How religious extremism begets religious extremism

It is time for the Modi government to disavow violent Hindu extremism in Assam and elsewhere as well as time for all nations to crack down on Islamist terrorism

Violence begets violence, or so they say. Look no further than India for a good example.

There is an old saying. If you find yourself in a hole and don’t want to be there, stop digging. Continuing to dig just makes matters worse. It is a counterproductive strategy.

Tell that to India.

I have been writing about a particular form of violent extremism I call Hindu extremism for several years now. In fact, I devoted an entire chapter to this phenomenon in my 2019 book When Religions Kill. There are a number of scary actors in India, many of them associated with the BJP party (the one President Narendra Modi belongs to) and the RSS, a very nasty bunch of Hindu extremist nationalists, which are unequivocally violent. Their #1 target is Indian Muslims.

One of the issues these extremists have taken to heart is that of what it sees as unwanted ‘immigration’ to Assam state, in the country’s northeast.

Here are some extracts from my book:

  • There have been calls to remove “latecomers”(i.e., anyone who arrived in Assam after 1971)—and to have the state inhabited only by pukka (“genuine”) residents (i.e., Hindus). In late July 2018 a draft national register suggested that 4 million out of Assam’s 33 million people—mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims—cannot prove that they are original inhabitants and are hence subject to statelessness and possible expulsion;
  • During the 2016 national election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to act against “illegal” immigration into Assam from Bangladesh. A BJP party member in southern India declared that those who do not leave should be shot: “If these Rohingyas and Bangladeshi illegal immigrants do not leave India respectfully, then they should be shot and eliminated. Only then will our country be safe.”
  • In September 2018 Amit Shah, president of the BJP, told a political rally in Delhi that Bangladeshis in Assam “are like termites and they are eating the food that should go to our poor and they are taking our jobs. They carry out blasts in our country and so many of our people die. . . . I want to assure you that if we come to power in 2019, we will find each and every one and send them away. Action against them should not worry any patriot.”

Get the idea? Not exactly very charitable language, is it?

Now here is where things get interesting.

Indian officials are now claiming that ISIS-linked terrorists from Bangladesh are ‘hiding’ in Assam and West Bengal. That is indeed a serious allegation and very worrisome – if true.

There is no question that Bangladesh has had its share of terrorism carried out by Islamist terrorists, including local variants of ISIS (Islamic State). There was even an attack perpetrated by a Canadian in 2016 in the capital city of Dhaka (see my upcoming book The Peaceable Kingdom? A history of terrorism in Canada from Confederation to the present for more details).

It is therefore more than possible that some of these violent extremists have crossed the border into India. I do not know the state of India-Bangladesh relations, nor the level of intelligence and law enforcement sharing, but I hope it is sufficient to identify and neutralise these terrorists.

But here is the problem

If there are indeed ISIS terrorists in Assam it is also likely that they may be getting some level of sympathy, or even support, from local Muslims, in part because local officials and Hindu extremists call them “termites” and recommend they be “shot”.

So, is this wholly unexpected? And no, I am neither justifying nor underestimating Islamist terrorism (how could I? I have spent 20 years fighting it!). It is just that a government which allows, and even encourages, these levels of intolerant Hindu nationalist hatred towards its own Muslim population cannot react with “we’re shocked” when those subjected to this type of hate react in violent ways.

Those who spit out venom can expect to have their spittle sent back in their direction. It is time for the Modi government to disavow violent Hindu extremism in Assam and elsewhere as well as time for all nations to crack down on Islamist terrorism.

Violence is violence after all, irrespective of origin.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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