The evolution of the Islamic State propaganda in India. An Analysis of Voice of Hind

Voice of Hind or Sawt al-Hind Issue 17, the Islamic State’s magazine promoted in India (Credits: Daniele Garofalo Twitter account)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 19 Issue 3
Author: Ayush Verma

The Islamic State started its jihadist propaganda in India in 2020 during the pandemic crisis publishing its magazine Voice of Hind or Sawt al-Hind to encourage Indian Muslims to wage jihad and carry out attacks in the country.

In early 2020, the Islamic State released a propaganda magazine focusing on India, entitled Voice of Hind or Sawt-al Hind.[1] In this article, we will examine the first and twenty-fifth issues of Sawt Al-Hind. This is primarily to track the evolution of content published in the magazine, as the Islamic State plans to capitalise on the insidious and the increased cases of conspicuous communal disharmony in India. The publication (Voice of Hind) aims to actively recruit Indian Muslims by harnessing fears and grievances due to certain political developments in India. The Islamic State announced its establishment of a new branch in India (Wilayat-al Hind) after Indian security forces in Kashmir killed a group member in May 2019.[2] The propaganda publications might preview future threats from the Islamic State to India’s national security. Despite Islamic State’s minimal penetration into India, India’s government should preserve secular solidarity, especially since internet communications have made it easier to broadcast violent and harmful activities in the actual world.

Policymakers and academics have closely followed the Islamic State’s meteoric rise in the past decade. The Islamic State once controlled almost as much territory as the United Kingdom, spanning Syria and Iraq.[3] Although the network lost the territorial control it had in 2014, its ideology and appeal as an organisation remain unchanged. Islamic State’s ability to recruit disillusioned youth from various socio-demographic backgrounds highlights its threat to global security. That being said, despite its ability to persuade people in many regions of the world, Islamic State has had little success recruiting fighters in India. However, that has not stopped the group from trying. In the aftermath of its defeat in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has increasingly focused on recruiting militants in India, hoping to exploit communal tensions and perceived irreconcilable differences between Hindus and Muslims.

Analysis of Voice of Hind or Sawt al-Hind 1st  Issue

The Islamic State’s online media outlet, Al Qitaal Media Center, launched Sawt-al-Hind (voice of hind) on February 24th, 2020, in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. Its first article was titled “So where are you going? A call to Muslims of India.”.[4] Following the riots that erupted in the wake of the announcement of the Citizenship Amendment Act,[5] the Islamic State released the first issue of the magazine in which it called on Indian Muslims to join its jihad.[6] After that, every new issue of the magazine suggested new ways for supporters of the group to carry out attacks in the country while national security and law enforcement agencies were occupied with combating the rampant Coronavirus outbreak.

In February 2020, shortly after the Delhi riots, Islamic State released an online photo defending retaliatory acts in the Wilayat al-Hind, its purported caliphate. Not surprisingly, the group reused and repurposed a viral photograph of a Muslim man being thrashed by a Hindu crowd in Delhi to justify their actions. The very same image was circulated and used the various Indian media outlets as well. Close to three days after the online poster was uploaded, the first issue of the magazine Voice of Hind was published by a pro-Islamic State group; the group intended to use the magazine as a tool to recruit Indian Muslims for its “cause”. The Islamic State’s propaganda, so far, has been able to effectively capitalise on the elements of radicalisation, which resonate most with human beings. One such element, for instance, is the intrinsic urge of humans to look for a sense of purpose.[7]

 For example, in part taken from the first issue of Voice of Hind mentioned below:

“The paradise whose width is the extent of heavens and the earth. He is calling you to the ark before the destructive flood of Allah’s wrath descends.”

