The evolution of jihadist radicalization in Asia
Terrorismo e Radicalizzazione

The evolution of jihadist radicalization in Asia

Di Francesca Manenti


Nearly four years since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of the “Caliphate” in Iraq by ISIS or Daesh, jihadist terrorism has become an increasingly horizontal phenomenon. ISIS represents the embodiment of a utopian dream – the reconstruction of a mythological “golden age” ruled by the strictest interpretation of Islam, as conveniently adapted and reinterpreted to fit the group’s radical ideology. ISIS has therefore constructed a very powerful tool: a palace of dreams, rooted in a strong politico-religious ideological framework, that exploits real or perceived grievances of people living a social and personal malaise. Abandoned the elitist requisites previously demanded by al-Qaeda, in these years Daesh has been able to set itself as a reference both for those groups of insurgents who needed a new bulwark which to give prestige to their cause with and for individuals looking for a sense to give to their life.

Although often overshadowed by the turbulent scenarios in the Middle East, Asia is also strongly affected by the new wave of jihadist radicalization. Known as the historic shelter of al-Qaeda’s leadership since the second half of the 1990s, in fact, Asia has always been a fertile ground for the branching of the network connected to international terrorism. The osmotic collaboration between al-Qaeda and the different groups of insurgency in South Asia, on one hand, and training and financial support offered to the realities in Southeast Asia, on the other, have made Asian theatres a crucial front in the fight against terrorism for the International Community.

In this framework, the turnover between al-Qaeda and Daesh in the leadership of international terrorism, the reflection of their competition on national insurgencies and the effects caused by the spread inside the region of the new model of jihadism offered by the Caliphate have affected also Asia. As the heterogeneity of the different national environments and the differences in the affiliation to al-Qaeda manifested within each countries, the evolution of the jihadist phenomenon is not producing a homogeneous response across the region.

This paper aims at analyzing how this evolution is occurring, which consequences could create for the national and regional stability and how States in Asia are facing to this challenge. It is divided in three parts. The first part aims at tracing the evolution from al-Qaeda to Daesh, presenting the Caliphate model and analyzing how it changed the concept of jihadism itself. Starting from the basic principles of jihadist ideology, this section will underline how differently the two groups used it to shape their struggle to consolidate their power. It focuses on the reasons why this evolution has shaped and affected the international terrorism in the last four years. This section ends analyzing the plausible future of jihadist international terrorism, in the light of Daesh’s defeated in Middle East and the possible resurgence of al-Qaeda.

The second part presents the jihadist panorama in Asia. It presents the competition between al-Qaeda and Daesh in Asian strongholds, recalling the Qaedist rooting in the area and the rising sensibilities for IS’ propaganda. Then, the section focuses on the regional declination of the current jihadism. Through the experience of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia this section intends to underline how the jihadist rhetoric can be adapted to the different social and institutional context and how it affects national security.

The third and final part proposes a framework of policy recommendations for Italy and the European Union in order to create partnerships between Europe and Asian institutions involved in the efforts of de-radicalization and counter-terrorism.

Edited by Ce.S.I. in collaboration with European Foundation for Democracyand realized with the contribution of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and the CSIS | Center for Strategic & International Studies, Indonesia.

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