THE horrific murder of Avijit Roy, an activist writer, in full public view, has shocked all but the bigoted fringe elements of our society. Beyond clear and unequivocal condemnation of such dastardly act, there is an imperative to painstakingly ferret out the designs and malevolence of the dark forces as also the deficits in concomitant actions towards prevention and detection.
To see things in historical perspective, Bangladesh had a share of politically motivated destructive activities, particularly following the arrival of religion-centered terrorism and the unsettling specter of suicide bombing in the not-too-distant past. The unfortunate part, however, is that, as in other sectors of our national existence, we have been disappointingly reactive in responding to the threats to internal security. The approach appears to be ad hoc and on a case to case basis.
We may have to ask ourselves if a perception has developed among the so-called religious extremist groups 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 quarters 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 organisations and groups which serve, willingly or unwillingly, the long term objective of some political parties suspected to be aligned or sympathetic to the extremists.
Some say that we have not realised that in post-1975 Bangladesh there has been a phenomenal establishment of madrassas throughout the country by persons and institutions about whose credentials not much is known. The suspicion is that while the establishment, the civil society and other activists have remained in the dark about the designs and programmes of the obscurantist elements, the so-called religious extremists have grown in strength and spread their tentacles taking advantage of the ignorance and inertia.
It may be relevant to note that the State claims to stand for enlightened moderation. While significant parts of the elite have represented the process of fight against extremist activities some sections of the society have experienced the so-called radicalisation of Islamic thought and action. The focus is on the use of power in pursuit of policy. A section of the public has been converted to this approach. Incidentally, the liberal current of opinion has been significantly de-legitimised in the process.
In Bangladesh, advocates of the radical path appear more determined than liberals or secularists. Secular forces hardly work with intense dedication, much less with a sense of mission. There is a threat in attempts to redefine Bangladeshi statehood in Islamic colours. Initially, there was constitutional faith in state secularism as the defining credo of Bangladeshi nationhood.
A considered view is that the objective should be the restoration of the natural centrism of our politics. We have to remember that the state policy is under attack by religiously mobilised political forces.
It needs to be noted that secularism as state ideology is unable to compete with a language of belonging saturated with religion in our parlance. The compulsions of the traditional obligations of the ruler to protect state religion had to be kept in view.
In specific terms, do we see a supposedly political body which calls itself the “Defender of Faith” but acts almost always to consolidate its own strategic and corporate interests? Are not there credible fears to believe that violent groups have been created, extremist leaders promoted and young minds trained and instigated to spread dissent and persecute the minorities at the opportune time?
Are we witnessing the formative stage of the growth of a pernicious sub-culture of extremism wherein violence against other fellow beings is justified as religious cause? Are there subtle efforts to infect key organs of the state with radicalism? Is it not time to effectively counter the influence of extremist schools of thought in our context where Islam as a religion had a more benign and accommodative character in practice?
The questions is, has such a quarter created a parallel narrative of hope and strength in times of crisis, and thereby expanded its political capital? Does such a narrative stand to gain in a climate of despondency resulting from political stalemate as evidenced in Bangladesh now?
As against the above apprehensions and well-grounded fears, is there a lack of political consensus and less than adequate institutional capacity, particularly of the regulatory outfits in combating the extremist threats?
The so-called Islamist terrorist groups have been found to organise themselves around the rhetoric of a radical interpretation of Islam and seek to impose religion in the politics of Bangladesh. Such terrorism, in terms of growth, benefits from the unhealthy competition to retain or gain power at any cost.
The militant's focus is on the use of power in pursuit of policy. Some sections of the public have been converted to this approach. Incidentally, the liberal current of opinion was significantly de-legitimised. The goal, therefore, should be denial of space for the radicalised and the militant. The extremists shall not be allowed to develop vital stakes in the political system for starting a radical movement in the long run.
While eradicating or controlling militancy it should occur to us that in Bangladesh the advocates of extreme path are more determined than liberals. Liberal forces hardly work with intense dedication, much less with a sense of mission.
The way to counter militancy is a battle of ideas, challenging the ideological motivations that extremists believe justify the use of violence. Successful prosecution in the courts, based on gathering of necessary evidence and apprehending those involved in planning acts of terrorism before committing of mischief should be one of the principal approaches of countering militant activity.
We have to understand that if we have a relatively mature institutional base then the extremist movement would neither be represented in the mainstream politics nor would it be able to carry out terrorist activities in various localities. We would not be subjected to hate politics along sectarian lines with its attendant human cost.
The military elite of Pakistan sought to activate the divine sources of legitimacy during the Afghanistan war in partnership with the American military might and financial muscle. In the process, the extremist and the obscurantist elements got strengthened beyond all proportion. Sadly, the agenda for democracy lost its momentum in Pakistan. We in Bangladesh surely do not want to jeopardise our democratic pluralist existence by not recognising the potential and actual threats from the so-called religious extremists.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.