The group aims to target Indian Muslims by appealing to their impulses and instilling a sense of commitment to the ummah‘s or community’s principles. This sense of responsibility to the faith can be reinforced when a radicalised individual sees the in-group as a minority facing prejudice.[8] Another such excerpt wherein the sense of obligation is highlighted in the first issue of Voice of Hind is mentioned below:

“What has deluded you, o Muslims of India from your lord, the most noble? The one who created you, fashioned you and gave you due proportion. The one who brought you forth from your mothers’ wombs after having fashioned you in whichever way he pleased?”

Utilising the concept of God is not a newfound strategy by the terror groups worldwide. Al Qaeda has utilised concepts of divinity to entice warriors into terrorist violence by making pledges in the name of God.[9] The intertwined relationship between violence and sacrifice, as well as responsibility to Allah, is frequently emphasised by jihadist groups worldwide and employed as a persuasive technique. The Islamic State has used the same strategy in India, strengthening and underlining a sense of marginalisation among India’s Muslim community, which might help them persuade more people.

In the excerpt mentioned below, the group aims to implore the Muslim population of India to take a stand against the adversity that their community allegedly faces in the country. In the excerpt, one could sense frustration as the group wanted to rally the crowd against the then announced Citizenship Amendment Act. Quoting this act by the Indian government, the group stated:

“In- deed, O Muslims! This is great trial from your lord! O Muslims! What will, perchance, explain to you the severity of the situation?

The Islamic State chastising Indian Muslims who subscribe to a secular democratic socio-political fabric instead of demonstrating loyalty to the caliphate is equally dangerous and pernicious. Using words like “gullible Muslims” in the first issue of Sawt al-Hind, shows the group’s intent to shame the Muslims of India who reprimand the goals and aims of the Islamic State. The Islamic State highlights the notion of Us vs Them while referring to the secular Muslims of India by calling them kafir (apostates). Repudiating moderate Indian Muslims in this way is designed to make those Muslims feel guilty for not being committed to the caliphate. This frustration again is quite apparent in the excerpt below:

 “O Muslims of Hind! Has the time not come for you to wake up from the deep slumber, which has overtaken all of you to the point of an intoxicated stupor? What is it with you that you are being galvanized into “action” only when each of your “civil” rights have been usurped”

Terrorist incidents map of India (1970-2016) (Credits: Phoenix7777Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Analysis of Voice of Hind or Sawt al-Hind Issue 25

With the 25th issue of the Voice of Hind or Sawt al-Hind magazine, Wilayat al-Hind demonstrated the evolution of its messaging. The 25th Issue was published in the first week of March 2022 and was titled “The Daughters of The Companion. The Islamic State has increasingly focused on internal communal issues within some states in India, such as the hijab row in Karnataka, which al-Qaeda covered as well.[10] These groups have been able to repurpose their global message to suit the local narrative prevalent at certain times among the rising communal tension in India. Most of the cases highlighted that terror groups such as the Islamic State or Al Qaeda happened to have taken place in constituencies governed by the ruling party at the centre in India, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the 25th issue of Voice of Hind, ideology is being used to break through Indian resistance against the Indian state or BJP, which is the incumbent ruling party.

On January 1st, 2022, six female students complained that they were not allowed to enter classrooms while wearing hijabs at Government PU College in Udupi, Karnataka, in southern India. These female students then held a press conference in which they claimed that they indeed sought permission but were not allowed to enter the college premises with a hijab (veil). Several videos were released showing verbal spats between Hindu and Muslim community students during the protests after the row. One of the videos showed a Muslim girl wearing a hijab, shouting ‘Alla hu Akbar’ vociferously as a group of goons heckled her.[11] The 25th issue of Voice of Hind covers this event quite extensively, commenting on the state of the modern education system and how it is a system full of Kufr and atheism. Voice of Hind states:

“Disbelief is propagated under the guise of science and technology. Animalistic behavior is labeled as art. The inevitable result of which is the freedom of thought and freedom to question everyone and everything. India, the land of filthy cow worshippers is a prime example of this fitnah.”

