If the dictionary is resorted to, then the definition of radicalisation, shorn of any particular religion, is a “process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions”. In other words, there is adequate clarity that a socio-political or religious paradigm is heir to a multiplicity of interpretations. This is so notwithstanding the fact that the quintessence of an archetypical representation is as a rule ironclad.   

As a matter of fact, the oddity that expresses itself in the manifoldness of array in exegesis—if neuro-science is to be invoked—may only be attributed to the manner in which any sentient being perceives a particular feature outside itself. To that end, no two discernments can be said to possess exactly an identical view. Therefore, the experience of subject “x”—despite the fact that she tastes, ceteris paribus, the same flavour—would at least be minimally different from that of subject “y”. The interpretation of no two occipital lobes which enclose the principal visual cortex can be said to be unerringly indistinguishable: such are the vagaries of creation. If sapient architecture is innately built on lines that have been described above and principally about aspects that have a bearing on day-to-day existence, then it is no gainsaying that there would quite obviously be not only misinterpretations in socio-political and religious thought but confusion and belligerence as well. The article examines Islam in the context of the above backdrop.  

There are five key mazhabs or schools in Islam. The primary ones are a) Hanafi b) Shafei c) Maliki d) Hanbali and e) Zafariya (which is chiefly Shia). The Muslims of India are predominantly from the Hanafi sect of Islam. The sect adheres to the school of thought propounded by Imam Abu Hanifa and is considered to be the most liberal of the four Islamic schools of thought. Although there is virtually no difference between the doctrine or the rituals between the four schools, the Hanbali sect who term themselves as Wahabi or Salafi in Saudi Arabia is the school that advocates the literal interpretation of textual sources. It, therefore, derives its canonical laws or Sharia primarily from the Quran, the Hadith which are the sayings and customs of Prophet Muhammad and the views of the Prophet’s companions. In other words, Sharia classifies every person’s performance in life into five categories. These constitute ones that are a) obligatory b) recommended c) permitted d) discouraged and e) forbidden. Accordingly, life derives its very existence from the significance and import in light of “the clarity with which the path that has been taken to the watering place.” Sharia epitomises this ineffaceable concept in Islam.   

But as the article has sought to preamble there would be imperfections in the construal mechanism for, instance of what may constitute as recommended by way of zakat or charitable donation by a Muslim. The amount that is to be donated by way of zakat is normally based on the value of every possession that a person has. It is as a rule 2.5 percent of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab, but interpreters of Islamic jurisprudence differ on both nisab and other aspects that pertain to zakat, including, of course, how such a recommended practice is to be calculated. After all, it is not as if there is an institution such as the Indian Government’s “Central Processing Centre” in Bangalore which computes zakat. To that end, if there is no emergence of a clear answer from the sacred texts of Islam, the Hanbali school does not accept legal discretion or the customs of the quam as a sound basis for the derivation of Islamic law. This is in contrast to the methodology which Islamic schools such as Hanafi and Maliki accept. The Hanbali school, therefore, is the proponent of a strict traditionalist school of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. Indeed, it is the Hanbali school that is spearheading the radicalisation process in Islam.  

The succinct description that the article has provided for the existence of the concept of radicalisation that is inherent—as aforesaid—in the Hanbali school clearly reveals that it is not only the chief sect that drives the actions and motivations of formations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS (although there are member of other sects in both the groupings as well!), the fact of the matter is that with the “entrance” of both al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS by way of the Waliyah-i-Hind (Guardianship of Hindustan) into India there is a possibility that the atmospherics of the present would witness the radicalisation of an important group of Muslims in India. 

The phenomenon of radicalisation can be attributed to the growing influence of the Hanbali school in the country by way of the resurgence of the Popular Front of India (PFI). Although PFI—whose top leadership are primarily from Kerala—deny the allegation that the organisation has any truck with the Hanbali school (another name for Wahabi and/or Salafi), the fact of the matter is that they have been radicalising Indian Muslims towards the conservative strain of Islam whatever be the denominations.  

The Hifazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) and Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IOB) in the erstwhile East Pakistan—Islamist formations that have re-emerged in current times—are close associates of PFI. The HIB and IOB are working inside Bangladesh as over ground activists of al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated organisations such as Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). Bowing to immense pressure from the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime apparatus of Bangladesh, both JMB and ABT have curtailed their activity for the present, propping up instead its surrogates by way of HIB and IOB. The stratagem is simple. The methodology is to instil a sense of complacence in the establishment that JMB and ABT have disappeared. The reality is that they are lying low for the moment. 

