By Zia Ur Rehman
September 12, 2013
In June its media arm, As-Sahab, released an Urdu-language video entitled “Why is There No Storm in Your Ocean?” It featured militant cleric Maulana Aasim Umar, who called on Indian Muslim youth to join campaigns of violent jihad.“It was a desperate move by al-Qaeda and the [cleric’s] speech said it all,” New Delhi-based security analyst Aminesh Raol told Khabar South Asia, adding that the extremist network has been unable to stir up jihadi sentiment in locations such as Gujarat, Bihar, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
Its failure is even more striking because India has been prone to bouts of intercommunal strife, including riots this month in Uttar Pradesh that left at least 40 dead. Such strife would seem to provide fertile ground for al-Qaeda recruitment, and yet the group has not been able to capitalise on the opportunity.
Al-Qaeda’s message does not really resonate among Indian Muslims because they have experienced democracy and political freedom for more than half a century, according to Tufail Ahmed of the Middle East Media Research Institute.
As a result, Muslims in the country have a sense of liberty and opportunity that makes them feel more secure than in other Islamic nations, said Tufail, who directs the think tank’s South Asia Studies project.
In addition, he said, Muslims in India have wider access to the media and are more aware of national and international affairs, enabling them to see through Al-Qaeda’s jihadist arguments.
“Indian Muslims have generally shunned the message of jihad — this is because they feel integrated in Indian society due to its plural ethos and hopes of better future in a thriving democracy and economy, offering a scale of opportunities not matched by any Muslim country,” Tufail wrote recently in The New Indian Express.
Besides al-Qaeda, groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have also sought to win recruits. According to Tufail, JeM and LeT have been more successful because they work through local contacts, targeting specific individuals who have become disaffected.
But even these groups have only succeeded attracting a tiny fringe element of the Muslim community.
“Although there have been bombings claimed by some local jihadi groups in India, their strength is very weak and number of their supporters are very low,” Lucknow-based Urdu journalist Jabbar Siddique told Khabar. Indian Muslims, he added, have shown little interest in going off to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.
Fundamentalism and Islamic religious extremism have not taken roots in India because Indian Muslims believe in their nation’s democracy despite the flare-ups, and despite the activities of Hindu nationalist groups such as Shiv Sena, he added.
“Indian Muslims looked across to other Muslim majority areas and concluded they are better off here in India,” Siddique told Khabar.