The imagery of that girl shouting Allah hu Akbar has also been used by the group to a large extent when they state:

“You cow pee drinkers can’t deter us from defending the Hijab rights of our Sister’s in Islam, it’s an obligation on Muslim men as well to cut down the hands of those who intend to harm our Sister’s in Islam.”

Unsurprisingly, the group calls for an uprising, imploring the Indian Muslims to arm themselves and wake up from their deep slumber. The magazine asks them to wage jihad against the “blasphemous education system” and not plead for any relaxation that is or agreement by law. One could see the frustration in the tone in which the magazine is written as the group expects the Indian Muslims to do more and not be mere bystanders. Throughout the messages released by the Islamic State over the last 25 issues, this has been a consistent theme. Another common topic in the two issues mentioned in this paper is the repudiation of Muslims for accepting the “westernization”, which has brought about the troubles the Muslim community worldwide faces.

Conclusion

Majoritarian fringe organisations’ brutality may isolate the Indian Muslim community from the rest of society, encouraging Muslim youth to turn to terrorism or extremism, hence escalating the threat of jihadi violence in the nation. The alienation of the Muslim community might be a powerful mobiliser weapon for transnational Jihadi organisations trying to increase their cadre and exhibit a consensus in support of their cause, something Indian security agencies should be extremely wary of. Consequently, security authorities must push for and support a reduction in communal violence in order to reduce the likelihood of radicalisation.

Source

[1] Revathi Krishnan (2020) ISIS now using viral image of Muslim man beaten up in Delhi riots to call for ‘retaliation’, The Print. Link: https://theprint.in/india/isis-now-using-viral-image-of-muslim-man-beaten-up-in-delhi-riots-to-call-for-retaliation/372813/

[2] Iraqinews (2019) IS establishes Wilayat al-Hind after clashes in Kashmir. Link: https://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/is-announce-establishing-wilayat-al-hind/

[3] Kabir Taneja (2018) Uncovering the Influence of ISIS in India, Observer Research Foundation. Link: https://www.orfonline.org/research/42378-uncovering-the-influence-of-isis-in-india/

[4] Kabir Taneja (2022) Reviewing the evolution of pro-Islamic State propaganda in South Asia, Observer Research Foundation. Link: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/reviewing-the-evolution-of-pro-islamic-state-propaganda-in-south-asia/

[5] On December 11th, 2019, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (2019) which grants citizenship to non-Muslim migrants who were persecuted because of their religion and entered India before 31 December 2014. Certain segments of society viewed the bill as contrary to India’s secular fabric. In the aftermath of its passage into law, protests erupted over the discriminatory nature of the bill.

[6] Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Suhasini Raj, Hari Kumar (2020) How Delhi’s Police Turned Against Muslims, The New York Times. Link:  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/world/asia/india-police-muslims.html

[7] Arie Kruglanski, Katarzyna Jasko, David Webber, Marina Chernikova and Erica Molinario (2018) The Making of Violent Extremists, American Psychological Association, Vol 22 (1), pp. 107-120

[8] Clara Egger, Raùl Magni-Berton (2021) The Role of Islamist Ideology in Shaping Muslims Believers’ Attitudes toward Terrorism: Evidence from Europe, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol 44(7), pp. 581-604

[9] Walter Laqueur (2003) Fighting For God: Motivations and Aims of Religious Terrorists, Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 15(4), pp. 190-201

[10] The quote was originally made by Kabir Taneja, a fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF). See https://www.militantwire.com/p/islamic-state-hind-province-amalgamates?s=r&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=direct

[11] Sreeja M S (2022) Karnataka Hijab Row And Timeline Of Events, NDTV. Link: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/explained-karnataka-hijab-row-and-timeline-of-events-2774140


Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpecialEurasia. This analysis is part of SpecialEurasia’s project “Monitoring Jihadist Propaganda & Terrorism” which has academic and research purposes only and does not endorse any posted material.