The government's success in busting militant dens in various parts of the country is commendable and reveals its determination to root out terrorist outfits. But it also reveals some chilling facts. Obviously these are not the only militants plotting and planning horrific killing sprees. If the landlord of building in Sitakunda’s Premtala, where the militants had taken residence, had not acted on his suspicion and forced his way into the flat he would not have seen the wires and other equipment which later turned out to be bomb accessories and which he immediately reported to the police. Without the crucial tip off this could have turned out very differently. The successful operation by the law enforcers that killed four militants, apprehended two militant suspects and rescued 20 people would not have happened. After all, who would suspect a couple with a little baby to be terrorists, ready to blow themselves up in some misguided mission of salvation? It goes to show that the profile of a terrorist or suicide bomber is not at all easy to identify. It could be a university student, a school student from an English medium school, a young man who has only been exposed to fundamentalist religious teachings, it could be a university lecturer, it could be a woman married to a radicalised man or a man radicalised by his wife. The disease of radicalisation can spread anywhere and manifest itself at any time. This is not just a paranoid citizen's view. Prof Rohan Gunaratna, an international security expert while attending a regional conference in Dhaka, has made some insightful observations (The Daily Star, March 16) that corroborate this fear.
He says that the threat of terror has not declined, rather it is at the growth level. His analysis is that with IS losing its stronghold in captured territories in Iraq and Syria, many of its members will try to take shelter in mainly Muslim countries. This includes Bangladesh. Bangladeshis who had joined IS are raising funds, recruiting other Bangladeshis online. Of course this is something we already know after the July 1 terror attack in Gulshan during which videos of the terrorists claiming to be IS members, were circulated.
Meanwhile, he added, radicalisation is taking place in prisons in Bangladesh where captured militants are recruiting members from other inmates.
In a scenario where radicalisation is taking place through multiple routes and targeting potential recruits that have diverse profiles, the battle against terror is more complicated and challenging than ever. True, the government has been extra vigilant and carried out successful operations but the question is: is that all that can be done to fight terror? Obviously besides the physical fight against militancy there is an ideological battle to be fought. And ideology can only be fought with ideology. In other words the whole narrative that the militants are spreading – that their acts of terror and suicide bombings is in some way trying to save religion – has to be refuted through a counter narrative by religious scholars. Many religious leaders have said that the killing of innocents can never be part of religion, rather it is considered the worst kind of sin. The problem is such scholarly voices are not loud enough, leaving room for many opportunists to fill in the gap with distorted interpretations of religion. This includes the idea that killing anyone who is perceived to not endorse a certain interpretation of the scriptures or of a different faith, to be a noble, glorious act that will be rewarded in the afterlife.
Unfortunately for us, time is against us. Already the number of casualties of this disease have reached incomprehensible proportions here and all over the world. The threat of more mayhem haunts us every moment. It is a disease that has crossed all borders making it the biggest threat to humanity. Thus the core issue is not whether IS exists in the country but whether there are followers of this terror outfit who identify with it and are ready to carry out terrorist attacks on its behalf. Militant ideology does not need tangible form to exist. It is a parasite that latches on to the mind of individuals, compelling them to defy all logic, humanity and even the basic instinct of self preservation, to carry out mindless acts of cruelty. To combat such a strong, insidious enemy requires a comprehensive strategy that must reach everywhere – the home, the mosque, the school, the university, the office and the prison.