The reference is to an organization styled as “Ansarullah Bangladesh” whose activists and at least one leading figure have been arrested by security personnel
The advent of a hitherto unknown extremist outfit lends 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 if 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 religious extremists, despite being a miniscule proportion of the population, carry the potential of destabilising the polity. The question is, do we see a process that creates preconditions to generate terrorist acts on account of ideological motivations?
Don’t we realise that the grievances, perceived or real, of Islamic extremists 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.
The militant’s focus is on the use of power in pursuit of policy. Some sections of the public have been converted to this approach. Incidentally, the liberal current of opinion was significantly de-legitimised. The goal, therefore, should be denial of space for radicalised Islam and the militant tendency at its core. The extremists must not be allowed to develop vital stakes in the political system for starting a radical movement in the long run.
While eradicating or controlling militancy it should occur to us that in Bangladesh the advocates of extreme path are more determined than liberals. Liberal forces hardly work with intense dedication, much less with a sense of mission. One has to remember that in Bangladesh secularism as state ideology finds it difficult to compete with a language of belonging saturated with religion.
One has to recognise the socio-economic reality of Bangladesh where gross poverty co-exists with democracy, a liberal constitution and disorder with functioning polity; the religious and traditional beliefs are far more tenacious than the liberals imagine. The state has, at times, been involved in the business of defining religion. Significantly, the compulsions of the traditional obligations of the ruler to protect state religion have to be kept in view.
The militants’ strategy consists of efforts to win the trust and confidence of the majority population based on the role of extremists serving as arbitrators of individual and community disputes and financiers of education and livelihoods. Therefore, specific economic issues should be addressed on an urgent basis.
There is a need to reassert the innate pluralism of our politics, which has not favoured strong ideological parties. This is significant because the liberal front faces an uphill task in recapturing the political as well as the psychological ground already lost to the so-called extremist quarter. The liberals must be ready to face preparations of extremists for further round of aggressive social mobilisation with plans to embark upon politics of confrontation with a view to deriving political capital.
The area of action to counter militancy is a battle of ideas, challenging the ideological motivations that extremists believe justify the use of violence. Successful prosecution in the courts, based on gathering of necessary evidence and apprehending those involved in planning acts of terrorism before committing of mischief should be one of the principal approaches of countering militant activity.
Last but not least, we must avoid stereotyping all religious leaders and institutions as militant fundamentalists. Of prime importance is an inclusive policy agenda where the stake of the deprived classes is institutionalised and thus does not wait for the whims of policy makers. The risks of militancy will reduce in large measure when restoration of rule of law and distributive justice will be effectively manifest.