Vivekananda International Foundation in collaboration with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) of the University of Maryland, US Embassy and Facebook organised on November 17-18, 2015, a two-day workshop on Opportunities for Public-Private Partnership in Countering Online Extremism and Recruitment. The main objective of this workshop was to discuss various means to combat the phenomenon of online recruitment into terror organisation such as Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL)
Opening the workshop, Gen. NC Vij, Director, VIF, highlighted the genesis of the start of the terrorist activities and also underscored the need for robust cooperation between private and public entities in combating terrorism. The US Ambassador to India, Richard R. Verma emphasised the importance of shared values between India and the United States in fighting the perpetrators of terrorism. According to him, democratic societies of both the countries should take up steps to prevent religious extremism by involving influential religious clerics. Ambassador Verma emphasised that India can be a global leader in developing “new strategies to counter extremists who co-opt Islamic ideology for violent purposes”.
The keynote address was delivered by MJ Akbar, MP, an internationally acknowledged political analyst. He questioned the approach of Western countries in fighting terrorism and pointed to the lack of clarity in the West about the “fourth world war”. Mr Akbar said that ISIL is the fourth Islamic State, the first three being Pakistan, the second being the Taliban and, third Boko Haram, and called for effective counter-narratives to combat the menace of ISIL style terrorism.
The working sessions started with comprehensive analyses of different dynamics of recruitment into ISIL. Brian Fishman from New America Foundation touched on the roles played by internet and social media forums in promoting ISIL and recruiting foreign fighters from all over the world. Aaron Zelin from Washington Institute for Near East Policy gave a description of the systematic growth of ISIL and pointed out the different features of this outfit, including its social services, collection of taxes, destruction of artefacts, territorial control and understanding the terrain, treatment meted out to captured former officials and insurgents, assault tactics, different forms of punishment (beheading, stoning, etc.). Anthony Lemieux from Georgia State University talked about the brand management endeavours of ISIL, using media propaganda campaigns. The session was moderated by Brandon Behlendorf from START.
The second session focussed on ISIL and its influence on India and South Asia. Sushant Sareen from VIF underlined the need for conceptual clarity about ISIL and other similar Jihadist organisations. Bibhu Routray from Mantraya gave an account of ISIL’s connection with India and explored the changing profiles of people joining the outfits, their success in using internet-based tools, role of ideologues in fanning their ideas. Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy from IPCS highlighted how the absence of good governance and inadequate communication between communities lead to preparing a fertile ground in which radicalisation can spread with relative ease. Nitin Gokhale from VIF spoke of the strengths of Indian social system in resisting the rise of the ISIS inside India. The session was moderated by Susan Sim from Soufan Group.