens of young people recruited to ISIL by means of encrypted audio recordings.
I realized how important understanding radicalization is during my visit to Morocco. In Casablanca, there was a large terrorist bombing a few years ago. All of the bombers came from an incredibly poor area of the city. After the bombing, large governmental and NGO efforts and programs developed the area. It is now accessible by commuter rail and people have been moved out of shanty towns and into apartments. While visiting, the Lawrence group I was with went to a community center aimed at combating radicalization. Young people come to this community center and learn music, art and foreign languages. For our visit, five girls performed a dance to Beyoncé and Bollywood music. This was really exciting to see because of the conservative community we were in. I interviewed the head of the center and his ideas about how to stop radicalization really spoke to me.
Radicalization has virtually ended in that region. This is largely thanks to community centers and programs like the one I visited. These programs show youth that by accepting other cultures and preparing for modernity, they can live happier lives and have more social and economic mobility. By educating young people and showing them that they are cared about, they will not feel the same pull to radicalization.
The draw to these kind of groups, in my view, is marginalization and desperation. If young people see no hope for a future in their current situation, they begin looking for an escape. Poor Moroccans saw no hope in their future to join their countrymen who were enjoying the spoils of development. They were too far behind. In India, Muslim youth all too often feel they are excluded second class citizens. The rhetoric deployed by ISIL is not difficult to combat, it just has to be combated. Muslim youth must be reached out to by larger communities as well as state and federal government agencies. Radicalization is stopped through education and outreach, not through fear mongering and division. Instead of promoting Hindutva rhetoric, people should be uniting communities through common interest. Most human beings on earth want sustainable development, a better future for their children and a place to live where they can safely practice their beliefs; ISIL is a threat to that for everyone.