Workshop on 'Public-Private Partnership in Countering Online Radicalization and Recruitment to Violence'
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Vivekananda International Foundation in collaboration with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) of the University of Maryland, US Embassy and Facebook organised on November 17-18, 2015, a two-day workshop on Opportunities for Public-Private Partnership in Countering Online Extremism and Recruitment. The main objective of this workshop was to discuss various means to combat the phenomenon of online recruitment into terror organisation such as Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL)

Opening the workshop, Gen. NC Vij, Director, VIF, highlighted the genesis of the start of the terrorist activities and also underscored the need for robust cooperation between private and public entities in combating terrorism. The US Ambassador to India, Richard R. Verma emphasised the importance of shared values between India and the United States in fighting the perpetrators of terrorism. According to him, democratic societies of both the countries should take up steps to prevent religious extremism by involving influential religious clerics. Ambassador Verma emphasised that India can be a global leader in developing “new strategies to counter extremists who co-opt Islamic ideology for violent purposes”.

The keynote address was delivered by MJ Akbar, MP, an internationally acknowledged political analyst. He questioned the approach of Western countries in fighting terrorism and pointed to the lack of clarity in the West about the “fourth world war”. Mr Akbar said that ISIL is the fourth Islamic State, the first three being Pakistan, the second being the Taliban and, third Boko Haram, and called for effective counter-narratives to combat the menace of ISIL style terrorism.

The working sessions started with comprehensive analyses of different dynamics of recruitment into ISIL. Brian Fishman from New America Foundation touched on the roles played by internet and social media forums in promoting ISIL and recruiting foreign fighters from all over the world. Aaron Zelin from Washington Institute for Near East Policy gave a description of the systematic growth of ISIL and pointed out the different features of this outfit, including its social services, collection of taxes, destruction of artefacts, territorial control and understanding the terrain, treatment meted out to captured former officials and insurgents, assault tactics, different forms of punishment (beheading, stoning, etc.). Anthony Lemieux from Georgia State University talked about the brand management endeavours of ISIL, using media propaganda campaigns. The session was moderated by Brandon Behlendorf from START.

The second session focussed on ISIL and its influence on India and South Asia. Sushant Sareen from VIF underlined the need for conceptual clarity about ISIL and other similar Jihadist organisations. Bibhu Routray from Mantraya gave an account of ISIL’s connection with India and explored the changing profiles of people joining the outfits, their success in using internet-based tools, role of ideologues in fanning their ideas. Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy from IPCS highlighted how the absence of good governance and inadequate communication between communities lead to preparing a fertile ground in which radicalisation can spread with relative ease. Nitin Gokhale from VIF spoke of the strengths of Indian social system in resisting the rise of the ISIS inside India. The session was moderated by Susan Sim from Soufan Group.

The third session discussed various non-government and government responses to counter extremism in all forms. Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain from VIF expressed the view that the Indian experience was a beacon for the international community to build a strong counter-radicalisation narrative. Maulana Mahmood Madani from Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind declared that there was nothing Islamic about ISIL. He said that more than the lack of knowledge of Islam among non-Muslims, it was the lack of knowledge of Islam among Muslims that led so many youth to be swayed by ISIL. He strongly advised against use of terms like ‘jihadis’ to describe the terrorists because this inadvertently gave them a sort of legitimacy. According to him, the “jihadists” should be called as “fasadis”. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan from Centre for Peace and Spirituality called for de-radicalisation of indoctrinated youths who are misled by some leaders and thinkers. The belief that the “goal of Islam” can be achieved through violence should be dispelled.

The fourth session dealt with the role of tech sector in countering extremism and was moderated by Monika Bickert from Facebook. Bickert also spoke about the challenging tasks of monitoring violent or disturbing contents on the social media platforms, as also the limitations and problems in preventing radical elements from using Facebook as a tool to spread their pernicious ideas. Farhad Chowdhury from Fifth Tribe explained the role that tech entrepreneurs can play in countering online extremism by making innovative use of available technologies. David Lastova from the U.S. Open Source Centre focussed on the importance of publicly available information to understand the trend of extremism.

The fifth session discussed ways of empowering communities using through offline and online tactics. Zubair Meenai from Jamia Milia Islamia explained the achievement in polio eradication programmes with the involvement of community people. He pointed out the absence of Muslim civil society in India, and that most of the organisations are either religious or political ones. Alejandro Beutel from START brought out the challenges to the Muslim community in the US, particularly after the 11 September 2001 attacks. Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmad from All India Organisation of Imams and Muslims debunked the common narrative of Madrasas imparting extremist lessons to young minds and said that highly educated people are now getting lured towards terror. Ali Khan Mahmudabad traced the genealogy of jihadism and the havoc caused by the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The session was moderated by Lt. Gen. Ravi Sawhney from VIF.

The final session discussed the model for collaborations between different communities online. Jason Johnson from National Counterterrorism Centre, USA, brought out the role that could be played by former extremists whose experiences could be used as counter narratives to deter potential recruits from getting swayed by the terrorist outfits. Jennifer Bryson from Zephyr Institute placed immense importance on the role of popular literature such as novels and fictional stories to counter violent extremism and de-glorifying extremism. The session was moderated by Special Representative Shaarik Zafar from U.S. Department of State.

The Valedictory session was addressed by the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr Kiren Rijiju who sketched out the policy of the government of India to pre-empt and prevent people from getting influenced by the radical propaganda. In his concluding remarks, Gen. Vij mentioned a few aspects, on which there was a near unanimity. They are as follows:-

  1. ISIL is not Islamic.ISIL is promoting violence, gender discrimination and is evil in nature. These activities are not even remotely Islamic in nature. Also, it promotes the concept of Caliphate which is outdated by at least a few centuries.
  2. Fight Menace as a Global Effort. It is a challenge at global level and affects all, and hence must be fought globally in unison.
  3. Differentiation of Terror is fundamentally Wrong. Terror cannot be defined as “Good” or “Bad” terror. This policy has proven to be wrong and hence must be shunned.
  4. Delink Terror with Religion. No religion can be linked with terror and it will be wrong to link any religion including Islam with terror, just because a miniscule misguided and radicalised minority is indulging into terrorist activity.
  5. No ISIL inroads into India. The reason for this is that the Indian Muslims are well integrated into the main stream population. However, we will do well to avoid complacency and be on constant watch.
  6. Role of Civil Society and Women. Both of them have humongous roles to play in the education of the masses. We have done well so far and must build upon it.
  7. Role of Social Media. Because the social media have a great reach, they have also to consider that their content management when related to terrorism is transparent and managed judiciously.
Event Date 
November 17, 2015
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