France’s brush with ISIS holds lessons for India


The reported remark by the spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup to the effect that his ministry is not in possession of any corroborative information over the recent speculations that some families from Kerala may have migrated to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has, unfortunately, become the small print.

In the prevailing set-up in our country with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s writ running large on the imperative of team work within his government, it is inconceivable that the security establishment in North Block would have kept the foreign-policy establishment in South Block in the dark about such a matter of grave import for India’s national security as Indian nationals migrating to the ISIS in Mesopotamia.

The bottom line is that the government has no intelligence substantiating the speculative reports.

Those who eloquently began discussing already that Kerala is becoming a base camp for the ISIS would need to honestly introspect why they chose to rush into such paranoia and began crying ‘wolf’, ‘wolf’. The point is, their ‘Islamophobia’ got the better of them and clouded rational thinking. Alas, most of these paranoid people who spoke of the ISIS “nodules” in Kerala are also faces associated with the right-wing Hindu nationalist camp.

The western expert opinion cites India as a model, while arriving at the conclusion that the ISIS cannot “make much headway among Muslims in India” (Huffington Post). In fact, as recently as last December, US government-funded Voice of America also highlighted such an assessment. (VOA) Why should this situation have changed in the past 6-month period?

Of course, ISIS is as much an explosive ideology as a terror network. And, sequestering human minds from ideas, especially young minds at impressionable age that are vulnerable to seductive ideas, is not entirely practical. What the state can do pre-emptively is to clean up the environment that surrounds the youth – political as well as socio-economic milieu.

In this context, the horrific terrorist strike in Nice, France, on Thursday will help us draw some useful conclusions. Clearly, France is in the crosshairs of extremist Islamist groups. Why so? Three reasons can be ascribed.

First and foremost, in the downstream of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington and the ensuing ‘war on terror’, the authorities in France began discriminating against the Muslim community in many subtle ways, while also claiming to be a secular country and a truly multicultural society.

France was probably not alone in the western world in taking such a dubious course borne out of Islamophobia, but it certainly took matters to an extreme degree – even restricting the use of ‘hijab’. Without doubt, something churned within the Muslim mind in reaction to this. Religion is a sacred turf in the inner world of man and he feels humiliated when the state and society violates or desecrates it.

Second, France rushed into the frontline of the US-led war against the ISIS with a gusto that is, simply put, incomprehensible – except, perhaps, in geopolitical terms. And for France, as for those countries that are waging the proxy war in Syria and Iraq today – US, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. – a blowback became almost inevitable at some point, like night following the day. Some of the warrior-states are already experiencing it – Turkey and Saudi Arabia – while others are yet to face it so far. But, make no mistake, this proxy war is going to haunt all these warrior-states for a long time to come.

Being a multicultural society, France ought to have thought twice before declaring war on the ISIS – following the terror strikes in Paris. President Francois Hollande probably took that route as a matter of political expediency to salvage his sagging popularity among the French electorate and in a desperate attempt to ride the wave of nationalism sweeping over his country, but it was lacking in far-sighted statesmanship. With the tragic history in Algeria and the shameful experience in Libya recently (where France led the NATO intervention that ultimately resulted in chaos), Hollande should have been circumspect about France’s credentials to wage yet another war in the Muslim Middle East.

Finally, France is itself passing through a historic lurch to right-wing nationalism. It is within the realms of possibility that the noted nationalist leader Marine Le Pen may emerge as frontrunner in the presidential poll next year. Her vitriolic political campaign against ‘Islamification’ and her attacks on immigration from the Muslim world – “French citizenship should be either inherited or merited” – or, her famous trial in last October in Lyon on charges of inciting racial hatred (after her explosive remark comparing Muslims praying in the street to Nazi occupation) – these are painful memories for the Muslims in France to assimilate. (BBC)

In sum, there is profound alienation among the Muslims in France and the ISIS attracts followers in such a mileu.

Today’s India, in the Modi era, has a great deal to learn from France. Alienation exists in many regions of India in many forms. The tragic happenings in Jammu & Kashmir should be an eye-opener. When people revolt against state coercion, the nadir is reached. Intolerance toward the minority communities or attempts to humiliate them or the refusal to go the extra league to build an inclusive society — these are all evident today in our society. Much of it is happening in broad daylight, too.

If the lessons from the tragedy unfolding in France are properly understood, we have no reason to get sleepless nights over ISIS ‘nodules’ and ‘sleepers’ in our neighborhood and the authorities can firmly and with transparency deal with its traces in India whenever or wherever they show up, if at all, as a freak phenomenon.