A briefing on India`s 150 million Muslims – and why they prefer moderate, mainstream denominations of the faith.
1. (C) India`s over 150 million Muslim population is largely unattracted to extremism. India`s growing economy, vibrant democracy, and inclusive culture, encourage Muslims to seek success and social mobility in the mainstream and reduces alienation. With Indian Muslim youth increasingly comfortable in the mainstream, the pool of potential recruits is shrinking, while Muslim families and communities provide little sanction or support to extremist appeals. This cable is in response to Reftel requesting information on methods used by extremist groups to recruit and train youths under the age of 18. Post notes that India is home to a wide variety of extremist groups, including religious extremists (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh), ethnic separatists, and extremists from the political left (Naxalites) and right (primarily Hindu fascists), all of whom recruit children. However, reftel requests information only on Islamic extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunnah, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Taliban and Kashmiri militants, and we will confine our analysis to such groups.
The Muslim minority
2. (C) According to India`s 1991 National Census, the Muslim population constitutes just under 15 per cent of the country`s total. It grew by 33 per cent between 1981-2001, while the general population increased by 24 per cent. Islam is India`s largest minority religion. In many towns and cities, particularly in Northern India, one third or more of the population is Muslim. The largest concentrations of Muslims live in the states of Bihar (12 million), West Bengal (16 million), and Uttar Pradesh (24 million). The overwhelming majority (92 per cent) are Sunnis, the remainder being Shias. India`s Muslim population is estimated to be as large as 150 million (the second largest in the world after Indonesia), and suffers from higher rates of poverty than most other groups in India, and can be the victims of discrimination and prejudice. Despite this, the vast majority remain committed to the Indian state and seek to participate in mainstream political and economic life. Only a small number of young Muslims have concluded that mainstream politics will never address their grievances and have gravitated toward pan-Islamic and pro-Pakistan organisations, which sometimes engage in acts of violence. India`s vibrant democracy, inclusive culture and growing economy have made it easier for Muslim youth to find a place in the mainstream, reduced the pool of potential recruits, and the space in which Islamic extremist organizations can operate.
A vibrant democracy
3. (C) Although there are a wide variety of Islamic religious, political and social organizations, most Muslims join or support secular groups without a specific Islamic identity. The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), spearheaded by Congress, projects itself as the secular alternative to the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), dominated by the Hindu-nationalist BJP. Muslims generally join secular parties as the best way to ensure that the BJP does not attain political power, although the BJP does have Muslim members as well. No exclusively Muslim organisation has succeeded in mobilizing more than a small portion of the Muslim faithful. Muslim organisations that support terrorism against the Indian state and non-Muslim Indians are very small and lack influence or popular following outside of Kashmir. India`s vibrant democracy has ensured that the large Muslim community has a voice in politics and recent elections have demonstrated that Muslim voters are courted actively by political parties. With a Muslim President (Abdul Kalam) occupying the highest political position in the country, Muslims have been encouraged to seek political power in electoral and parliamentary politics, all but eliminating the appeal of violent extremism.
4. (C) India`s secular education system increasingly integrates Muslim students into the mainstream and has spawned a growing and prosperous Muslim middle class. Muslims, like Indians generally, rely on education and English language competence to provide access to increased job opportunities. In the past, extremist groups focused on Indian universities as potential recruiting grounds, but the economic upturn has transformed this dynamic. Most Muslims approaching graduation from University will be prepared to enter the job market and are not interested in extremism. This cuts down the time when Muslim students are vulnerable to extremist recruitment and compels extremist organisations to target younger students. Economic growth has spawned dramatic social change and Muslim extremists must find potential recruits who have not yet participated in or benefited from the economic boom, consumer capitalism and the attractions of the media. These groups are likely to reject any recruit who has already been enticed away from Islamic separatism into secular values.
And an inclusive culture
5. (C) In order for Islamic extremism to be attractive to Indian Muslim youth, they would have to feel alienated from the mainstream culture. While Muslims are often victimized and discriminated against, traditional barriers to cultural integration are breaking down. Young and dynamic Muslims are popular culture heroes in sports (Sania Mirza) and Bollywood (Sharrukh Khan and many others). The message for young Muslims is that they are Indians first and Muslims second, and that they can fully participate in Indian society and culture and win the adulation and respect of other Indians, regardless of religion. Kashmir —
6. (C) Jammu and Kashmir, India`s only Muslim majority state, is characterised by a different kind of political Islam. Kashmiri Muslims, like many of their counterparts throughout South Asia, have been historically heavily influenced by Sufi Islam, but because of their majority status and geographic isolation in a remote princely state, never saw themselves as part of the Islamic mainstream in pre-partition India. Kashmiri Muslims have worked actively to maintain a separate identity and have resisted integration. This has been compounded by the turbulence and terrorism that have engulfed the state since 1989. The Kashmiri sense of separateness permeates the programs and manifestos of Kashmir`s Islamic groups, and Kashmiri Muslims have not embraced Indian Muslims` aspirations for national integration. Moreover, many Kashmiri Muslims have parted company with their Indian Muslim counterparts and embraced Wahhabi Islam during the insurgency. While Indian Muslims feel compelled to express support for their co-religionists in Kashmir, they tend to look upon Kashmiris with suspicion and try to keep the Kashmiri cause at arm`s length.
7. (C) Separatism and religious extremism have little appeal to Indian Muslims, and the overwhelming majority espouse moderate doctrines. While the conservative Sunni political organisation the Jamaat Islami (JI) and the Deobandi sect espouse Islamic chauvinism, and some of their members express admiration for Osama bin Ladin, their leaders usually do not express such views in public, and there is little to indicate that they have provided anything more than rhetorical support to terrorists. Attacks by Hindu extremists on innocent Muslims and periodic bouts of bloody communal rioting, have led a small number of Muslims to cross the line from sympathizing with violence to engaging in terrorism. Some Kashmiri terrorist groups argue that only attacks outside of Kashmir will shake the Indian state and convince the GOI to withdraw. Members of these two small slivers of the Muslim community provide recruits for groups prone to acts of violence and terrorism, many of which are supported from outside India. The numbers are small, especially outside of Kashmir, but they remain capable of periodic bombings and other acts of violence.
8. (C) Indian Islamic groups that are extreme in their views and activities include Students Islamic Movement of India Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen Marqazi-Jamiyat-e-Ahal-e-Hadith Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam Muslim Security Council of Assam Muslim Volunteer Force Muslim Liberation Army Muslim Security Force Islamic Sevak Sangh United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam.
[Dec 2, 2005 , Classified By: Geoffrey R. Pyatt for Reasons 1.4 (B, D), MULFORD, —Dawn-Guardian News Service