‘Problem Children’ towards Radicalism

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 21 Feb 2011

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

One of the WikiLeaks revelations, published recently in The Daily Telegraph of London, brings into picture the worrisome scenario in which a section of the British youth visit to madrassas in Kashmir under Pakistan’s control, and end in the net of extremist and terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. The cable dated 18 July 2008 sent by Laura Hickey, then UK Foreign Office’s team leader in Pakistan, to the US expressed concern that “With the continued presence of militant training camps in Kashmir and over half a million UK passport-holders with ties in the region, HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) is concerned that UK nationals will be recruited to conduct terrorist activities in the UK. In fact in recent years the UK has become increasingly concerned at the prospects of radicalization of its own Muslim citizens. This concern has grown rapidly particularly after the bombing of the London metro in 2005.

However, the prospect of ‘problem children’ turning towards radicalism is a development that has probably not received attention as starkly as recently. The linkage of British Muslims with Kashmir, particularly the part administered by Pakistan, is decades old. It can be traced to 1960s. The Mangla dam is the first dam to be built in 1967 as a part of Indus Basin project as per the Indus Waters Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960. Since the construction work of the dam was with a British company, as per an understanding between the British company and the government of Pakistan some of the displaced from Mirpur (the region where the dam was built) were given work permits to work in Britain. After settling in the UK the diaspora sponsored their relatives to immigrate. With the passage of time the strength of the diaspora has increased to the level at about half a million at present, excluding migrants from Pakistan. The diaspora played an active role in the politics and economy of the UK.

However, as revealed by the WikiLeaks, the recent developments portray ‘growing trend of UK – based parents who send their problem children’ to madrassas in Kashmir, and the ‘high risk of radicalisation’ of these youth who visit native places on ‘goodwill trips to explain life as a Muslim in the UK.’ However, in reality, it turns out that these youth who come in good will missions turn into radicalism under the patronage of Al Qaeda and other radical groups in Pakistan such as Lashkar-e-Toiba. As part of the ‘Promoting British Islam’ programme, many Muslim citizens visit the Kashmir under the control of Pakistan. The concern is not with the visit as such rather it is the training of some of these innocent youth in the terrorist training camps in this region, which has caused concerns around the world. Nobody can deny the diaspora the right to visit their place of ancestral origin, but it is the radicalization that creates much concern not only in the UK, but also in all countries who are victims of radicalism and terrorism.

There are many training centres in Pak controlled Kashmir which preach radicalism and train the youth in terrorist violence. It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of training centres. There is an argument that makes round is that all the training centres, or many of them, are beyond the control of Pakistan itself. The WikiLeaks revelations make the point that Pakistan may not be actively involved in the promotion of the training camps, but their existence in the areas under the control of Pakistan makes the argument weak. It may be possible that under international pressure, and also due to its internal turbulence due to very radicalization of its own citizens, Pakistan might have acted against the radical groups that threat to its stability. But so far, the steps taken by Pakistan have not been able to root out radicalism in its soil. In fact the subject of radicalism in Pakistan is a multilayered riddle, which needs separate focus.

However, as the revelations suggest the increasing radicalization of youth pose dangers to stability and vibrancy of a democratic polity. It is now established how some of the plotters of the 9/11, and some other radicals, were frequent visitors to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London in 1990s, where they interacted with extremist Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. The Imam was put behind bars in later years. But his arrest, it appears, has not stopped the radicalization of the British youth in subsequent years. It may be an interesting exercise to find out the reasons behind the radicalization of British Muslims, but the fact remains that with passing years the gap between the Muslim citizens and the citizens of other faiths in the UK has apparently widened in recent years. The country is currently home to about 2.8 million Muslims. The government agencies express apprehension that the UK “nationals will be recruited to conduct terrorist activities in the UK,” keeping in view the radicalisation of the Muslim youth.

The disturbing trend of radicalization of the youth needs to be stopped. As the effect of radicalization does not stop within the borders of a particular country, it is imperative that the trend is reversed. There are some measures in this context initiated by the UK, but which appears trifle. There is an argument that the return of peace and tranquillity in Kashmir, and resolution of the vexed issue, may aid the process in curbing this trend. The recent meeting of Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries at Bhutanese capital Thimpu did not add much to the fragile peace process, except joint reiteration to continue the dialogue process. There is a broader question that needs to be asked: is radicalization of Islam in the globe, or particularly in this part of the world, and the Kashmir issue are irretrievably linked, or there are more nuances needed to analyze the whole radicalization scenario. However, despite all debates and policies about radicalization of Islam, one thing that has grown in size is the radicalization of the religion, and its adherents.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Feb 2011.

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