Role of Civilizational Dialogue in Countering Terrorism and Radicalisation
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Since the latter half of 20th century radicalisation and acts of terrorism have become a global challenge. Non-state actors often supported by “Evil” states cause an incalculable damage on the civilised and peace-loving societies. Political ends and use of religion to subvert the legitimate and even autocratic regimes have become far more common. Studies suggest that the well-known terrorist groups across the spectrum have developed fiefdoms, natural boundaries and across the board territorial ambitions. Although it has become a global headache there is no unified concern or approach, even if often one hears the high decibel sound bytes and less than non-committal statements and concerted inaction at the international fora including at the UN, which in fact provided further sustenance to the extremists and their ideologies. Indian Prime Minister Modi had lamented at the UN that until now there is not a single definition of terrorism let alone any plan of action to counter it. India’s efforts to conclude the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) have been stymied by the duplicity and vested interests in different quarters. Hence unison of thought and action against this global threat and challenge is a priori and we need to adhere in totality to Zero Tolerance to extremism and terrorism bereft of double standards.

In the 1990s, Samuel Huntington challenged the global mind-set with his theory of Clash of Civilisations giving wind to its eternal contest .But if one were to look at the ancient Indian civilisation and its long history of interactions one could easily look at the positive dynamic and integration and assimilation of diverse value systems over time. Even if India has had a history of invasions and conquests from all corners because of her riches and mystique it eventually led to embracing them and in turn becoming a crucible of a unique civilisation that has amazing confluence of cultures and religions. It became the beacon of accommodation, tolerance and assimilation thereby creating an Indian-ness among all races irrespective of their origins and mode of arrival in India. India has given birth to four major religions. It also has the unique honour of embracing Christianity before it went to the West and Islam before it went to Arabs. Hinduism the most prevalent and practised philosophy of life takes great pride in not bracketing itself into the narrow confines of religion but boasts itself as a way of life. That has been the key to its tall emergence despite threats of being undermined. And that probably provides it a certain credibility as an interlocutor for the human kind. India does not believe in only in its own benefit or that of Indians alone but believes in “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam” -the whole world is one family or “Swadharma Nidhanam Shreyah Your own religion is better than any riches”. When we pray to God we pray for peace and welfare of the human kind “Om Shanti” and Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah Sarve Santu Niramayah”. Indian ethos does embody the ingredients of dialogue among culture and civilisations and coexistence of all religions. India does not believe in mere tolerance and accommodation but mutual respect for all faiths and religions and people believing in them from times immemorial. Hence is the right fit for the task.

Dialogue by definition entails the equality of faiths, religions and civilisations. Two decades ago in 1999 the UN declared the Year of dialogue among civilisations to encourage and promote discussions on diversity, organise conferences and interfaith dialogues by disseminating information and scholarly material. Since then several initiatives have been launched in different parts of the world. Amman Message of King Abdullah II of Jordan, his Aqaba Dialogue process and fight against takfiri ideologues; World Congress of Religions launched by erstwhile President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and World Tolerance Summit by Emir of UAE have all helped spread the unity of purpose and peace and respect for human life. Efforts have been made to identify and propagate the identical essence of major religions and faith. A greater responsibility indeed lies on the religious heads, preachers, Priests, Maulvis and Pundits and Gurus to impart the righteous and correct message that the religion or faith they hold dear rather than focussing on the concocted and irrational inferences. More importantly the religion and politics or precisely putting use of religion for politics and vice versa are the dangerous concoction for the society and social harmony.

Right education is a must that is progressive and all-encompassing which will effectively counter the radicalisation efforts of the infidels of humanity. For this to succeed a greater focus must be laid on educating women who constitute more than half of the humanity and can inculcate the benign human values in their children for the benefit and culturally balanced growth of the society. it has been said that ‘When you educate a man you educate an individual but when you educate a woman you educate a family’. “Education be it religious or otherwise, as long as it is not dogmatic can be the basis of immunity and not impunity for the ideas of radicalism and its various Avatars. “We need to distinguish and separate religious demagogy from political discourse”, so aptly urged by President Nazarbayev in 2018 at the Congress of Religions. In this age of Science and Technology and Social Media as well as Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven life, we cannot be mere robots of ideology but should ensure that there is no scope of conflict among civilisations and divergent ideas and ideologies while at the same time counter the radical narratives through the same medium with greater vigour, sincerity of purpose and credibility. It was so very true in the case of al Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) which are the worst manifestations who use the modern media tools as non-state actors much better than the nation states and agencies to recruit and rewire their adherents.

Another important value that could help in de-radicalisation is an emphasis on non-violence so well preached and practised by Mahatma Gandhi who defeated the might British empire. Fortunately we are celebrating his 150th birth anniversary this year and perhaps this could be a real tribute to him if we could imbibe non-violence as a virtue in our thinking and actions and which by its very essence would deter and counter radicalisation and extremism.

Of course since radicalisation, extremism and terrorism are so very rampant it is imperative that its root causes must be addressed through socio-economic approaches that could include soft and hard option depending on whether we are dealing with the idea of a correct narrative for the uninitiated, part misguided converts or with rabid and radicalised terrorist who does not value human life and dignity. Broadly, we need to address the conditions that promote radicalisation and extremism like persecution, sense of alienation, social inequality, unemployment, bigotry, poverty and other social causes. These efforts have to be matched by building the capacity of the states and UN institutions to deal with and combat extremism and terrorism in a uniform manner while adhering to the rule of law and preserving human rights. The bigger problem that has afflicted India and many other countries is the state sponsored cross border terrorism that requires international condemnation and concerted action against such havens of extremism that provide safe passage and sustenance to the enemies of humanity and are a real threat to any society. At the same time targeting a religion or its followers is bound to be counter-productive. Hence perhaps while professing and encouraging interfaith interactions and Dialogue among Civilisations “can we not apply the principles of Panchsheel in our discourse which both India and China are so fully conversant with.

In order to counter the radicalisation and extremism prevailing in societies, it is imperative that credible, politically neutral counter and positive narratives must be devised and propagated in concert with religious leaders and opinion makers, thinkers where the State plays its legitimate role. There are no easy solutions but this is a problem that will not go away by itself.

(Some excerpts from my extempore talk at the ME Security Forum, Beijing)

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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