Our lessons from mumbai carnage | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 06, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 06, 2008

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Our lessons from mumbai carnage

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Carnage at Chhatrapati Shivajee railway station in Mumbai.

IT was only on 24th November last that this writer pointed to the lurking threat of the so-called religious extremists to our democratic polity. In fact, there are enough indications to believe that the extremists who masterminded and perpetrated the mindless violence in the not-too-distant past in Bangladesh are lying low on account of tactical reasons. The Mumbai carnage of 26th to 28th November bears fearsome testimony to the premonition that the terror network suspected to be maintaining regional connection can strike at ease even in a locale that has seen repeated violence.
The question is, how prepared and alert are we to face an eventuality like the one at Mumbai? Is it not time that we ask ourselves if a perception has developed among the terrorist group that the Bangladeshi State is inherently incapable of meeting their challenge and that it has become soft and indolent. We may have to ascertain if quite a few parties have developed a vested interest in a soft state, a weak government and ineffective implementation of the laws. Simultaneously, are foreign funds flowing substantially to various organizations and groups which serve, willingly or unwillingly, the long term objective of some political parties suspected to be aligned or sympathetic to the regional or international terror network?
Since terrorism of the so-called Islamic extremists have increased in its very nature thereby demanding changes in the strategy to counter it, are we ready to seriously study the problem, one may ponder. This is natural because we do not witness sufficient attempts being made to examine links between terrorist groups, the conditions in which they had spawned, the politician-militant nexus and other forms of patronage these groups receive, the proliferation of small arms leading to the growth of private armies etc. The question is, are we trying to appreciate all the factors that contribute to the 'quality and extent' of internal security threats? Another specific question could be whether our failure to deal with the terrorist crimes is largely attributable to the inefficiency and corruption of the law enforcing machinery.
We have to know if in recent years the establishment had shown a great degree of indulgence to terrorist groups and if any covert sympathy had allowed the terrorists to cloak their methods in a garb of "Jehad".
It needs to be borne in mind that in fighting or controlling or even containing the so-called religious extremism, the first step is to understand and appreciate the very prevalence of such elements in a given society and its pernicious effects on the way of life of the citizens. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, we had been perilously late in awakening to the realities on ground. This is not to discredit anybody or apportion blame to any particular political party because the growth and muscle flexing of the obscurantist elements has not been limited to the tenure of one regime. Cumulative inaction of the regulatory authority resulting from a lack of appreciation by policy-makers about the mindset and modus-operandi of the extremists has brought us to the present state of affairs.
We need to be clear and definite about the threat perception. This is crucial because one cannot possibly treat a disease by denying its very existence. So from vague generalities if one has to venture into meaningful specifics, one has to make a pointed reference to our constitution. This is obvious because our constitution is still the way of life the citizens of Bangladesh have chosen for themselves; the constitution remains the solemn expression of the will of the people and the supreme law of the Republic. Article 11 of the said constitution says "The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed."
The above constitutional position pitted against the program of the extremists leave no room for any ambiguity. While at the macro-level, it may be a matter of political direction to sort out disagreements through dialogue and persuasion, the field-level operatives, both in uniform and plainclothes must have clear directives and plan of action for preventing violent subversive actions.
As part of strategy, the enforcement apparatus should succeed in separating an act of violence from its so-called politico-social context and thus criminalize a certain mode of political expression. In Bangladesh's context this line of action would be very appropriate because there is a greater need to reject the religious extremists' right to legitimize violence as part of a larger social movement.
The so-called Jihadists must not be bracketed with political dissenters, although such differentiation becomes difficult from an enforcement point of view. Laws for dealing with religious extremists should be such as to distinguish them from constitutionally oriented political elements.
In order to apprehend and to effectively punish the extremists, the definition of extremism or terrorism should be expanded to an act of association with an extremist group. The objective should be to include patrons and harbourers of the extremists and fringe supporters within the ambit of the law. The regulatory authorities should be quickly able to draw up a list of 'proscribed organizations' to which membership, funding or open support within the territory of Bangladesh shall be banned. This list should be periodically reviewed with an intention of making the fight against extremism in line with threats to internal security.
The concept of the above noted proscription should be such as to make it applicable across the broadest spectrum. It should be precise and unambiguous. In addition, there must be clear measurement and list of acts that would constitute support to a 'banned organization'. The effort should be to broaden the applicability but narrow down the definition of extremism or terrorism itself.
The process of identifying an extremist should be discreet and transparent and enforcement efforts should be geared towards that. However, the extremists who use violence and the threat of violence as an instrument to propagate its view and ideology cannot be treated as political dissidents even though the roots are socio-political and governed by distinct and conflicting ideologies.
The government should attach greater importance to proscription and should be empowered to designate the extremist organization. The objective should be to sap the extremist organization of its material base, stopping routes of material replenishment and seizing its existing assets. In other words, the proscription could be a central feature in our attempt at fighting the so-called religious militancy.
There is a challenge to our way of life. This must be realized by the mainstream political parties who are pledge-bound to uphold, protect and preserve our constitution. Therefore, the enemy must be caught by the forelock and be dealt with under the law. A sovereign Republic born out of a historic struggle entailing epic human sacrifices demand that. We must not fail.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist contributor to The Daily Star.

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