No, Gen. Rawat, 'Radicalisation' is Not a Drug Habit, You Can't Send Boys to 'Camp' for it

It is naïve to think that gimmicks like these can address the complex problems of Kashmir.

General Bipin Rawat has suggested that Kashmiri children influenced by “radicalisation” ought to be “put in de-radicalisation camps”. His views have since been echoed by the director-general of police in Jammu and Kashmir, Dilbagh Singh.

Besides reminding one of quarantine laws or worse, this proposal betrays a poor understanding of the phenomena of both radicalisation and de-radicalisation. I wonder how General Rawat proposes to read the subconscious mind of children and determine their ‘degree of radicalisation’ before he forcibly packs them off to de-radicalisation camps.

Etymologically, the word radical comes from the Latin radix-radicis meaning ‘root’. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word radical means affecting the foundation, going to the root; seeking to ensure removal of all diseased tissue. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as believing or expressing the belief that there should be great or extreme social or political change. The dictionary opposite is ‘conservative’.

As such, there is nothing problematic or illegal about being radical or radicalised. A similar misconception exists among counter-terrorism strategists regarding the word “fundamentalism”. The Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897) had used the word fundamentalism first when it defined certain things that were fundamental to belief.

In general, George M. Marsden and others define it as a “deep and totalistic commitment” to a belief in, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life. Once again, there is nothing objectionable in it.

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Wahabism, criticised for its ‘fundamentalism’, happens to be the state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia and that nation is not a terrorist state. Thus, Wahabism per se, cannot be synonymous with terrorism. Still, Western prejudices result in scholars like Ira Lapidus sweeping all that the West may not like at some point of time inside the rubric of fundamentalism. There is no universally accepted definition of radicalisation either. Various governments define it arbitrarily in view of their peculiar biases and concerns.

People talking of simplistic solutions like de-radicalisation camps do not understand that if somebody were prepared to die a horrible death in a strange land, resisting the temptation of a comfortable family life and everything that he cherished, obviously something more powerful than the lure of 72 houris is at work. We have to address that.

As Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, a former chief of the ISI, described it very astutely in his article ‘CT Made Easy’ in the Dawn:

“Nothing comes close to a non-remedy to fight the menace of terrorism than our latest gimmick—‘the terrorists have been brainwashed, so let’s read to them another narrative’. Anyone who believes that those committed to a cause deeply enough to blow themselves up could be ‘reprogrammed’ by a mantra, obviously has no idea what ‘de-radicalisation’ entails.”

Michael Scheuer, former CIA officer, professor at Georgetown and author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, points out that their politicians had sold the narrative “They hate us for how we live and what we think”. In reality, Islamist terror attacks against the US are motivated by the perception that US foreign policy is a threat to Islam—“They hate us for what we do, not who we are”.

At an individual level, some people might also suffer from a persecution complex for real or perceived wrongs committed on them or their community at large. Those who have read Frederick Forsyth’s The Afghan may recall how Izmat Khan swears revenge against the US and joins the Taliban after a missile hits a slope in the Tora Bora, resulting in a landslide that buries his village and his entire family. These are deep psychological wounds. They cannot be healed by offering some creature comforts or making them watch Keeping up with the Kardashians.

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In the study titled Terrorism in America 18 Years After 9/11, Peter Bergen, David Sterman and Melissa Salyk-Virk concede that the most likely threat to the US today comes from terrorists inspired by ideologies across the political spectrum—it could be ISIS-inspired and ISIS-enabled, but not necessarily ISIS-directed. Even as al-Qaeda and ISIS have been largely decimated, the “idea” has proven resilient to military strikes.

To claim that ‘radicalisation’ is so easy that their technical or ‘secular’ education notwithstanding, some people could be brainwashed by a relatively poorly educated Mullah in a few minutes, amounts to denying the complex causes of terrorism. There is no reason to believe that certain words of religious texts alone could exercise that kind of power over the minds of people. Moreover, one cannot insinuate that there is something wrong with their religion per se for then the solution would be to exterminate the religion itself.

In the end, the “idea” is more important than the tool. If one is intrinsically susceptible to and receptive to a certain “idea”, it is because of a complex interplay of personal, social, and historical reasons. It is utterly naïve to expect that the “idea” could be banished by a pep talk or time spent in a de-radicalisation camp.

As Medgar Evans had said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”

Complex problems demand complex solutions. Let us not run away from grappling with that complexity.

N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF.