The elephant in the room and our denial
Dhaka Tribune - August 11, 2016
Extremist ideology spreads across borders
There is plenty of evidence that globally inspired terrorism has come to Bangladesh
The home minister has denied again the presence of foreign hands in the militancy that has been raging in the country over the last two years or so. He and his colleagues have been consistent in this regard.
They think all militancy-related activities in the country, that include over 20 killings in Gulshan and many others before and after this incident, have been perpetrated by domestic terrorists with a local agenda.
Their assertions fly in the face of overwhelming evidence of presence of globally-inspired terrorism in the country, that includes videos of call to Jihad by people of Bangladeshi origin purported to have been made in IS-controlled territory in Syria. This is beside claims of ownership of acts of terrorism in the country by followers of that militant outfit.
The repeated denials by some of our people in authority of any foreign linkage of recent acts of terror and terrorists are an in-your-face rebuttal of the legion of reports from foreign press and intelligence agencies (including that of US) of the overarching reach of Islamic militants.
This is an outreach that transgresses international borders, and are making new associates wherever possible, Bangladesh included. Most recently, while talking about the global reach of IS, President Obama referred to Bangladesh as one of the countries that IS has attacked.
He said this in the context of US efforts to defeat the militant organisation — remarking that the organisation will continue to inspire, if not directly conduct, its terror attacks in other countries, even as though it may lose its stronghold in Syria.
We wish our government leaders were right, and the acts of terrorism shaking the country today were all the handiwork of local hoodlums recruited by political parties out to harass the government and destabilise the country.
We wish the mastermind of the tragic and horrific happenings in Gulshan, Sholakia, and murders of Hindu priests and foreigners were truly a local thug, and he and his group of criminals would be apprehended soon. We wish this could bring an end to this violence.
Unfortunately, this is not so. The reality is far from this simple assumption or declaration. The genesis of the violence in Gulshan or Sholakia did not begin with these two places, nor did it begin with the perpetrators of the incidents in two places.
The genesis has to do with the blindfold that we have been wearing for years denying existence or possibility of spread of radicalism in the country by people who have been indoctrinated by an ideology that has attracted hundreds of thousands before them in different parts of the world.
This blindfold which our leaders have been wearing, either unwittingly or on purpose, distracted our government from combating radicalism and extremists, and instead directed its attention toward suppressing political opponents by blaming them for the acts of terror.
Only two months before the terrible incident in Gulshan, the government launched a countrywide strike against terrorism, leading to arrests of thousands of so-called suspects all over the country — very few of whom had any known ties with any militant group.
We may dismantle all the unauthorised business and educational establishments in the city, we may continue to round up the usual suspects for terrorism all over the country, but we will continue to have the elephant in the room unless we are prepared to face it
Ironically, the tragic event happened and nearly two dozen innocent people perished in an apparently high-security residential neighbourhood after thousands of “suspected terrorists” were put away in jail.
It may take years and months for our government to find out the why and how of these terror acts, but the simple fact remains that all of these were possible because we have been denying the possibility of a global hand in indoctrinating our youths in such radical ideologies and acts.
As in the past, where the previous government adamantly refused to accept the presence and growth of foreign-inspired terrorism in Bangladesh and blamed the opposition for causing instability through hired hands, we are witnessing a repeat of the same story with fresh attacks despite evidence of foreign hands and foreign inspiration.
The perpetrators of terrorism and violence in Bangladesh may be all Bangladeshis, and some of them may perhaps belong to home grown militant organisations. But their ideology and inspiration are not necessarily rooted in domestic political goals.
The ideology that IS spreads attracts youths all across the globe, youths of all descriptions, from marginalised societies in foreign countries, disgruntled and economically deprived parts, and as we are seeing in Bangladesh, youths from economically well-off and well-to-do societies.
Like radicals in the Middle East, and other parts of Europe or US, the people embracing the extremist ideology in Bangladesh have shown the same level of attraction or loyalty to this overarching militant entity — be it a romantic idea of establishing an Islamic State or carrying out a distorted vision of Jihad.
The point is that the surfeit that is affecting Bangladesh is not endemic, it is an epidemic that has spread globally and we need to address it accordingly.
Our leaders should come out of their fear to make the call they need to combat this crisis properly.
It is said that crisis always presents opportunities for change. But these changes should be for the better not worse. The crisis that Bangladesh faces today is not only a threat to internal security and safety of our people; it is also a serious threat to our economic growth, business, and future investment.
The more we deny the real threat and refuse to see the sources of the threat, the more danger we expose our people to the threat. We may dismantle all the unauthorised business and educational establishments in the city, we may continue to round up the usual suspects for terrorism all over the country, but we will continue to have the elephant in the room unless we are prepared to face it.
We have to find out and terminate foreign connections to terrorism in the country, and stop our youths from getting ensnared by the foreign groups. And for this Bangladesh should seek help from all.
Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the USA.