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Perspectives on Identity-Based Extremism in the Indo-Pacific
11 Nov 2020

Identity-based extremism is rooted in the ethno-religious identity of a so-called majority “in-group”, and is often used to justify violence against minority “out-groups”. Asia is no stranger to such forms of extremism with the rise of Buddhist extremist groups in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In India, the rise of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu militant organisation, coupled with that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has led to the proliferation of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. In the West, right-wing and white-supremacist extremism have been responsible for more terrorist attacks compared to Islamic terrorism in recent times.

During a webinar on 11 November 2020 hosted by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at RSIS, Assoc Prof Kumar Ramakrishna, Associate Dean for Policy Studies, Research Adviser to National Security Studies Programme and Head of ICPVTR, shed light on Buddhist extremism in Myanmar and provided a framework on the seven characteristics of extremism. He argued that Buddhist extremism was in many ways similar to other acute forms of religious fundamentalism with a systemic and indirect structure.

Prof Shyam Tekwani, Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, provided a historical analysis of Hindu extremism in India, which began with the inception of the RSS and had continued to be proliferated by the current BJP government. He argued that Hindutva was not a form of religious extremism but rather, an idea with civilisation, culture and race at its core.

Dr Sam Mullins, Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, provided detailed insights into right-wing propaganda material that have been promulgated online. He highlighted that the three main strands of thought of right-wing extremists were white supremacy, anti-government and anti-Semitism; and argued that there were fundamental similarities between right-wing extremism and other forms of religious extremism.

As different forms of identity-based extremist violence were often intertwined with non-violent extremist rhetoric and hate speech, policy makers should take into account the “hard” (violent) and “soft” (non-violent) aspects of extremist threats when formulating policies.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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