Different ways of curbing extremist propaganda
Posted on May 8th, 2019

By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror

Colombo, May 4: The sharp rise of Jehadi terrorism in response to the Western nations’ continued atrocities against Islamic countries in the Middle East and Afghanistan, has created, in many countries, a need to curb extremist propaganda.

Some of the countries threatened by Islamic radicalism are Muslim-majority.

However, attitudes to extremism and the methods used for curbing extremism vary, depending on the objective conditions.

The immediate demand in a country subjected to a Jehadi attack is for control over the curricula of the Madrassahs or Islamic religious schools.

Since the emergence of oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the Middle East as financial giants, Madrassahs in many countries, which get workers’ remittances from West Asia, have been coming under the influence of Wahabi or Salafist versions of Islam, which have replaced the traditional, locally-rooted, and softer versions of Islam geared to the needs of a multi-religious society.

Cyber Platform

In the current cyber age, Jehadi extremism has found a better and more powerful platform, the internet. Propaganda and recruitment is now being done on-line. The recruitment pool for Jehadi terrorism is no longer confined to the traditional village Madrassah but includes homes and offices of the highly educated and wealthy elite.

This has enabled the radicalization of the educated and well-heeled elite. And the leadership of the elite enjoys legitimacy in the eyes of the hoi polloi who serve as the foot soldiers of extremist Islam.

With the internet becoming a major tool, networking, recruitment and execution of plans have become international and targets of attack have also become international. Terror strikes can take place anywhere on earth to destabilize the existing order and demoralize the existing religious and political orders..

Need For Cyber Law

Dr.Rohan Gunaratna, a pre-eminent Sri Lankan expert on West Asian terrorism, calls upon Sri Lanka to enact a Cyber Law which will criminalize both posting and keeping extremist content on-line. A co-author of The Three Pillars of Radicalization” published the Oxford University Press in 2019, Dr.Gunaratna urges government to make criminally liable, both the person who posts extremist material and the service provider who keeps the content.

Author of the international best seller Inside al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (University of Columbia Press), who is currently Professor of Security Studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Dr.Gunaratna says that the government should also set up in the Security Forces, a Cyber Force to counter on-line extremist content and create an internet referral unit where the public can report extremist content.”

Writing in a local daily, Dishan Joseph informs that a survey by the International Journal on Cyber Warfare found that there were 50 million tweets globally by eight million users with the keywords, ISIS and ISIL. There are 46,000 suspected Twitter accounts (from Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) that post tweets supporting the ISIS. Many tweets also originate from the Al-Khansaa Brigade, ISIS’s an all-women police force, Joseph points out.

According to him, a captured jihadist in India had confessed that he was first asked to download a ‘chat secure’ mobile app and then use Pidgin – an encrypted tool, to avoid detection as he chatted with his handler..

To counter extremist content, the FBI in the US uses the Carnivore system to read e-mails and online communication. Dr.Gunaratna urges the Lankan government engage with the US because its technology is 20 years ahead of China’s.”

He also calls for a Harmony Act” on the lines of the one in Singapore, which will criminalize hate speech, especially incitement to violence. Given the fact some Sri Lankans had gone overseas as students only to get radicalized, Gunaratna says that Sri Lankans should not be permitted to study in certain schools and universities in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen which produce radical preachers.

He urged the government to draw up a Black List of radical preachers and ban their entry into Sri Lanka. At the same time, government should criminalize the sale and distribution of radical books and publications.

Foreign religious preachers should be given a visa only after getting clearance from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Intelligence agencies, he adds. Further, anyone allowed to preach in Sri Lanka should have a two-year (but renewable) permit.

Control in Muslim-majority countries

Religion has been a problem even in Muslim majority countries. Some of these countries have devised ways to control Islamic thought to suit the State’s ideology and interests.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan last week laid the foundation stone of a Sufi university. The al-Qadir University will combine Sufist Islam and spiritualism with science, and re-instill creativity among Muslims now stifled by dogma. The Imran Khan government is trying to control the courses taught in the madrassahs also.

In Turkey the Imam Hatipschools are part of the State’s social engineering.” They are designed to produce ‘enlightened’ religious functionaries and foster an understanding of Islam that is compatible with the needs of a modern State.

Diyanet” is the State religious organization which controls the country’s mosques. The Diyanet also dictates what is preached in the mosques.

But the downside is that the Diyanet” has become a front of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Indonesia, another Muslim-majority country, also has State control of religion. Under President Suharto, Indonesia was a secular country. But when he became weak with the US abandoning him, he opted to exploit the fundamentalist Islamic sentiments among his people to retain control.

The transition to democracy from autocratic rule in Indonesia which began in 1998, ushered in a period of unstable governments. This again led governments to use conservative Islam to stay in power. The government controlled religious body, the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars (MUI), took the conservative side of the spectrum and adopted a militant attitude towards heterodoxy.Mystical sects, the Ahmadiya minority and the Shi`as were reviled. It is against liberal interpretations of Islam, secularism, and the very idea of religious pluralism.

The lesson appears to be that when a government is strong, institutions meant to control religious thought and practice, side with liberal forces. But when it is weak, fundamentalists gain the upper hand. A weak regime actually promotes fundamentalism in the hope that the conservative majority will be appeased and will support it.

In Turkey, after the 1980 coup, the military-backed government sought to promote a conservative religious-nationalistic doctrine, the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis”. The aim was to fight communism as well as political Islam.

The religious council or bureaucracy Diyanet” was given an important role. The number of mosques and imams under its control rapidly expanded. Imam Hatip(partly secular and partly religious) schools became popular. Many graduates of Imam Hatip schools sought to continue their education in various professional or academic institutions and then join government service.

The AKP led by Erdogan, was to a large extent, an emancipation movement of the conservative Muslim segments of the population that had been marginalized under Kemalism (the ideology of Mustafa Kemal, founder of modern Turkey).

TheImam Hatip schools played a part in the emancipation of the conservatives. But the old secularist elite has been replaced now by the counter-elite of Erdoğan in alliance with an assortment of pragmatic allies.

Internationally, Erdogan is with the Muslim Brotherhood. But in domestic politics he has largely abjured Islamization. He is a supporter of Turkey’s brand of secularism called laiklik. Religious thinkers, ulema and Sufi shaikhs have not been empowered. The Shariah is not a source of legislation. Religious thought has no significant influence in politics. Government retains its monopoly over religious education and outreach. Religious congregations called Cemaats are tightly controlled.

All of this is quite unlike the situation in Indonesia.

But at the same, taking into account the fact that the Turkish people are innately conservative, Erdogan’s s government endorses conservative values, such as teetotalism and female veiling.

END

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