During Israel's Operation Protective Edge in Gaza (2014), a viral Facebook post emerged featuring militia men flying Palestinian flags and wearing headbands belonging to Hamas's Qassam Brigades. "We are all Hamas," the caption read.
This sort of militant propaganda is common in the Middle East, particularly during times of conflict. In that sense, this post seems unremarkable.
But this post was not made by Hamas, nor by their traditional Arab backers. It was posted by the Pakistani branch of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a group often called the South Asian version of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This striking display of trans-national unanimity is a perfect example of a larger truth: the enemies of Israel and India are increasingly making common cause. Whereas once the alliance was primarily an abstract ideological bond, now the Islamists of the Middle East and South Asia are openly mobilising their networks, coordinating and campaigning for each other's causes. The Islamist ummah is uniting like never before.
Indeed, while many would expect JI's militant display of solidarity with Hamas to be a one-off, it is anything but. It is simply a chapter in a larger campaign dedicated to likening the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that of Kashmir in an effort to attract sympathies from otherwise uninterested parties.
This campaign has gained traction given some historical similarities underlying both conflicts. After all, both conflicts entail post-World War II partitions, ensuing ethnic-religious conflict, competing claims of self-determination, and the debate concerning to what extent can State security be used to suppress terrorism.
Anti-Israel rhetoric has become an integral part of campaigns advancing Kashmiri separatism.
It is no coincidence that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rhetoric often associated with it has become an integral part of campaigns often associated with advancing Kashmiri separatism.
Just days before JI's military exercise, the Emir of JI-Pakistan, Siraj-ul-Haq, openly called for "jihad" against Israel. A few years earlier, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, JI Pakistan's charitable branch, bragged about sending Hamas funds for its "just jihad," suggesting connections go beyond mere rhetoric.
Further, JI's Indian branch's Facebook page has even featured dozens of condemnations concerning all things Israel: Trump's embassy move to Jerusalem, Israel's proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank, etc.
Yet, in addition to JI, many other South Asian Islamist forces like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its subsidiary Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) are seeing their joint struggle as shared.
JuD, the charitable arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the terrorist group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, organised a rally in Pakistan protesting the US's move of its embassy to Jerusalem. At the rally, Hafiz Saeed — LeT's founder — declared that "every child of the Muslim ummah is ready to get cut and die for the defense of Jerusalem.... Israel will be obliterated."
The rally was also attended by the Palestinian Authority's "ambassador" to Pakistan, Waleed Abu Ali, who was recalled due to his controversial meeting with Saeed, whom the UN has designated a terrorist.
However, since the 2019 Pulwama attack, which killed 40 Indian soldiers, and India's subsequent revocation of Article 370 of its Constitution, which kept Indian Kashmir in abeyance under the theory that its final status would be negotiated with Pakistan, the focus has largely flipped.
Now, Middle Eastern Islamists have reciprocated support for radicals in Kashmir.
Just two weeks after the Pulwama attack, Middle East Eye reporter Azad Essa, argued, "When it comes to Palestine and Kashmir, India and Israel are oppressors-in-arms." Spotlighting Pakistani demonstrations during the Gaza conflict of 2014, Essa argued that, to Kashmiris, "Free Gaza" and "India Go Home," are the same message.
But this message of comradeship is not just being propagated by mouthpieces for the Qatari regime — such as the Middle East Eye and Al Jazeera, which frequently laud jihad — but also by Islamist friendly think-tanks, terrorist groups, and other friends and enablers of Islamic theocrats.
Within months of Pulwama, the Islamabad Policy Research Institute released a paper effectively presenting the same case as Essa's. In both cases, terrorism is only mentioned to accuse Israel or India of state-sponsored terrorism, or to mock concerns over terrorism as "jingoistic," or as a pretext for "atrocities," or "crackdowns" on legitimate political actors.
The narrative of a shared Kashmiri-Palestinian struggle has spread rapidly.
This narrative of a shared struggle has spread rapidly, now being parroted by high-ranking government officials, Islamist movement leaders, and senior terrorist group officials. A webinar last month by the Palestine Foundation Pakistan featured multiple Pakistani politicians, leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, Middle Eastern journalists, and most notably, officials from multiple Mideast terrorist organisations and sponsors thereof.
These include Khalid Qadoumi of Hamas, Ibrahim Mousawi of Hezbollah, and multiple representatives from Iran, a US designated State-sponsor of terrorism. Speakers at the event directly compared the "struggles" in Kashmir and Palestine, with Mousawi even going on to claim that "Palestine and Kashmir were the most important issues of humanity."
Also this year, the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, a Turkish think-tank — headed by Sami Al-Arian, who was convicted in the US for his role in funding the Palestinian Islamic jihad — hosted an event with Kashmir Civitas, an "international civil society and strategic advocacy organisation" with offices in countries renowned for Islamist governments: Qatar and Turkey.
There, Al-Arian was invited to explore "how Kashmiris and Palestinians can move forward together as our goal is same: freedom from illegal occupation from India and Israel."
Al-Arian also participated in the World Kashmir Awareness Forum. There he again compared Kashmir to Palestine, claiming that Kashmiris and Palestinians are "struggling for self-determination," as a result of "racists and Zionist powers." Given Al-Arian's decades in the West, it is unsurprising that Western Islamist groups champion similar rhetoric.
For Islamists in South Asia and the Middle East, the reality of Hindu and Jewish sovereignty in lands that were formerly ruled by Islam strikes a nerve, thereby fueling accusations of injustice and human-rights violations, which while seemingly founded in good-nature, genuinely conceal a dark ulterior motive: the revival of Islamist rule.
Indeed, those supporting the Palestinian cause often overlook, downplay, or justify blatant acts of terrorism, equally legitimate claims of self-determination, ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands, and the refusal of Palestinian leadership to even seriously consider a compromise. Supporters of the Kashmiri cause, similarly, ignore nearly identical behaviour on the part of their partisans.
But with much of the Arab world moving in a less-Islamist direction, and the Palestinian issue holding less potency than it used to, Islamists must find a new rallying point to sustain their cause. That point has increasingly become Kashmir. Given that the Palestinian struggle has long served as a beacon of Islamists aspirations, this rhetoric comes with a built-in constituency.
Further, this strategy will revive focus on Israel in due time, while forging previously unexpected alliances. Much like the 2006 Lebanon War is widely believed to have created increased cooperation between Hamas and Hezbollah, these circumstances will likely only increase the already-existing cooperation between South Asian Islamist organisations and their counterparts in the Middle East.
India's enemies can learn from the Palestinian experience with sustained confrontations against superior forces.
Likewise, Indians should not underestimate the aid, material and otherwise, that can flow from radical networks in the Middle East. The radicals Israel fights on a daily basis are highly experienced at sustained confrontations with superior governmental forces, while battling terror designations, terror finance restrictions, all while the world is watching. India's enemies can learn from these experiences.
While prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi have a budding relationship that has increased mutual ties, it is important to note that these ties have only come after decades of chilled relations. Further, head-of-state connections serve as no substitute to the kind of organic growth and ideological agreement that has forged their Islamist adversaries.
Numerous Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members dedicated to India-Israel cooperation indicate that a more grassroots cooperation has already begun. However, the momentum underlying such mutual appreciation underwhelms that of their foes.
Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists all have numerous countries and regions in which they are a majority. Not so Hindus and Jews, and they share a common foe. The faster they come to understand their fates as being intertwined, the better.
Their respective foes, for their part, have already come to this realisation.