( This is an update of a paper titled From Internet To Islamnet that I had presented at an international conference at Bali, Indonesia, in October, 2005)
What we have been seeing since May, 2012, is a proxy jihad through the Internet and modern means of communications such as the cellphone and iPad being waged by a new generation of IT savvy jihadis still unidentified.
It started in the Rakhine state of Myanmar following violent clashes between some Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims whom Myanmar looks upon as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The clashes resulted in about 80 fatalities from both the communities and the internal displacement of a large number of Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.
Following these clashes, a group of as yet unidentified Islamic elements, possibly based in the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India region, started a vicious campaign through the Internet and the new social media sites for the demonization of the Myanmar government and for promoting Islamic solidarity.
President Thein Sein of Myanmar was reported to have told a delegation of the OIC that visited Myanmar last week that through the Internet and its social media sites these elements circulated highly exaggerated reports of what they called a genocide of Muslims in Myanmar with the help of morphed pictures of violent incidents in other countries not related to Myanmar.
This Psy-jihad was meant to destabilise not only the Rakhine state of Myanmar, but also the Sheikh Hasina government of Bangladesh, which has refused to allow the Rohingyas enter Bangladesh and use it as a rear base for their destabilisation operations in Myanmar.
One noticed a similar Psy-jihad being waged in India through the Internet and its social media sites by a group of unidentified Muslim extremists after the outbreak of violent clashes between some Bodos and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Kokrajhar and other Bodo areas of Assam last month.
These elements used the Internet and its social media sites for the dissemination of exaggerated accounts of the violence in Assam and for re-circulating the fabricated Psy-jihad material produced by or on behalf of the Rohingyas of the Rakhine state.
These sought to inflame the passions of impressionable Muslims in different parts of India during the holy fasting period of Ramadan. It resulted in incidents of shocking violence and vandalisation by some Muslims during and after a public meeting held in the Azad Maidan of Mumbai on August 5, 2012, to protest against the violent incidents in Assam and in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Some Muslims incited to violence by the Psy-jihad material and the highly emotional speeches attacked police men, including women members of the police, vandalised a memorial in homage of the Unknown Indian Soldier, attacked sections of the media and burnt down some media vehicles. While the anger of such incited Muslim extremist mobs against the police is nothing unusual, its anger against the media was. Its rage against sections of the media was due to the fact that, in its view, the media did not give sufficient publicity to the Psy-jihad material produced by or on behalf of the Rohingyas.
After the Mumbai incidents which have been condemned by many leaders of the Muslim community, these unidentified elements have been directing their Psy-jihad against people from the Northeast, who have been working in Pune and certain cities of South India like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai in order to create feelings of insecurity in their minds and make them go back to the Northeast.
There is an underlying message in this new phase of the Psy-jihad directed at people from the Northeast living and working in South India and Pune. That is: “If the government does not regularise the illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into the Northeast, we will not allow people from the Northeast to migrate to work in other parts of India.” One has to note that the Psy-jihad directed at the people from the Northeast is not based on their religion. Many of them are Christians and not Hindus. It is based on their right to migrate to other parts of India.
As a result of the feelings of insecurity created in the minds of people from the Northeast in South India, many have already left for their homes, creating the danger of a fresh wave of communal violence when the displaced people of the Northeast reach their homes with their tales of how they were intimidated resulting in their decision to come back home.
During the last 20 years the mental divide between the people of the Northeast and those in the rest of India, that had given rise to different insurgencies, had disappeared. The insurgencies started losing public support and a large number of youngsters from the Northeast had started identifying themselves with the rest of India. Many of them migrated to other parts of India in search of jobs. They were welcomed by people in other parts of India. A process of natural integration between the people of the Northeast and other parts of India began.
In the Psy-jihad directed against the people from the Northeast, one sees the beginning of an insidious attempt to re-create the mental divide and drive a new wedge.
Unfortunately, one does not have the impression that our intelligence agencies and police have been able to keep pace with the evolution of the Psy-jihad being waged through the Internet, mobile phones and iPads. One does not see signs of any coherent and co-ordinated attempt to counter and neutralise it, identify the elements behind this Psy-jihad and act against them firmly under the laws of the land.
In addition to neutralising this Psy-jihad, it is important to initiate urgent measures to restore the sense of security of the people from the Northeast by interacting with them continuously and vigorously and by providing them additional protection. The civil society too has an important role in this matter. This is the time to further strengthen our bonds of solidarity with them and reassure them that the civil society will stand by them.
All political parties should resist the urge, which could prove suicidal for the nation, to exploit these developments for their partisan advantage. This is the time for everybody to come together and unite against the new breed of extremists, who can turn out to be more dangerous than those of the past who relied on improvised explosive devices for destabilising us.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies
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