Countering Violent Extremism in Central Asia and South Asia: Islamophobia and Cyber-Radicalization in the Digital Era

Widespread political and economic uncertainty following the COVID-19 pandemic, paired with increased access to digital messaging and online social media platforms, has rendered vulnerable populations in Central Asia and South Asia (CASA) even more susceptible to misinformation, radical propaganda, and population targeting by violent extremists. More, studies show that violent extremism is inextricably linked with Islamophobia. Violent extremist recruiters frequently capitalize on publicized Islamophobic events to spread digital misinformation and lure disenfranchised recruits, particularly among youth populations. A debilitated Afghanistan only compounds these issues in CASA. The growing humanitarian crisis in the wake of U.S. military withdrawal, leaves this impoverished nation ripe for the proliferation of violent extremist activity that will reach far beyond its borders. Weaponized cyber-misinformation is a moving target that threatens even rural populations. Effective deterrence calls for novel multilateral efforts between great and local powers, both on and offline, to dispel skewed narratives and reinforce positive counter-narratives. While expanding access to digital communications in CASA presents obvious challenges for countering violent extremism, it likewise affords vital new opportunities for cooperation between global and regional powers to reach previously unreachable, vulnerable populations.

Tags: Central Asia, Misinformation, Propaganda, South Asia, Violent extremism