Radical Islam: Perspectives from India and Russia.

Observer Research Foundation and the Experimental Creativity Centre (ECC), Moscow, have completed their collaborative research project on Radical Islam. The first conference under this project took place in Moscow in October, 2009 while the final leg was held in New Delhi in March 2010. The papers and proceedings of these workshops have now been published in the form of a book titled “Radical Islam: Perspectives from India and Russia”.

The Russian language edition of the book was launched at the ECC premises in Moscow on September 27 2010. It was attended by senior faculty members of both ORF and ECC, including Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Amb. M. Rasgotra, Mr. Samir Saran, Mr. Nandan Unnikrishnan, Dr Sergey Kurginyan and Dr. Yury Byaly. The launch was preceded by a press conference organised by the leading Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

This 480-page book is the result of cohesive and complementary research by 15 scholars from both India and Russia. The research for this project was based on both geography and themes. While geographies or nations provided the specifics on the interaction of the phenomena of Radical Islam with specific political units and local societies, the thematic research allowed the researchers to test the interaction of Radical Islam with other contemporary and older tendencies. This effort covers the experiences with Radical Islam in Maldives, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Central Asia, Europe, Russia and spans the entire land mass between the Indian Ocean and the Arctic.

On the other hand, this project also tests the interactions between Islam and other contemporary challenges, including Global and Regional power struggles, Oil and Energy politics, Inequity and Poverty, evolving Identities, ancient Culture and tradition, Globalisation and indeed with Capitalism itself. This research proves the adage “the more we learn the lesser we know”. In spite of various assertions in the individual essays by the respective authors, Radical Islam is still indescribable and the very term “Radical Islam” is an attempt to describe the indescribable by reflecting a simplistic categorisation of a complex and dangerous impulse.

Speaking at the book launch, Amb. M Rasgotra said that it was essential for India and Russia to share their experiences in dealing with radical Islam since the nature of the problem is the same, even as its manifestations may be different. Mr. Sunjoy Joshi observed that elucidating the Indian and Russian perspectives on radical Islam is important because the West often “tends to look at Islam in black-and-white, while Indian and Russian researchers look at it in multiplicity of identities, discourses and ideas”.

Mr. Samir Saran asserted that Radical Islam in certain geographies is an expression for economic and political voice, while in other contexts, it is a hegemonic tool deployed by the West and the rest. In some other cases, it is an instrument of state policy deployed against the neighbour or rival…but universally, it is the story of two victims …the perpetrators who commit the crime and the civil population on whom suffering is inflicted…both collateral damage in the bigger game, he said.

“From an Indian experience, the attempt to describe, analyse and respond to Radicalism or Radical Islam becomes even more problematic…. after all we are turning the spotlight to ourselves…. to respond to radical Islam, we need to discover our own shortcomings…. it is as much about internal political and economic faultlines as it is about the exploitation of these faultlines by external actors,” Samir Saran said.

India’s interaction with Radical Islam is different to that of Europe or the West. It is mostly about internal reconfiguration and resolution. While some may look at this as an external tendency that needs excision or removal from their nation or society, in India we need a nuanced approach; one that balances security and equity, and if the scale should tilt …it should be in favour of equity.

The challenge of radicalism in India is real and imminent. With its fast paced growth, embrace of capitalism and western values and the rapid move away from the traditional and family oriented societies due to both poverty and aspirations are creating social conditions that prove to be incubators of violence and terror. This equation is exacerbated by insensitive policy making and poor governance leading to a rise in the constituency of those willing to live outside the civil society framework that seemingly serves the rich and the political elite. While violence and terror will deploy religion as an instrument of mobilisation, responses from policymakers and governments must remain secular.

October 2010, Moscow, Russia.

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