Srinagar: In the 13th issue of Debiq, the mouth-piece of the Islamic State (IS), the outfit claimed that it had strengthened its foothold in Kashmir. It also called for the region's 'liberation’. The assertion, however, was vehemently opposed by the senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who also pointed out the group’s ‘insincerity’ towards its global causes.
A lot of discussion ensued as to whether the so-called Islamic State, which has wreaked havoc in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, will find a resonance in the restive Himalayan region which has already witnessed two bloody decades of violence.
A major concern among the security establishment in the past year has been the waving of IS flags, especially in the Nowhatta area of Srinagar, the neighborhood surrounding Jamia Masjid, the central mosque in the city, by young people.
Here, contextualising flag weaving by these desperate youngsters is important.
The hoisting of IS flags has become a routine for protesters, mostly youth, after Friday congregational prayers. While people outside the state are awestruck due this phenomenon, observers, in Kashmir, have dismissed it as a mere ‘mischief.’
Surprisingly, a majority of people in the valley are of the opinion that waving of IS flags is a mere representation of juvenile theatrics which is primarily aimed to ‘provoke’ the state establishment.
The teenage protesters, as young as 13-years-old, are aware that Islamic State is a raging phenomenon in the Middle East, and, have understood the nuisance value these flags now bear to annoy the system.
The youngsters realised this after they hoisted the flag for the first time more than a year ago and the footage they received in the self-indulging vigilante media channels, who ran the flag show over and over again warning against an apparent threat in the already volatile state.
Even after two years, the popularity of IS has not spread beyond the walls of the city and even not beyond the Nowhatta neighbourhood. As for the young protesters, the tactic to unfurl the IS flag in downtown alleys at a distance from where media attention can be grabbed has worked. The strategy of the so-called IS sympathisers is confined to just how and where the state should spot these flags.
To fill the ever-demanding television hunger for breaking news, the television reporters fill the gap in Srinagar and the kids run away happily, knowing they have irritated the state enough for the day.
Over the years, unlike in the beginning, it is gradually becoming quite evident that there will be no takers of the extreme ideology in Kashmir, which is why several other flags or posters of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani have slowly begun to replace the IS flags.
Both mainstream politicians and the separatist camp have been denouncing the violence perpetrated by the ISIS fighters. Severing linkage of IS with Kashmir, Syed Ali Geelani says there are no chances of the presence of “Daesh” in this region, but these kinds of statements can provide a “tool for India and they will try in every possible ways to ‘defame’ the genuine struggle of Kashmiri people in the entire world.”
Rebuking the claims of IS, Geelani questions the direction and right planning of the group and says if the IS were sincere then they should first put the liberation of the Aqsa Mosque from the Israeli occupation as priority.
The Hurriyat hardliner has time and again disassociated from people who wave IS flags in Srinagar city. He has time and again termed the organisation ‘un-Islamic’.
“When they (ISIS) kill Shias, it is wrong. When they ask Christians to convert to Islam by force, it is wrong. I say it publicly with full authority that they do it wrong. Islam never said to force someone to become Muslim.”
Understanding this phenomena has become important than ever for the reason ISIS now claims it would try to expand its outreach to Kashmir and would soon advance expand its reign of terror to Kashmir. One of its leaders Hafiz Saeed Khan said in an interview to the group’s propaganda magazine that “they want free the land occupied by cow-worshipping Hindus.”
“It (Kashmir) had once been under the authority of the Muslims, along with the regions surrounding it. Afterwards, the secularist... cow-worshipping Hindus and atheist Chinese conquered other nearby regions, as is the case in parts of Kashmir and Turkistan,” he said.
There have been attempts to push Islam with an extremist orientation in Kashmir, a state brought up on the Sufi ethos. Even then, the only extreme that people in Kashmir have reached is what Geelani professes given his outreach and following in Kashmir. It does not mean much.
Police officials in Kashmir have the same opinion about ‘ISIS sympathisers’ in the Valley.
They have pointed out how several boys detained last year failed to read what was written on these flags prepared using portable swing machines in Srinagar. Some flags recovered from a group of teenagers by the police also mentioned a painter’s signature on them.
The waving of these flags have remained limited to Srinagar city. Most of the boys who wave these flags know they won’t get any media attention outside the city.