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28 February 2017 Editorial


28 FEBRUARY 2017

The IS challenge

The arrest of two suspected Islamic State associates on Sunday from Gujarat once again raises the question whether the terrorist group is finding support in India. Coincidentally, the arrests happened the same day that Hafeezudin T.K., one of the 21 persons who went missing from Kerala last year and were believed to have joined the IS, was reported to have been killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan. If these allegations and reports are correct, it would show that the IS is gaining some influence at least among a handful of youth in India. In recent months, anti-terror officials have arrested young people from different parts of the country — in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal and Rajasthan. The IS thrives on support from foreign jihadists, largely the young. Ever since the organisation declared a ‘Caliphate’ in 2014, it has attracted tens of thousands of fighters from around the world. It used two tactics — urging sympathisers either to travel to Iraq or Syria, its strongholds, and join the war, or carry out terror attacks in their own countries after declaring allegiance to the ‘Caliph’, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. India has remained largely insulated from this trend. The number of Indians to have joined the ranks of the IS is very small. According to a December 2015 report by the intelligence company Soufan Group, the number of Indians who have joined the IS was 23, compared to 760 from the U.K. and 150 from the U.S.

The IS’s puritanical, one-size-fits-all brand of Islam hasn’t found much resonance in India. Given the syncretic nature of Indian Islam, it is extremely difficult for groups such as the IS to become popular among Muslims, as it did in parts of Iraq and Syria. But lone- wolf attacks, inspired by the IS world view and tactics, could pose security risks. The IS is not recruiting people through local communities as in the case of other terror organisations or, as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, through madrasas. The IS’s medium is the Internet. It reaches out through online propaganda. This is all the more significant at a time when the IS is under attack in its core territories and is desperate to expand its reach beyond West Asia. Of late it has carried out major terrorist attacks in India’s neighbourhood — in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, including the deadly bombing at the Sehwan Sufi shrine in Sindh. This outreach to South Asia should worry India. To prevent the group from gaining a foothold on its territory, India needs high-level intelligence and counter-terror operations to continue. Equally important is better coordination between the state and Muslim religious leaders in countering radicalisation and having in place specific de-radicalisation programmes, as western governments do. It is important to not let these isolated arrests be blown out of proportion to target the larger Muslim population, which right-wing elements often try to do. Bigotry cannot be checked with bigotry.

Moonlit reality

An hour into the Oscar ceremony, there was a whiff of uncertainty in the air. La La Land was supposed to mop up every award in sight, but the first sign that the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had other ideas came when the winner for Best Costume Design was announced. Everyone expected Mary Zophres to win for her retro-revival Technicolor clothes in La La Land — the eventual winner, Colleen Atwood for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, seemed surprised too. But as other awards began to slip away from the well-reviewed musical, a theme could be teased out. What is Fantastic Beasts if not a plea for equal treatment of people, magical or otherwise? Then, Arrival, a film about the inherent benignity of aliens (read immigrants) won for Best Sound Editing. Hacksaw Ridge, which is, in a way, an anti-guns movie, won in two categories. Fences, about an African-American father who fears racial discrimination, took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Earlier, Moonlight, featuring two minority communities (black and gay), won for Best Supporting Actor. This turned out to be one of those years the Oscar voter was underestimated. As a majority of voters are actors, there was the tendency to think they’d reward La La Land, a celebration of creation: the heroine wants to make movies, the hero wants to make jazz. It looked like the year of The Artist all over again.

If that 2011 Best Picture winner recreated the silent film era, La La Land  looks back at the Hollywood musical. More importantly, both films were a cocoon of comfort in the worst of times. After the tsunami that devastated Japan, after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, after Arab Spring, after riots in London, and after an event that proved far more tragic to disciples of design, the demise of Steve Jobs, The Artist was less film than balm. It was a world in which the biggest catastrophe was the arrival of talking pictures. It stood to reason that Hollywood, this year, needed to retreat into a similarly reassuring bubble, similarly distanced from reality, after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections. The confusion over Best Picture summed it up perfectly. First, it was La La Land. Fantasy, it appeared, had won. Then, it was announced that a mistake had been made. The winner was actually Moonlight. Reality, it turned out, could not be kept at bay, not in a year an Iranian director boycotted the ceremony in protest. Asghar Farhadi, whose The Salesman won in the Best Foreign Film category, sent a note where he said his absence was “out of respect for the people of my country and those of six other nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.” It was indeed a grim reminder that the world under Mr. Trump is no La La Land.

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