Tony Blair Institute for Global Change


Global Extremism This Week

Global Extremism This Week


4 min read

Protesters in Mumbai condemn the killing of minorities in India in July 2017. 


Hindu hardliners threaten India’s minorities, exposing the scale of extremist ideology. Elsewhere, ISIS has been defeated in Iraq, but the group is still a violent influence globally. Meanwhile, the role of Shia militias in the country could become an increasing cause for concern.


Footage of a 50-year-old Muslim labourer being violently murdered by a Hindu man has exposed the deadly nature of Hindu extremism in India. In one video, Shambhu Lal Regar said he killed the man to “protect the honour of Hindus against Muslims.” Despite police calls for people not to watch the videos for fear of encouraging retaliatory assaults, the footage has been shown on national television and widely shared on social media.

Hindus comprise 80 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people, while Muslims make up about 14 per cent. Most violence against Muslims involves fringe Hindu vigilante groups that are active in small towns and cities. These extremists have a deep mistrust of Islam and of India’s other religious minorities and lower castes. For hardliners, Hindu primacy and supremacy are paramount, and extremists justify the use of violence to ensure their dominance.

India is the world’s most populous democracy. It is essential that political powers work to ensure hard-line Hindu extremists do not threaten the country’s democratic principles. Violence against Muslims and other minorities must be condemned, and its perpetrators punished. It is also important that India’s government does more to reach out to minority groups and promote co-existence and social cohesion.

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Although Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared Iraq free of ISIS control, the ideological legacy the group leaves behind continues to pose a risk in Iraq and elsewhere. Extremist violence is not contained within an imagined state structure, nor does the loss of such a structure signal the demise of extremism.

In neighbouring Syria, ISIS attacked other extremists, briefly taking over parts of Idlib province, a former stronghold, before being beaten back. ISIS militants are still fighting in areas of Syria, despite a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that the fight against the group was over. Even if this eventually becomes true, the romanticised idea of an ISIS state and the violent tendencies that come with it have affected a generation of budding radicals.

In New York, officials claimed that the attacker whose pipe bomb detonated prematurely in Manhattan on 11 December had declared allegiance to ISIS and planned the attack in retaliation for Israeli actions in Gaza. Over the years, the group has constantly nurtured lone-wolf attacks in the West.

Returning and migrating fighters are still a concern. The African Union stated that up to 6,000 fighters could return to the continent. In Indonesia, at least 19 ISIS militants were arrested, while Germany warned that the group remains a serious threat.

The Afghan army has launched a major operation in the north of the country to counter ISIS’ advances. Yet an ideological battle is needed to stop radicalisation and expansion. Effectively countering ISIS’ pull factors and vision, destroying its perceived legitimacy, and planning for a post-ISIS world may finally put an end to the group’s global insurgency.

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An influential Iraqi Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, called on his fighters to hand back state-issued weapons to the government. Sadr’s comments followed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s announcement of victory over ISIS. “We defeated ISIS through our unity and sacrifice for the nation. Long live Iraq and its people,” Abadi declared after over three years of military operations against the jihadi group.

Sadr’s fighters, known as the Peace Brigades, make up part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a predominantly Shia umbrella organisation aligned with government forces fighting ISIS. In 2016, the Iraqi government passed a bill that recognised the PMF as a government entity operating alongside the military.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Iraq to dismantle all militias, including the PMF. The call came after the US had proposed a bill to impose sanctions on Shia militias in Iraq. Previously, Human Rights Watch had accused Shia militias of human rights abuses during an operation in Hawija.

In recent days, immediate concerns have focused on the remaining threat of ISIS outside Iraq and on remaining cells inside the country. But international attention and allegations against Iraq’s Shia militias could potentially intensify after ISIS’ recent defeat. Moreover, sectarian and ethnic divides in Iraq need to be addressed to promote stability after the fall of the jihadi group. 

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