The Politics of Extremism in South Asia

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The Politics of Extremism in South Asia
By Deepa Ollapally
Cambridge University Press, 2008
256 pp. $35.99
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Dissenting from the conventional view that extremism is caused by religious belief, poverty, or repression, Ollapally presents a series of concise yet probing historical analyses of how security concerns, both domestic and international, led South Asian states to foster extremist movements in their own backyards, where they had previously barely existed. Two of the stories she tells are relatively well known. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, supported the rise of the Taliban to prosecute the struggle against the Soviet occupation. In Pakistan, the Pakistani military and intelligence authorities sponsored religious militancy in order to legitimize military rule, weaken civilian opponents, contain secessionism, exert influence in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and help spur terrorist incidents in India. Less well known are the cases of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In the former, Ollapally argues, the Sinhalese Buddhist majority felt insecure in the face of Tamil dominance in the wider region and gravitated toward a hard-line nationalism that generated an extremist Tamil response. In the latter -- the case in which her causal argument is least clear -- an existing Islamist movement gained strength in part because of concerns about Indian encirclement. Ollapally views India as a moderate, secularist island in the midst of regional identity storms, and she does not address the sources of Hindu militancy there.