India will seek the US’s help in tracking down the origins of offensive web pages hosted on American servers which have been used to inflame Muslim sentiments here.
The decision to seek the help of the US Department of Homeland Security and other agencies comes after initial investigations by intermediaries like Google and Facebook pointed to Pakistan being the main source for the offensive images, videos and hate SMSs. The government said that the social networking sites have expressed their inability to take action against uploaders of the offensive content on the grounds that they were outside the jurisdiction of India.
Not satisfied with the response of these sites, the government in a statement called for “more and quicker action to address such a sensitive issue which concerns restoring peace, harmony, public order and national security”, setting the stage for another round of tough negotiations between the government and intermediaries over how to regulate content on the internet.
With the Union government stating that elements inside Pakistan uploaded morphed, incendiary videos and images on the internet with the aim of creating communal frenzy in India, Muslim leaders behind the August 11 protest rally in Mumbai said Pakistan should be declared a “terrorist state” for its latest intransigence.
Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said, “Why this perception that Muslims in India always look to or are swayed by Pakistan? To hell with Pakistan... Will the home secretary tell us what Indian agencies were doing when Pakistan sent bulk messages to India?”
The events leading to the recent outbreak of panic, mistrust and violence could well be a part of a new low-cost proxy war against India. The aim is clear: Destabilize India at a time when the political leadership is paralyzed. And, spreading rumours electronically is zero-expense compared to the economic and communal costs of its fallout.
In the aftermath of a tumultuous few weeks where the communal fabric of the country has been attacked, pitting Muslims against tribal Bodos and other Indians from the north-east, the knowledge that Pakistani fundamentalist groups may be responsible for inciting hatred could provide another piece to the anti-India jihad strategy.
Terrorism analyst B Raman calls this “psy-jihad”. Its essential elements are images of Muslim persecution, even if location-unspecific, uploaded on radical ideology websites, or even news portals.
Many of the images were taken from events like the Sichuan earthquake in China and the monks’ protest in Myanmar, but they were retransmitted to convey as if they were happening realtime in India. These were sent with rabid hate messages to Muslims, stoking the “Islam in danger” sentiment.
The fresh offensive from across the border seeks to control the minds of vulnerable communities by preying on a propagated sense of victimhood. It is intended to make an Indian Muslim believe that his future in India is under threat and instigates the community to violence and mob action as was recently seen in Mumbai.
What is interesting is that these inflammatory sentiments are not only pushed through the youth, but they come with a concerted bid to spur unrest and violence.
And it is as low-cost as it can get. Those behind it remain protected by the blanket of anonymity provided by the web as well as a friendly regime, out of harm’s way. This adds to the plausible deniability factor, while achieving the goal of destabilizing India at a time when the political leadership is itself in a state of fragile stasis.
The effectiveness is enhanced by the fact that while sending rumours is a zero-expense business, it exacts a heavy price from the target. The cost of communal conflagration across cities and regions can be devastating for an economy and inter-community ties.
It is clear that the Indian security establishment was caught off-guard. In 2010, when the UK was hit by a series of riots in London, the authorities clamped down hard — blocking all social networking sites and even BlackBerry Messenger services.
Indian authorities are afraid to go that far, for fear of attracting criticism from the liberal elite. Meanwhile, the unrest and fear has achieved the equivalent of a terror attack, without firing a single shot, or using a foreign hand overtly. This can happen again. And again. Because in a networked world, this kind of cyber warfare is difficult to prevent.
Also, this is a more dangerous way of conducting jihad, because it uses local resources, local grievances and local methods.