We have known of many deaths over many years. In fact, we are running the risk of becoming desensitised about it all as if unnatural death is part of our everyday reality. And why not? According to the Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), the foremost human rights body in the country, 64 people have been killed between January and March of this year alone, more than 21 deaths per month. If this is not chilling enough, here is something that really should worry us all. All these deaths occurred at the hands of the law enforcement agencies, namely police, Rab and other agencies. Of them, 46 died in the so-called crossfire and the rest 18 in custody. In addition, 122 died in political violence, making for a total of 186 deaths in three months. This does not include deaths in road accidents, crimes and other forms of unnatural deaths.
No explanation has been sought by the government or the parliamentary oversight bodies from these “Law Enforcement” bodies for any of these 46 "crossfire" and 18 custodial deaths. We see the Human Rights Commission being vocal but no satisfactory conclusions. That however is not the focus of this write up.
Today we want to write on what the killing of Oyasiqur Rahman, the young man murdered last Monday, really means. Simply put, it is a spine-chilling warning to us all that we all can be targets. All that needs to happen for any of us to be killed is that some fanatic somewhere in the country, decides that someone or anyone, needs to be killed. He shows his "disciples" a photograph of the "target" and orders his elimination. A name is mentioned, a photograph shown, an address given, a particular house identified, a work habit described and a murder process is set in motion.
As was shown in Oyasiqur's case, the killers neither knew him personally, nor did they care. As we learnt later, there was no need for such information. Just a couple of sentences that this person had insulted our religion were sufficient for a group of young people to agree to take a person's life.
Someone's interpretation of reality was different than mine. Someone's method of worship was contrary to what I think it should be. Someone's belief about life, creation, sense of good and bad, method of veneration, dress code, food habit, in fact someone's whole lifestyle was different than mine was "reason" enough. The perpetrators had no personal reason or motive to kill Oyasiqur. They worked like mafia-style “contract killers”.
The only difference -- and it is of crucial importance -- is that, no money was paid or favours exchanged. It was all because of "belief". Someone did not believe what I believe. Someone insulted what I hold in highest respect.
It was just like a task that had to be carried out even though it meant taking someone's life. That nobody has the right to take one's life without the due process of law didn't matter.
We believe that diversity, tolerance and freedom of conscience -- fundamental to our existence -- are being challenged here. These are enshrined in our Constitution. These are glorious aspects of our heritage and constitute the fundamental elements of our ethos. What is being destroyed is an integral part of the values of our freedom struggle and the democratic struggle that we have waged so far. Equally important is the fact that something that constitutes a core value of our religion that we love and respect is being grossly distorted here.
Even if numerically a small number, the murders of three bloggers merit a serious response. It is our view that there has been, within some circles, a malevolent growth of extremist ideology with very committed followers. We do not seem to know much about their depth or extent. There are a large number of religious organisations that remain outside the purview of the government. The answers to many questions like what is being taught there, how these are funded, who the teachers are, where do they come from, are not known to the authorities. We do not know if there is adequate surveillance in place to find any possible domestic links with global terrorist networks that are becoming more aggressively militant in the recent days.
Given all the above, there can be no more urgent task than to strengthen the counterterrorism capacity of our law enforcement bodies. We do not know how technologically capable these departments are; nor do we know how well-trained their personnel are. In the past we had seen some effective counterterrorism work by Rab personnel who were mainly responsible for the unearthing of some of the major extremist groups. However, they appear to have spoilt their image and effectiveness by being associated with extra-judicial killings.
It is clear now that over the years the extremist groups have become better organised. It is suspected that they even might have established some sort of coordinating mechanism among them for terrorist activities. Murdering individual bloggers may have been adopted as a deliberate strategy which serves the purpose of spreading a feeling of fear and intimidation and giving the impression that they are very active and yet keeping a very low profile.
So far the government's main thrust of fighting the extremist threat has been the so called “hard option”, --using the law enforcement agencies. This option is of course necessary but it can only be effective if accompanied by the “soft option”-- namely an effective motivational campaign that explains to our religious population the real meaning of our religion and how these are being distorted. We cannot underestimate the power of "motivation," a fact the extremists seem to have learnt very well and appear to be using most effectively. The young boys who killed Oyasiqur without knowing anything about him, an act that may lead to a death sentence for them both, aptly exemplifies the effect of "motivation".
We urgently need to counter it in a most effective manner. Not doing so would be a fatal mistake, in fact, a suicidal one. The government's current attention is fully focused on neutralising the opposition, especially the BNP and its leadership. The extremists are taking full advantage of the tussle between these two major political parties and the preoccupation of the law enforcement bodies in containing the violence. Everything considered, the present political situation is preventing us from focusing fully and adequately on the activities of the extremist groups whose efficiency and international links both appear to be on the rise. Therefore, a well-planned and concerted action to first contain and then eliminate extremism is of utmost urgency.