THE LURE OF EXTREMISM
Muslim Bangladeshis living in the UK recently became a focus of interest to all Bangladeshis living home and abroad when the news of some young Muslims of Bangladeshi origin joining the so-called Islamic State in Syria/Iraq struck the front page. Among them were three young women and an entire family that also included elderly members. Young people leaving a relatively prosperous country for a war torn, failed state that had succumbed to a militant group was astounding news not only to their families but also the country that they decided to leave.
The militants in Syria and Iraq calling themselves the Islamic State (or ISIS) have grown in strength over the past two years drawing youths from different parts of the world including Western Europe, the United Kingdom, even the US. It is reported that there are over 4000 foreign fighters who have joined the ranks of ISIS, which primarily consists of rebels from Syria and is believed to be militarily trained and supervised by ex-members of Saddam Hussain’s formidable army. The military prowess and tactics that ISIS has shown in overpowering the Iraqis as well as the largely depleted forces of Syria’s Assad are evidence of a well-trained force that goes beyond the normal fighting strength and longevity of a typical rebel force.
ISIS’ sustained war in Syria, along with its success in holding on to a sizeable territory of Iraq for nearly two years established its credibility among radical Islamist rebels, many of whom have been active in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Nigeria. ISIS emerged as the strongest among the militant organisations, not only because of its organisation, but also because of the ambivalence of the Middle Eastern nations towards intervening in the current war and half-hearted attempts by Western powers to stop the war. The ambivalence of some Middle Eastern countries partly comes from their fear of Shia domination in that area with Iraq now falling mostly to Shia leadership, a potential Iraq-Iran entente rising in the horizon.
ISIS grew as much for what it did for itself as for what the other countries inadvertently did for its growth. It developed into a mighty fighting machine enough to declare itself a Caliphate and asked all Muslim countries to join its cause, even asking them to recognise its supremacy. People have not joined them in droves, but it did appeal to a good number of young people spread over distant lands to join its ranks. And many have joined, not just attracted by the romanticism of the adventure, but also deluded by the religious appeal of joining a grossly misinterpreted holy war.
Attractions of Muslim youth, particularly in the West, to this cleverly constructed holy mission has been variously attributed to disenchantment and disengagement of the youth from mainstream culture of the adopted country stemming from their failure to assimilate in the society, and a perceived sense of discrimination by the mainstream society. It has also been attributed to a growing urge among them to seek a different identity from the mainstream, an identity based on religion alone since this identity provides them a bigger platform and strength in number. It covers a wider range of people from different ethnicities. Added to that is a perceived sense of persecution worldwide of people of different faiths, which has been constantly hammered into them by clerics with a political agenda of their own both at home and abroad.
Absent from the above analysis is how much religious teaching itself is an important driver of young people wanting to relinquish their adopted home and fight side by side with forces that are not exactly their friends. Immigrants to the UK, US, and other European countries come from all parts of the world with all kinds of religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Unfortunately, many young Muslims of diverse origins have been brought up in an environment which is devoid of the most fundamental teaching of their religion, tolerance and acceptance of all other religions as equal to their own. They don’t receive this education at home or places where they go for worship. A good number of these young people grow in ethnic and religious settings that harden them into individuals with a rigid mindset, they find it difficult to assimilate at a later stage, at a workplace or higher places of learning when they come out of these shells or might feel like misfits.
Joining a jihad brigade provides a kind of escape for these young people from the hard reality they face. But they find it equally difficult to return when the “romantic” adventure does not pan out the way they want it to.
The right place to prevent disgruntled and alienated young people from being fascinated by this false attraction is their own home. They need the basic education of having respect for every human being, irrespective of religious faith. They need to be told that alienation from the country they live in on the grounds of religion or rejection of other religions cannot lead them to happiness or success. The Islamic State or ISIS is a political game that will not deliver to them the life their parents expected of them, or the one that their adopted country offers them.
The writer is a US based political analyst and commentator.
SEPTEMBER 03, 2015