What makes an educated young person turn guns and grenades on innocent people going home from work, eating out at a restaurant or just working/staying in a hotel? Apparently, he manages to dehumanise his victims. He watches them die, becomes numb to the pain of their loved ones and turns oblivious to the sufferings of the injured. Shouldn’t a young man in his early twenties be busy enjoying friendships, creating a career, re-examining faith, exploring his many identities? Youth-hood should be about romantic relationships and discovering the beauty of life. Instead, we see young people turning into monsters who can gloat over a pyrrhic demonic victory, even where their own death is a foregone conclusion.
That young people are susceptible to developing a fascination for violence, is something we need to really grapple with. Be it in the Bajrang Dal, the Naxalite groups, the extremist Islamic organisations, Zionists, the LTTE, the mafia gangs, the school shoot outs or indeed the Armies of various countries, young people, especially young men, have demonstrated an attraction towards violence that is unnerving and dangerous. While each of these routes to violence is very different, eventually they share a common denominator of death as an outcome.
The incidents in Mumbai (in 2008) force an unflinching gaze on young Muslim youth and their journey to taking part in organised acts of terror. It is not yet clear whether these youth were from Pakistan or from Britain. It is important to point out that there have been significant differences between Muslim youth fighting within countries like Palestine, Turkey, Algeria, Somalia or Chechnya and those who have been recruited into trans-national networks like the Al-Qaeda. While the former are territorially defined and fighting against “occupations” or marginalisation or fighting to establish Islamic States within their countries, the supra- national de-territorialized networks are fighting against the American Imperialism and the “West”. These networks often recruit radicalised Muslim youth living in Europe as well as the Middle East. Their targets too are global “agents” of American imperialism as demonstrated by terror strikes in various cities in Europe and other parts of the world, with Mumbai being the latest site of terror.
How does this international network appeal to young educated Muslims (as well as a few non Muslims who convert) to take on roles as suicide bombers and members of terror squads? Not only has the traditional Leftist Anti Imperialist discourse entrenched in parts of Europe been re-cast in religious terms, the need for solidarity with the suffering community is stressed through powerful narratives and visual imagery about death and humiliation in Kashmir, Bosnia, Palestine etc. Added to this is the heroism offered to young men and women who are convinced they would be avenging the humiliation of the brotherhood. Jihad as personal compulsory duty is invoked and the hope for salvation through sacrifice and death makes violence one of the main fascinations of the recruitment process. Such heroism has immense appeal to young people caught between cultures and inter-generational conflicts, unsure of their own identities and convictions. Second and third generation Muslim immigrants in Europe from Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the Middle East are specially vulnerable on this score, making it easier for trans-national terrorist networks to recruit them.
A young person who respects religious diversity , who believes in democracy and dialogue, who is integrated into a multicultural society, who sees jihad as war within oneself and who celebrates a love of life will be able to condemn violence and fragmentation of humankind. The recent rise in the youths terrorism acts involvement points to the fact that there is the need to give our young people a grounding in values of social justice, pluralism and secularism through democratic dialogue even as they youthfully explore religion, culture and their multiple identities.
Anita Ratnam is a columnist with indiainteract.com