Avoid tunnel vision in tackling extremism
It seems that the extremists have not only wreaked havoc on our psyche but forced us to adopt hasty measures without due deliberation. This has demonstrated the one-track mind that some of us are prone to adopt in reacting to important national issues. These reactions are at best intuitive and reflect very little of accurate appraisal of the situation. These measures in such cases become stopgap, and, naturally, have little permanence.
One of the aims of the extremists is to disrupt our daily life in the short term. And it seems that we have played into their hands by our knee-jerk reactions in respect to certain policy matters following the Gulshan killings. Such reactions have countered the gains to some extent that the police have made in the anti-terror front like preempting the Sholakia attackers and the Kalyanpur den busting. Apart from that, some ministers are indulging in forecasting likely terror attacks in this country. These demonstrate a somewhat random, if not disjointed, handling of the matter. It only helps in generating uncertainty not only in the minds of the locals, foreigners, who were the prime targets of the killers this time, too become unsure of the future.
It is true that we had never faced a situation like this before, and one of the reasons we have been caught off guard is because of the smugness with which we have so far treated the issue of extremism. A wrong impression had been created generally that the religious extremists have been neutralised, and that they would not be able to revert to their strength they had displayed in 2005. That they were not a spent force and were still well funded was displayed in February 2014 when the JMB prisoners were snatched way from police van on a major highway connecting Dhaka-Tangail.
It is interesting to see how the private universities and a few private schools and colleges of good repute have been put in the dock for the ills that visited us on July 1, 2016. As if they are the cause of all that we have suffered so far. And now the education minister is saying that any university found having a trace of links with radicals will be closed in its entirety. So the focus has shifted from madrasas to private schools, colleges and universities. It seems we have lost our sense of history and some of us are behaving as if this land had never seen extremism or violence before. If the education minister really delivers on his threat, we may soon be without many private universities in the country. And if all the flat owners in the capital had their way, all the bachelors would find themselves on the streets because they have become some sort of a pariah as tenants.
One finds it hard to draw a correlation between the government decisions to clear all so-called illegal commercial establishments, which refer mainly to the eateries and watering holes for the young Bangladeshis and the expatriates, who find some sort of respite in these places from an otherwise dreary and uninteresting Dhaka after work hours. What if the Holey Artisan was an authorised establishment? Would that have prevented the attack? The idea should be to secure the likely targets of the extremists and not eliminate those ourselves. That will help the extremists' cause and not hinder it. And the next best thing is to prevent the germination of this phenomenon.
Our policymakers should appreciate, more importantly acknowledge, that the radicals have made inroads in our midst. The affluent and the educated youths have been targeting those whose minds have been indented enough to be motivated to not only disown the parents but also indulge in suicide attacks. These have been done without either their teachers or their parents or their friends and playmates ever getting a wind of the transformation of a son, a student and a friend, from a disc jockey to the brutal killer in matter of few months. It is important to discern the message that the targets are fed and to understand the character of those that are feeding them the opium and their method of doing so.
Interestingly, the recent terrorist acts have produced a plethora of experts on extremism/terrorism/violence (some splitting hairs, unsuccessfully though, on the essential difference between 'shontrash' and 'jongibad' without bothering to bring into reckoning the differences between 'violence' and 'terror'.) It is also interesting to see questions like, "Radicalisation of affluent youths still a mystery" thrown at the public without spending time to find a plausible answer to it.
It is important to learn the fault lines in our social dynamics that groups like the IS are exploiting. In order to not only approach the problem but also to frame it in the correct perspective, we must understand the details of the model that the IS, for example, "has sketched for fringe movements to exploit the changing social dynamics and new technologies that is exerting influence over world politics that is widely disproportionate to its size and strength." Only then will the reason for radicalisation of affluent and wealthy youths no longer remain a mystery. And only then will we be able to structure an appropriate response.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.