Extremism is neither based on sound principles of religion, nor does it respect multicultural and pluralistic ethos of nation-states, and nor is it confined to a particular country or continent. Source: ITAR-TASS
Nations across the globe despite differences mostly agree that extremism and terrorism are common threats to multiethnic and pluralistic states. When the 9/11 incident took place, Russian President Vladimir Putin called his US counterpart, George W. Bush and offered help, and termed the religion-based terrorist menace ‘the plague of 21st century.’ The US changed its approach to the Chechnya issue and the State Department enlisted Islamic Caucasus Emirate (or Imarat Kavkaz) in the list of terrorist organizations. In 2011, the Russian authorities alerted the US intelligence about the Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two accused brothers behind the Boston blasts and his possible radicalisation during his visit to the North Caucasus, which witnessed extremist violence in recent years.
The menace of religious extremism was prevalent in earlier periods of history, but seldom assumed global proportions. The Afghanistan war in late-1970s and the 1980s and the conflict in the Middle East led to radicalisation of conflicts which were more of political or territorial nature. The post-Cold War world witnessed the rise of intra-states conflicts with religion as a major dimension to it. Also, the onset of globalisation, the faster growth in communication technologies, helped foster the radial movements across the globe. The social networking sites, cell phones, emails and YouTube were effective tools to promote and propagate religious extremist agenda. To give one example, in a single day in 2000, a Russian White Paper revealed, more than a million dollars were transferred electronically to Chechen militants from another organisation based in the Middle East to continue the war against Russia. The 2008 Mumbai terror attackers could collect funding from Italy through electronic transfers. Similarly, the Facebook pages of the brothers, involved in the Boston marathon attack, contained messages that display their proclivity to extremism.
In this particular marathon case, the global nature of extremism can be found vivid. Chechen in ethnic origin, the Tsarnaev brothers lived in Kyrgyzstan and migrated to the city of Boston as refugees in 2002. Though it is yet clearly established whether they were inspired by the Caucasian militants or not, the reports suggest that the visits to the north Caucasus particularly in 2011 could have indoctrinated the brothers in extremist ideas. The 26-year old elder brother, a boxer, in his interview titled ‘will box for passport’ claimed that he has no American friend. By this time, he started following strict religious practices. He then started enlisting support of the younger, 19-year old, brother Dzhokhar who was otherwise affable with trappings of talent. A YouTube clip linked to Tamerlan suggested his links to extremist ideas related to Islam. Dzhokhar had posted a message on Twitter just before few days of the attack: “If you have knowledge and the inspiration all that’s left is take action”. Though it is not yet conclusively established whether there is a link between the brothers and the Caucasian militants, it needs emphasis that the ideas of extremism can travel across borders, and advanced communication technologies have made easier their propagation.
Dmitry Peskov of the Russian Presidential press office, however, suggested that it is difficult to have conclusive evidence of the militant link of the brothers with the Caucasus. He said, “We are giving close attention to all information we get from the media.”
This scenario gives rise to the prospect of increasing cooperation among nations to cooperate not only in the field of technology in order to counter cyber crimes or hacking or preaching of radical ideology, but also active cooperation in terms of sharing intelligence and real time information.
The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper reported on April 21 that the Russian authorities had alerted about Tamerlan to the US authorities in 2011. He was suspected to be “a follower of radical Islam” and could be trained to join militant groups. In hindsight, it can be argued that had Tamerlan’s mind been scanned properly, the marathon tragedy could have been avoided. The blasts killed three people including an eight year old boy and a 23-year old Chinese student besides injuring more than hundred people, some of whom became maimed.
In the aftermath of the attack, Putin expressed his condolences for the tragic loss of life. The White House in Washington stated that President Obama “praised the close cooperation that the United States has received from Russia on counter-terrorism, including in the wake of the Boston attack.” One may expect that Russia and US would work together to unravel the links between the tragedy in the Boston and the extremism in the North Caucasus and/or Central Asia.
In the context of Islamic extremism and terrorism, Afghanistan is one of its major loci. Return of the Taliban to power would certainly be a major boost for radical groups like Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Central Asia, Middle East or Africa to spread their menace wider. Starting from Mali in Africa, in which the French-led forces has restored semblance of stability to Syria, in which the conflict has increasingly become a hotbed of sectarianism and violence, to Afghanistan where Taliban is gaining increasing ascendancy, the rising menace of religious extremism is indeed the new plague of 21st century, to use Putin’s phrase.
Extremism is neither based on sound principles of religion, nor does it respect multicultural and pluralistic ethos of nation-states, and in a geographical sense, nor is it confined to a particular country or continent. The Boston Marathon tragedy corroborates this argument. It also corroborates that extremism is so wide in its reach and so amorphous, as well as concrete, in its operations and impact, wherewithal of a particular nation is not sufficient enough to tackle it. The recent incident in the US would likely help develop common strategies between major powers on extremism. Such cooperation would not just curtail the menace but also weaken the arguments of the proponents of new Cold War, and foster peace and stability across the globe.
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