Counterterrorism: Youth have grievances, we better address these

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, December 21st, 2017

File photo of militants, who attacked Gulshan cafe - Holey Artisan in July last year testing country’s capability to fight militancy.


Since Holey Artisan days Bangladesh has seen enough of dreaded acts of militancy. Luckily in most of the cases these so-called Islamist extremists couldn’t make much of inroads and subsequently subdued and overpowered by the law enforcers. Government often take credit, and rightfully so, for containing the menace. It must have spent a lot on hardware – in terms of buying arms and ammunitions, equipment and gadgets, vehicles and logistics for the state’s forces to fight the fight. It must have equipped the special counter-terrorism unit and other specialized and trained forces with more manpower and budgets to make sure extremism is well contained, extremists remain either behind bar or on the run and radicalism doesn’t creep in.


Today militants’ network has got weakened in post-Holey Artisan successive anti-terror drives conducted in Solakia, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Moulvibazar, Sylhet, Jhenidah, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Comilla and so many other places all over the country. Over 100 people got killed, majority of them militants including the so-called New JMB chief Tamim Chowdhury in as many as 30 counterterrorism operations till date. Many other militants were arrested. Many weapons, bombs, suicide vests, bomb-making materials were seized. This is definitely a success in Bangladesh’s continual fight against extremism.


But over 17 months after the deadly attack on Holey Artisan, the incident that ripped through the otherwise coherent social fabric of Bangladesh and brought the nation under global terror spotlight, fighting militancy by the means of ‘hardware’ is proven to be a mission partly accomplished. Radicals are at bay not radicalism. It’s not only about using force and weapon tactics; it’s not only about keeping track and intel – probably it takes something more than that to uproot the seeds of extremism from a society.


It’s about time we better invest more on ‘software’ – on education, on job creation, on establishing rule of law and on building institutions. If a recently carried out study on university-going youths is something to go by – we’ve to ponder whether we’ve really accomplished much in our fight against extremism.


The study identified, among others, mal-governance, corruption, absence of rule of law and a lack of understanding of religion among the youth as major causes of extremism among university students. Besides, frustration, loneliness, drug addiction, a lack of proper vision and guidance and, at times, affluence have been found as major drivers of violent extremism among university students. And this influence of extremism on them is clearly evident in the way they talk, dress and observe various national and cultural days.


It was found out that the youth have grievances about the way the state machinery operates. They think no rules or systems are working in the country at present. The youth cannot believe they will get jobs on completion of their formal education if they follow the path of honesty. Such a state of confusion is pushing them towards extremism. The research found that students now use Arabic words while greeting and bidding farewell and also during other everyday activities. The use of head scarves such as hijab and niqab by female students and the trend of wearing trousers above the ankles by the male students — both in line with Wahhabism dress code — are on the rise. The study also found many students have dissenting views on celebrating various national days. Some of them even consider the Bangla new year celebration rally – ‘Mongol Shova Jatra’, which is also a UNESCO declared ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ as Hindu culture.


Three Dhaka University teachers – Prof lmtiaz Ahmed, Prof Amena Mohsin and Prof Delwar Hossain – based their study — Bangladesh: Facing Challenges of Radicalization and Violent Extremism — on interviews with students of six public and private universities. Their study sought to understand the root causes of violent extremism, its challenges and the way out. They came out open with the study findings at a programme in the city on December 14.


Those who carried out the study recommended for creating spaces and institutions — cultural, economic and political — which would integrate human rights and be gender sensitive. Now very naturally question comes into mind why should today’s youth, the university-goers, at this juncture of economic development that we so proudly boast, feel frustrated, why should they have grievances about the way the state machinery is operating. Haven’t we toppled the autocratic regime a long time back (1990 to be precise) and isn’t the time lapse enough for democratic institution building? Except for a few aberrations when caretakers or the military-aided quasi-caretaker governments had some brief stints, Awami League and BNP basically ruled this country all along since 1991. So these two parties have to take the blame for a large part of reasons that made today’s young population frustrated and dejected. They (AL and BNP) must have their respective good shares of credits for poverty alleviation and economic development but a big question haunt us all today that what exactly they have done in institution building and in fighting grafts. When today’s youth get frustrated over their education life – they’ve a genuine reason to do so, given the question leak scenario that has gone all pervasive now. When they feel dejected over shrinking employment opportunities – they’ve all the more good reasons to feel so, given the unabated practice of corruptions in public service recruitments.


As we fight the militancy with ‘hardware’ spending taxpayers’ money what we essentially do is try to safeguard our people. In the process bloodshed take place, casualties caused, lives lost and we stand protected. But, in no way, that guarantees end of extremism in the society. To make sure today’s youth are not frustrated and get radicalized, we need to invest some on ‘software’ replacements too. Mal-governance must be replaced with good governance, graft practices have to be stamped out from public services, indiscipline should be replaced by discipline and above all there should be enough space for dissents.

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