THE brutal killing of Avijit brings into sharp relief the question posited in the heading of this article. He is the latest in a long list of victims who had to forfeit his life to an extremist group who found his views to be in discord with theirs. And the killers claim to belong to a faith that considers killing of even one innocent person as killing of entire humanity.
Could his life have been saved? It is a painful question that one hesitates to answer, but I shall make so bold as to suggest that if the agencies had taken cognisance of relevant Facebook postings, particularly one that appeared on February 9, 2015 of Farabi, in which he had threatened to kill Avijit once he was in Bangladesh, Avijit's fate might have been different. But that is a question of, 'what if'? We are now interested in, 'what now'? The killing of Avijit once again forces us to ask if the extremists are having it their way at their will.
Evidently, the killers belong to a jihadists group whose interpretation of Islam is as convoluted as their psyche. And it seems that call for jihad in various parts of the Muslim world is being called not by the majority but by the minorities. And in Bangladesh if one glances through the narratives of these extremists published from time to time, the calls have not only been misplaced but those have been made for all the wrong reasons. How does one justify their threat, “You will be executed if you do not stop arresting our men and celebration of Puja. You are our Muslim brothers, so do not arrest our men to protect the non-Muslims,” contained in a letter sent to journalist by post by these groups in 2005? Can a true Muslim spread communal hatred? We have stated this many times before and say again that this is bigotry of the vilest form which has no place in Islam, and those who countenance it are as guilty as those who preach it.
Admittedly, this phenomenon exposed itself literally with a bang, but that was not entirely unexpected, given the corpus of news and reports that had appeared in the print media, since the late 1990s in particular, narrating their rise. At first, the government of the day was not prepared to accept that the religious extremists did indeed have roots in the country and were capable of posing threats to the very structure of the nation. The extremists ranks have since been strengthened as have their international links. And their reach has become painfully apparent since August 21, 2004
Regrettably, in Bangladesh it is disheartening to see the voices of those—the religious scholars and clergies, which can play an important role in countering those of the radicals and extremists—muted at best. Is it because they do not want to raise their voice or they are not being able to? And that begs the moot question, are we going about our job of combating the extremists in a planned manner, and do we really have a dynamic strategy to address the threat of religious extremism which happens to be the most serious threat the country is facing at the moment? Are we harmonising our efforts in formulating a counter narrative that would effectively reduce the 'appeal' of the jihadists?
It must be said to the credit of this government that its anti-extremism measures have been effective. The law enforcing agencies have been able to successfully arrest a large number of their cadres and preempt their potential to create violence. To the credit of the government too, there have been no instance of bomb attacks by the extremist groups during the tenure of this government. But that is a part of the hard options open to the government. Reducing their operational capability and their numbers physically is one option. But we are not aware if the government is doing anything by way of a counter extremism strategy.
There is the need to counter these radicals through appropriate programmes. Twisted ideas must be countered with enlightened explication of the scriptures, but first of all, people and institutions that are exploited to disseminate distorted ideas, and persons doing the same, must be identified and sapped of their potential to create chaos and wreak havoc on the nation. And in this regard there is need to recast our attention to other educational institutions than madrasas only. Reportedly, the banned Hizbut-Tehrir has been concentrating on the private universities to recruit workers for their cause, and with some success, one must admit with consternation.
We feel that the pace of building up state capacity, absence of specifics and lack of direction is not as fast as they might be. And this is where the role of the government assumes greater significance. Not only should a counter terrorist / extremist strategy be formulated without further delay, the government must recognise the very important fact that such a strategy cannot be put into effect without the active participation of all the stakeholders as much as an effective strategy cannot be formulated without their active involvement.
The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.