Since 9/11, the international community has become very anxious about radical ideologies that have led to the narrative-based religious militancy that has created a new security dilemma across the world. A new COMSATS/Noragric study asked what are the mechanism through which militants' narratives emerge, and how do these narratives gain plausibility?
Increase in religiously motivated conflict
Conflict studies in the 1980s reveal that two out of 64 militant groups at that time were religiously motivated, while this number increased to 26 out of 56 conflicts during 1990s. This sudden increase has been attributed to the success of narratives floated by militants in societies across the globe, where a narrative is a story or description of events.
Unlike other faith-based conflicts, the militancy in the Swat district of Pakistan appears to be unique as militants used religion for promoting their agenda and giving voices to the grievances of the poor people through a popular narrative.
Well thought-out, localized narratives to gain support
The study found that militants exploited the situation in Swat by borrowing ideology from Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban, and blending it with local culture to develop a well thought-out localized narrative. The militant leader Fazal Hayat (more commonly known as Maulana Fazlullah) established a mobile FM radio station and gave sermons on Islamic teachings, addressing women specifically. This increased the intensity of religious feelings in the whole locality, as women started urging their male relatives towards the militants’ narrative. With a ban on watching TV, the number of Fazlullah’s listeners increased manifold.
Further study required on the strategic mechanisms of militancy
The study concludes that the formulation and popularization of social narratives play vital roles in social movements and conflicts, mustering popular support for vested interests that may be used against states and the general public. Serious policy options must be formulated based on further research findings to address the strategic mechanisms of militancy, rather than leaving it to chance.
Read the article in the Journal of Human Security:
The Narrative of Militancy: A Case Study of Swat, Pakistan by Qasim Ali Shah, Bahadar Nawab, Ingrid Nyborg & Noor Elahi (open access).