Paradoxes of terrorism in Bangladesh

'The Politics of Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Bangladesh' contains insightful and critical analyses
Paradoxes of terrorism in Bangladesh

We have heard the word "paradox" innumerable times in relation to development in Bangladesh. Now, in a new book titled The Politics of Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Bangladesh, published by the British multinational publisher Routledge, its editors say that "the chapters in this volume will illustrate that Bangladesh is an exciting and often paradoxical case for terrorism studies in general." One of the paradoxical elements pointed out in this book is the fact that "most of the key coordinators or leaders of the new generational groups of terrorists are educated in secular universities, either in Bangladesh or abroad" against a typical perception that religious seminaries, known as madrasas, are the breeding ground of Islamic terrorism. This book is published as a part of the Routledge Studies in South Asian Politics series.

It contains nine insightful and critical analyses by some prominent academics and researchers known for their scholarly work on politics, terrorism, governance, law, and a number of social issues in Bangladesh. Saimum Parvez and Mohammad Sajjadur Rahman, co-editors of the book, have explored the global academia at a great length in search of a consensus definition of terrorism, and examined its evolution in Bangladesh. They argued that "terrorism and counterterrorism are currently among the most contested issues within contemporary Bangladeshi politics," and concluded that "their implications are regional as well as global."

Ali Riaz, distinguished professor of political science at Illinois State University (ISU) in the US and president of the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies, who also authored Religion and Politics in South Asia (Routledge, 2021), details in his contribution the origins of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh and suggests that it has undergone significant changes since the 1990s. According to his observation, Bangladesh has witnessed five different generations of militants, starting with the participants of the Afghanistan War in the 1980s and how their orientation shifted towards al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) ideologies. He catalogues, compares and contrasts all those organisations' ideologies and goals, as well as the implications for the future of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh.

Jasmin Lorch, an Annemarie Schimmel scholar at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt in Germany, and M Abul Kalam Azad, a freelance journalist and founder of fact-checking organisation FactKhuji, have given a comprehensive insight into the phenomenon of female terrorism in Bangladesh in their jointly penned analysis. It again shows the paradox that, though the common belief is that women are pushed into terrorism through marital bonds with male terrorists, there's a considerable number of them who are self-radicalised and have joined terrorism due to their own ideological convictions. The authors reached such conclusions based on extensive research including interviews of experts, family members and acquaintances, and reviewing police and court documents.

'The Politics of Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Bangladesh' contains nine insightful and critical analyses by some prominent academics and researchers known for their scholarly work on politics, terrorism, governance, law, and a number of social issues in Bangladesh.

Saimum Parvez, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA-COFUND) postdoctoral fellow at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, who has published a number of scholarly articles on terrorism, examines in his piece how Bangladeshi terrorists use the internet for recruiting, by exploring the wealth of jihadi content available online. His findings show that the internet helps both recruits and recruiters to connect with each other, particularly to reach previously unreachable demographics, such as women and youth from Westernised and well-off backgrounds.

Bina D'Costa, professor at the Department of International Relations in the Coral Bell School, Australian National University and a member of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Commission, and Hana Shams Ahmed, a PhD candidate of social anthropology at York University in Canada, in their jointly written piece discuss how Bangladesh has historically utilised the discourses of terrorism and counterterrorism to deal with ethnic tensions within the CHT region. The authors contend that by carefully framing and maintaining a narrative that depicts Indigenous political activists and, oftentimes, human rights defenders as the nation's internal terrorists and security threats, the government legitimises the presence of military and other security forces in the CHT.

Professor Ridwanul Hoque, an independent legal scholar who has previously held visiting research and teaching positions at a number of leading universities, analyses the efficacy of counterterrorism laws in Bangladesh in his article, and suggests that these laws are often incompatible with national constitutional principles and international human rights standards. Citing a lack of sufficient and effective judicial oversight, he argues that many of the accused have been denied the right to a fair trial, especially the right to a speedy trial.

Mohammad Sajjadur Rahman, a doctoral candidate at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies of Clark University in the US, in his articulations, argues that the array of laws and regulations introduced over the last decade and the micro-surveillance systems put into practice in the name of counterterrorism actually indicate the intensification of authoritarianism in Bangladesh. His critical analysis shows how two of the most talked-about terror incidents from two different regimes demonstrate the state agencies' abusive tactics in the name of counterterrorism, and how such counterterror initiatives have been politicised. 

Asheque Haque, a researcher and writer specialising in politics and security issues in South Asia, dissects the sermons of Jasim Uddin Rahmani, a controversial preacher, and looks at the messages he conveyed which were instrumental in organising the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). Bulbul Siddiqui, associate professor of anthropology and sociology at North South University, explores the perceptions of urban youth from Dhaka with regard to their acceptance or rejection of terrorism-related messages.

In her publication, Kajalie Shehreen Islam, associate professor at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism in Dhaka University, scrutinises the coverage of terror-related news in the Bangladeshi press, focusing on the terror attack in Dhaka on July 1, 2016. Her findings will certainly attract the attention of Bangladeshi media as she reiterates the need for reduced reliance on official sources and more investigative journalism on terrorism.

This volume is a valuable collection of reference materials for academics and journalists interested in studying terrorism, security, politics, and strategic issues in Bangladesh.


Kamal Ahmed is an independent journalist. His Twitter handle is @ahmedka1