Indeed, the timeline of the Islamist threat is quite simple. The author was able to plot a perceptible timeline during the period of his advanced research in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. The study unearthed a “progression of wave” in the modus operandi of Islamist action which incidentally would never cease until the end of time: the “transformative moment in Islam” is going to be never-ending. In fact, the manner in which the United States led coalition has sought to de-territorialise ISIS from the area that the latter had occupied in order to sustain the neo-caliphate has ascertained that the “war against the infidels” would now not only be a ceaseless one but an accelerated course of action. The partial ouster of ISIS from places such as Raqqa has not only emboldened their resolve about the Islamist apocalyptic expectations about “black banners that will come from the east” but—if the entrails are read with sophistication—about the Islamist belief that the establishment of Nizam-e-Mustafa throughout the world is a certainty. If Sun Tzu, Kautilya and Clausewitz were to have paraphrased their premises on “art of war” then the master strategicians would have certainly emphasised on the importance of waves after a period of lull. A deliberate interlude or a tactical retreat is a time-tested stratagem of war. The author is reminded of a book “A German General on the Eastern Front: The Letters and Diaries of Gotthard Heinrici, 1941-1942” by Johannes Hurter. It makes interesting reading in the contest of the article and, therefore, merits a passage at this juncture. The excerpt states, “General Heinrici was a master of tactical retreat. The German general would attack the Russians and craft a gain and halt when his attack ran out of steam. He would swiftly construct a fake fortification on the freshly attained forward positions in order to create a ruse. Heinrici would then instantly pullback his forces five to six miles to a pre-determined line of defence. The next morning the Russians would unleash an artillery barrage on the fake German front line, and deploy numerous divisions after the cessation of the artillery barrage. The ruse worked and the Russians on reaching the “fake front line”—with no one there—would run out of steam. At the same time Heinrici would be closely surveying the Russian artillery barrage and the send his army forward toward the exhausted Russians and stage a counter attack, often attaining a victory. The general used this tactic repeatedly. The Russians apparently never quite figured out how he succeeded in duping them.” 

The point that is being made is that although ISIS has experienced territorial defeat it has been able to confuse the enemy with its continual subterfuges, turning disadvantages into advantages. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS have once again joined forces (they were always one and the same despite what some short-sighted observers seem to have surmised!) and it is incumbent upon the enemy to fathom their presence among a population that has become even more resolute, the determination emanating a) from the spectacular successes that had been achieved by the al-Qaeda and ISIS since 9/11 and b) the accentuated line that has been drawn by way of “us and them” (read: Islam vs. The Rest as has been propounded by Samuel Huntington in his “Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order”). This is despite the fact that a majority of the minority community in Assam continue to be loyal to their true religious innards and have denounced radicalisation and terrorism of any sort. Incidentally, in this regard the opposing forces are also responsible for accentuating the divide with certain agent saboteurs fanning deliberate fires of mistrust and suspicion. In any event, the fact of the matter is that a clear-eyed analysis would bring to the fore the simplicity with which the Islamists have been able to not only rest, recuperate and turnover, but are readying themselves for the next onslaught.  

Therefore, whereas there was exhibition of massive violent movement and radicalisation between 1999 and 2005 which the author describes as the “First Wave”, the “Second Wave” began with the “oath of allegiance” or Bay’ah by groups such as JMB and ABT to ISIS in the wake of the formation of the neo-caliphate of Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi. It was also the time to undertake the hijrah in response to the “call from ar-raqqa”. The territorial setbacks witnessed persistent “lone-wolf” attacks throughout the world including places such as Orlando and Nice and observers of Islamist action in Bangladesh would recall the “hostage situation” in Dhaka on 1 July 2016 and the machete killings and suicide bombings of the years following the event. The new “call to arms” was to decimate the infidel wherever found as the hijrah was no longer an undemanding affair. However, relentless action by the Bangladesh security forces against the Islamists have quietened the radicals momentarily and the “battle” has been—temporarily—handed over to the good offices of  HIB and IOB who are keeping the movement alive by demanding aspects such as the enactment of “Blasphemy Laws”, Non-erection of statues (primarily that of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) which they state is un-Islamic and on insistence that include making of “Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels cancelling the women policy and anti-religion education policy” and “Freedom for all arrested ulema and madrassa students and withdrawal of all cases filed against them, compensation for the victims, and bringing the assailants to justice”.  

However, with the almost total territorial ouster of ISIS from the areas that it had occupied in Iraq and Syria the strategy is about to witness a sea change. Egged on by al-Qaeda and ISIS which is already inside India, its affiliates (including PFI) would throw open the gates of radicalism and don a form that would be hitherto the most menacing. It would be a combination of a) mass recruitment b) protests against acts, laws and ministration that a combined grouping of radicals considers un-Islamic—bringing thereby into their fold fence-sitters and moderates among the minority community and c) let loose sophisticated forms of violence that most agencies would not be able to even imagine. However, the state of Assam, particularly its Police force led by a dynamic chief in Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta have a handle on the problem and are reportedly taking active steps to thwart the alien agenda. 

Guidebooks and couched aggression that steer the “warrior genes” inside both a deviant mind and a radical are aplenty, and so are off the desktop explosive manuals that can showcase how a lethal weapon is assembled with relative ease. Triacetone Triperoxide, an explosive known as the “Mother of Satan” which was reportedly first used in the Paris bombings of 13 November 2015 and one which fits easily into a jacket—reports suggest—seems to have emerged as the flavour of the times. Memories of Shakira, wife of Rashedur Rahman Sumon, a hardcore pro-ISIS, Neo-JMB cadre blowing herself up with her infant in her lap on 26 December 2016 should be sufficient proof about the manner in which an “aping-exercise” would be engendered by Indian counterparts in what the author presages as the dawn of the “Third wave” of Radicalisation. 

Jaideep Saikia is a well-known terrorism and conflict analyst. He can be reached at jdpsaikia@gmail.com.

Jaideep Saikia

Jaideep Saikia is a well-known terrorism and conflict analyst. He can be reached at jdpsaikia@gmail.com.