The regrouping of extremists
RECENT arrests of a large number of extremist cadres and the snatching away of three high profile extremists from police custody a few months back are taken to be clear indicators of the activity and agility of the so-called religiously motivated extremist elements. Media reports confirm that extremists are not only regrouping but have also embarked upon fresh recruitment. Quite clearly, these are disturbing news as the extremist elements in question pose a direct threat to our democratic pluralist existence.
The importance of countering extremist strategy has once again been emphasised and so also the imperative of comprehensive action plan to foil the efforts of motivating and recruiting new members for extremist action. It has also been highlighted that actions to counter-motivate the detained extremists have not been taken up. There are complaints that the government's flagging socio-political campaign against militancy and slackness in monitoring extremist activity since 2012 has given the outfits space to regroup.
This writer has in the past has stressed that the extremism in question that we are confronted with is not like any routine law and order phenomenon and as such demands multi-pronged action.
The above observations becomes relevant when one recalls the arrest of quite a number of so-called religious terrorists in the recent past, along with arms and ammunitions, and the consequent sense of relief felt by some quarters in the regulatory set-up.
One could also recollect the executions of six dreaded terrorists in the not-too-distant past and the naïve thoughts of some in the corridors of power that the irritant of religious terrorism has been taken care of once and for all.
Undoubtedly, the events of the immediate past lend credence to the apprehension that we have not yet been able to adequately appreciate the threats that exist and have a bearing on our democratic existence.
One may ponder whether we are late in awakening to the reality that we are fighting against a state of mind that does not share the pluralist values of an open society. One has to bear in mind that the religious extremists, despite being a miniscule proportion of the population, have the potential of destabilising the polity. The question is, do we see a process that creates cognitive preconditions to generate terrorist acts on account of ideological motivations?
Don't we realise that the grievances of Islamic extremists, perceived or real, are both local and international in nature? There is no doubt that such grievances acquire significance in a conducive environment for radical actions. It is thus not surprising that there has been a noticeable expansion of the so-called Islamic extremists and their transnational activities.
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? It is not uncommon now for extremist groups in one country to train and coordinate activities and assist groups in another country.
Overt intelligence sources indicate that religiously motivated extremist groups are increasingly relying on each other in different countries for assistance, financing and training.
In fact, domestic groups with local grievances are now forming international alliances in pursuit of their extremist goals and also the furtherance of those objectives. The worry is, are we providing space to dreaded extremist groups whose hitherto secure bases elsewhere have been weakened?
The reasonable fear in our situation, as elsewhere, is whether religion has not only been utilised as an ideology but also as an insurrectionary strategy that can draw people of varying political convictions.
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.
Though unfortunate, the reality is that in garnering political support some political parties have been perilously oblivious of the cost and repercussions of encouraging extremist ideas and actions. The fact of the matter is that religiously motivated extremists have from to time attacked government officials and institutions to further their religious and political objectives.
There is an overriding and overarching need to take a long and deep look into the threat of religious extremism as we have to fight a prolonged battle against an aberration that has taken a firm root. Shortcomings of state law enforcement agencies, though not alarming, are matters that need urgent attention for attaining professional efficiency.
Political parties, civil society and policy-makers have to engage actively to plug the well-known deficits that account for the thriving of extremist thoughts and beliefs. The inadequately regulated network of charities and banks, and inconsequential anti-money laundering activities, are causes for concern.
Do we have one educational stream wherein pupils leave schools with only a rudimentary knowledge of the world but nurse a fanatical belief in the supremacy of their religion and their responsibility to fight and ensure its spread?
Has the quality of our liberal secular educational institutions and the service delivery of our criminal and civil justice system declined over the years, thus making room for intolerant ideas to grow and spread their tentacles?
Surely, we in Bangladesh cannot allow the prejudiced minds to act as arbitrators of individual and community disputes and financiers of education and livelihood.
The counter-narrative needs to recognise that politics had been the theatre of religious quest of Muslims. Salvation for them does not mean redemption from sin, but the creation of a just society in which the individual could more easily make that existential surrender of his or her whole being that would bring him or her fulfillment. The polity for the Muslims was, therefore, an aspiration that required a jihad, a struggle that could find no simple outcome.
The counter-terrorism strategy's narrative should be able to effectively dispel the misgivings about fundamentalism that gives the impression of its being a violent form of Islamic religiosity. It needs to be stressed that fundamentalism is a global fact and has surfaced in every major faith in response to the problems of modernity. In fact, of the three monolithic religions Islam was the last to develop a fundamentalist strain, when modern culture began to take root in late 1960s and 1970s.
The struggle to enshrine the Islamic ideal in State structures and to find the right leader has preoccupied Muslims throughout their history. The notion of true Islamic state is difficult to perfectly express in human form and perhaps will elude the grasp of flawed human beings. Secular rationalism of modern culture poses special problems for people in all the major traditions. Therefore, it must not willy-nilly appear determined to wipe religion out. The vast mass of the people want to be modern and religious.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.