In the grip of madness

That is so in the three countries that once constituted the subcontinent and belonged to the same political realm. Pakistan is suffering the consequences of its flawed policy of righting strategic imbalance with its bigger neighbour through a war of proxy – by making cynical use of state terrorism and perpetrating violence on it, using Kashmir and the grievances of its people as an excuse. There is no sign of religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan abating, unless the Pakistan Army and more importantly, the ISI which dictates the policies of the country, stopped running with the hare and hunting with the hounds – a game it has been playing to its own detriment.

Bangladesh's experience with ribald extremism and terrorism is more recent and, so far, has been less painful in terms of mass attacks or casualties. But there has been a slow, but steady gnawing at the very soul of this country. The very ethos of the land, nurtured by a vibrantly inclusive and syncretic society, is under attack by a band of extremists, calling themselves Muslims, who are unwilling to allow cultures and religions to co-exist in the same vein as has been the case for many centuries. These religious radicals have targeted those whose views they think have denigrated Islam, arrogating to only them the right to defend Islam. They have targeted even those they feel are supportive of their 'enemies'. The only arbiter they find handy is the machete or the gun; and violence is the intuitive reaction. Counter logic, and counter arguments have no place in their way of life. 

And it seems that these extremists have chosen to join the IS bandwagon, for very good reasons too. The name adds magnitude to their madness. The responsibility for the killings of the foreigners and of policemen and bloggers/publishers have been accepted by the IS which, to make it more 'convincing,' has been carried in their so-called monthly magazine Dabiq. Dabiq is a town in northern Syria, bordering with Turkey. The Islamic State believes Dabiq is where an epic and decisive battle will take place with Christian forces of the West, and have named their magazine after the village. 

We in Bangladesh have been at pains to deny IS' existence in Bangladesh. And that makes the statements of the prime minister, made on more than one occasion, that the country is under international pressure to accept that Islamic State is here, merit serious reflection. However, we wonder what to make of the media report of November 25 that four 'IS Operatives' have been arraigned for plot to topple the government. IS or not, we are under threat and we must rise above political divide, stop making political use of the issue and gel together to combat it. And we must employ both 'kinetic' and 'chemical' energy to fight it, quite unlike what the western countries have chosen to do against the IS.  

If that is the rather depressing scenario in Bangladesh, developments next door in India are equally disquieting. Although the radical rightist extremism, fuelled by Hindutva, is not as violent as we have experienced in this country in recent times, the phenomenon of intolerance to dissent is striking at the core of India and, regrettably, taking the country away from Gandhi's India and nearer to Modi's India which some scholars fear mirror their western neighbour, and ask, "Is India in grave danger of becoming a 'Hindu' Pakistan?" Some of the incidents like killing of intellectuals, lynching of  Muslims  not only on suspicion of eating beef but also for transporting cows across the country, Muslims being asked to leave India and seek abode in Pakistan, have been unheard of in India. 

For those, like Dr. Lokesh Chandra, the newly appointed head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, who says, "From a practical point of view, (Modi) supersedes the Maha¬tma," and that Modi is in fact "a reincarnation of God," moving nearer to Modi's India might be the best thing to happen to India for a long time, but does that augur well for a country that prides itself on tolerance and 'Ahingsa'?

"The Taliban dynamiting the Bamiyan statues, the Pakistani Taliban slitting the throats of captured soldiers and playing football with the severed heads, the ISIS employing naked terror as a weapon of control, a mob lynching a helpless man for suspected beef-eating,'' as a Pakistani scholar puts it, and one might add, killing the helpless bloggers and their publishers are the same madness that we are all in the grip of. 

Unfortunately, mad people feed and sustain on each other's examples. Curing this madness, and more importantly, figuring out how to do it, should be our priority.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star