Why, despite having a Muslim population of 172 million, does India produce so few jihadis?
The answer must lie in the cultural differences of Abrahamic religions and Indic ones, especially Hinduism.
Even while we Indians fret about the rise of jihadi terrorism inside the country and in the neighbourhood, with both Pakistan and Bangladesh providing willing recruits, the reality is quite the opposite: even with a restive Muslim population of over 172 million, and despite the Islamist radicalisation of West Asia, Africa and enclaves of Europe, India probably produces the lowest number of jihadis in the world.
The contrast with Europe, which has now become the epicentre of Islamist terrorism, with Brussels being the latest victim yesterday (22 March), is stunning.
Belgium, with a population of 11 million, lesser than Mumbai or Delhi, produces 40 jihadis per million population – fighters who went to fight in West Asia’s two major wars, according to the International Centre for the Study Of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR).
A report in The Guardian says that “more than 250 Belgians have left the country to fight alongside jihadis in Syria and Iraq; about 75 have died in combat and 125 have returned.”
ICSR data show that even the “peaceful” Nordics – Denmark and Sweden – were high up in the per capita Islamist fighters count. They sent 27 and 19 fighters per million population, followed by France with 18, Austria with 17 and Holland with 14.5 (see here).
In contrast, Pakistan, which is often seen as the fountainhead of global jihadism, managed to send less than three warriors per million. India is nowhere on the map of global jihad.
Are we missing something here? Why, despite having a Muslim population of 172 million, nearly as much as in Pakistan (182 million), does India produce so few jihadis, and why does even Pakistan fare so well when compared to European jihadism?
Similarly, why does Saudi Arabia, which is actually no different from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in terms of ideological brutality, produce jihadists by the barrel, including the best known among them, the late Osama bin Laden? ICSR, in a January 2015 report, noted that between 1,500-2,500 Islamists from Saudi Arabia were fighting various jihadist wars in Iraq and Syria.
The answer has to lie in the national culture. If both Europe and West Asia are generating a higher number of jihadis per capita despite following two different majority religions (Christianity and Islam), we have to look for what is common to them, not what divides. And we have to look for what differentiates the Indian sub-continent from Europe and West Asia.
The answer must lie in the cultural differences of Abrahamic religions and Indic ones, especially Hinduism. Secularists don’t like mentioning the “H” word for anything good, but this is an important part of the explanation of why India produces so few jihadis, and Europe so many.
The normal approach of the Hindu is to live and let live, driven by a fundamentally plural approach, garnished with large doses of pacifism, passivity, and a willingness to compromise rather than court confrontation. When faced with a rival, the Hindu is less likely to think in fight or flight terms, or in a binary way (“either you are with us or against us”). If forced to do something, his chosen method of fight will probably be passive aggression, formal acquiescence and slow subversion from within.
The average Hindu tries to avoid conflict at all costs in order to get on with life and his own priorities. This attitude was reflected in Hindus seldom fighting the common enemy together; we worked out separate deals to avoid conflict.
In contrast, the Abrahamic religions have a binary approach – with less scope for finding a middle ground or compromise with those they see as inimical to them. The Semitic idea of One God, One Truth makes the adherents of both Christianity and Islam willing to do battle for their ideologies. They are more willing to die for their religions than any Hindu.
In Europe, Christianity sees itself in mortal combat with Islam, and so it is not surprising that jihadi ideas find purchase among Christian converts to Islam, or Muslims migrants from Africa settled in places like Brussels’ Molenbeek, which has been described as the “rat’s nest” of European jihadism, with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, being one of its principal Products.
According to an article in Politico, Abaaoud “is not alone in Molenbeek’s Hall of Shame. Abaaoud was jailed with one of the Abdeslam brothers, Salah, in 2010 (another, Ibrahim, blew himself up in Paris). Moroccan national Ayoub el-Khazzani, who opened fire with a Kalashnikov on a high-speed Thalys train in August (2015), had also lived in Molenbeek. Amedy Coulibaly, from (2015) January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, bought his arms from a Molenbeek arms dealer, and French-Algerian Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year, spent time in the area. The two suspected terrorists killed by Belgian police in a shootout in the eastern town of Verviers in January also were from Molenbeek.”
If Belgium is the grand headquarters of European jihad, the high per capita shares of Muslim fighters in other European countries suggests that the tectonic plates between Christian Europe and Islamist Africa/West Asia are beginning to collide.
In contrast, Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, including the vehemently anti-Indian jihadi state of Pakistan, have Hindu pacifism embedded in their DNA after a thousand years of intermittent contact and conflict in pre-1947 India. It is this Hindu DNA that protects Indian Muslims from catching the jihadi virus so easily.
The virus, of course, is still coming in, thanks to Pakistan’s embrace of Wahhabi Islam, and the copious inflows of Saudi funds into Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi madrassas and mosques. But for the Saudi oil wealth vitiating the climate in India, the pacifist DNA of Indian Muslims would have helped them avoid the call of jihadi Islam altogether.
Europe, with its Abrahamic us-versus-them DNA, has not had that fortune.
Post-World War II European-style pacifism has, instead of encouraging syncretism, instead resulted in Europe descending into political correctness and ignoring the problem of Muslim integration into the larger society. In Germany, millions of Turks are more Turkish than German (this was never the case with Jews in Germany); in France and Belgium, the Muslim minorities are more African than French or Belgian.
Christianity and Islam are like oil and water in Europe. In Brussels, a jihadi nest in Molenbeek was created as the state failed to integrate or even police the place properly.
Abrahamic Europe has something to learn from the syncretism of Indic civilisation.