Kabir Taneja speaks about his book on ISIS in South Asia

Author Kabir Taneja

Chennai: The last six years of the previous decade saw the rise and fall of one of the most dreaded terror organisations the world had ever seen. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS came into prominence for its horrifying use of violence that rocked the middle east and kept nations caught in the Syrian war in toes. As ISIS’ power rose, so did its web of attacks at far flung places.

In the beginning, with hundreds of terrorists joining this group, the attacks were focused at war torn desert nations. But the infamous 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings in April took the world by surprise. Also, the many arrests of ISIS sympathising youth in Kerala led intelligence agencies to ask if the ideology had moved beyond deserts and inflirted minds of people living in South Asia.

Shadow of peril
To answer such questions, Kabir Taneja, a research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation’s Strategic Studies Programme, in his book, ‘The ISIS Peril: The World’s Most Feared Terror Group and its Shadow on South Asia’, brings an in-depth understanding of ‘the historical, cultural and political rise of ISIS in India’. Speaking to News Today, Kabir says, ‘Over the past few years I have specifically looked into the rise and fall of ISIS, which had taken center stage in the region’s politics and conflicts.’

His book blurb reads: ‘From the Holey Bakery attack of 2016 in Bangladesh to Easter weekend 2019 in Sri Lanka, from the flag-waving in Kashmir to the Twitter accounts in Bangalore, from the young converts of Kerala to online recruitment by way of Facebook and Telegram, Taneja, explores the psychology of South Asian jihadists through examples…’

Kabir informs that it wasn’t easy to write his book. ‘The story of ISIS was dynamic, fast moving and changing everyday,’ he says. ‘So to keep the text relevant, I chose to dive into the regional cases coming from South Asia instead of ISIS as an entire group. The cases provided the premise and allowed a good anchor to build a narrative around.’

Dark matter
Several news have appeared about dozens of literate people joining ISIS. It was quite obvious to ask Kabir how even educated people with degrees or professions get easily radicalised.

‘That is one misconception that it is always an ideology led radicalisation,’ Kabir says. ‘While ideology is central, it is not always the driving force that led people to join ISIS. Initially, I think the geography, the territory that ISIS controlled was a much bigger draw, and the sleek and chic manner in which ISIS managed to produce and distribute its propaganda videos attracted both those who were ideologically inclined to those who were more attracted to the guns, warfare and violence. The ‘thrill’ of being in such an organisation was also one of the driving factors.’

Into the mind
When posed a question on a character profile of an average ISIS supporter/terrorist, Kabir says that it’s impossible to do so. ‘Most cases differ from each other, often fairly diversely,’ the author explains. ‘However, in many Indian cases, one commonality was the want for the radicals to travel to the khilafat in Syria. They were more interested in going there, than to attempt attacks here within the country.’

Dark web
Reports have often surged of law enforcement officers busting cyber cell networks operated by terror organisations. What can the government do to curb their online presence?

‘The online world has posed challenges when it comes to both propaganda and recruitment by terror groups. However, the government must build capacity, efficiently and speedily to counter the new era of threats we face today,’ believes Kabir. ‘Technology, by definition, will always beat policy. Intelligence agencies need to be given a faster, bureaucracy-free hand on countering the narratives that allow radicalisation to take place. We as a society, if not already, then are close to losing the battle of narratives to those who wish to radicalise and propagate terrorism online.’

High alert
Today, the ISIS map has been wiped off. However, security experts warn that if they return, then they will have the ability to destabilize regions even more. What can nations do to stay on guard?

‘Capacity building in our counter-terror architecture and much more convergence between intelligence and law enforcement agencies between the center and state levels is the need of the hour,’ says Kabir. ‘These bureaucracy loopholes offer multiple chances to troublemakers to get what they want, whether it be online recruitment by terror groups or unchallenged distribution of propaganda materials to the world’s second largest smartphone market with the world’s lowest data costs.’