Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tackling Extremism

An International Conference is being held in Dhaka to discuss strategies to address ‘extremism’ attended by experts from the South Asian region as well as Singapore and Norway.

From the outset, I respect and appreciate such initiative and, with sincerity and goodwill, such initiative may bring much needed coherence in the strategies of governments in the South Asia and the wider world in dealing with Terrorism. But this optimism I find difficult to hold for practical reasons.

Terrorism now is a global phenomenon and the Western powers have taken much interest on the matter. It is only to be commended that the powerful nations are putting together huge amount of resources to deal with an issue of such importance. However, a closer look and careful analysis of the strategies, actions and outcomes of work by these nations to counter terrorism reveals little to have confidence. In fact, what analysis of most known counter-terrorism reveals is at best ignorance or at worst, prejudice towards a certain belief.

Terrorism, when resulting from sheer greed and criminal mindset, is a simple and straightforward issue which needs to be dealt with harshly. Such terrorism exists in many countries, especially the underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh. We are not, however, talking of such terrorism. The kind of terrorism that global community now a day talks about often, if not always, relates to resentment and reaction of people who for one reason or another feel aggrieved. Grievances caused by injustice, prejudice and hatred may result in a kind of resentment leading to terrorist activities which cannot be defeated through guns and bullets. Such terrorism requires pragmatism and sophisticated understanding of the issues backed by sincere desire to eradicate injustice. Only when the rights of all people can be restored, dignity and respect for individuals enshrined in the social fabric and rule of law established will the sense of resentment eventually disappear and the ‘good hearted’ individuals will return to normal life. Those that remain committed to the paths of violence and destruction may continue but will loose munitions for recruitment and retention which will ensure the end of such thugs and criminals.

On the backdrop of this understanding let us focus on the issue of terrorism in the context of Bangladesh. The current government pledged to form a South Asian task force to coordinate response of the governments in the region regarding the issue of counter-terrorism. But such initiative is only at its primary stage and lacks in details as admitted by the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh at the Terrorism conference. Further more, the actions of the government seems to be half hearted, if not dubious. In one hand they seem to claim to be genuinely committed to eradicate extremism on the other, they are pursuing a path of violence and political harassment of opposition. Mass scale attacks on the political activists of the opposition parties will create anarchy and give rise to resentment, just the kind of environment where terrorism flourishes.
The issue of ‘war crime’ during the Bangladesh’s Independence struggle is also relevant here. It is an issue resolved many years ago by the founding fathers of our nation. The present government itself made no serious attempt in the past. It seems to be clear to everyone except the diehard supporters of the government that the move to try the so called war criminals is politically motivated and is orchestrated to ensure political advantage for the ruling party and their allies. It is reasonable to conclude for this reason that any move to try the ‘war criminals’ will only act to divide our nation, exactly the kind of things that aid the growth of terrorist network. Besides, the present government has only been in power for just over a month and has already failed to impress the right minded citizens of their genuine desire to play by the rules.

To deal with terrorism must be a priority. But any strategies and action must be proportionate to the threat and realistic. It must also be free from political motives and must genuinely be aimed at building a respectful society where citizens are brought together by a common sense of identity and values. No action of divisive nature can ever bring peace. Violating core values of human dignity, individuals’ right and political suppression can never be good strategies for countering terrorism.