Saturday, January 19, 2008

The perils of extremism

The perils of extremism
ANM Nurul Haque
January 19, 2008
Source: Daily Star

The suicide gun and bomb arrack on Benazir Bhutto killing her along with more than two dozen of her party activists compels us to think yet once again on the menace of endemic extremism. The people of Bangladesh hardly have any reason to feel comfortable in the thought that the government has tackled extremism effectively and thus we have got rid of militancy menace.

Defining extremism has always been a difficult exercise. It is a pejorative term used to describe the action or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society or otherwise claimed to violate common standards of ethics and reciprocity.

Extremism, particularly its religious variant has risen alarmingly in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in the past few years which was in the making over a decade.

Some people may think that religious extremism has gone off with the execution of six key militant leaders of the banned Islamist outfit Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) including its chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman and his deputy Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai. All of them were convicted and sentenced to death for killing two judges in Jhalakathi in a suicide bomb attack on November 14, 2005.

Ever since the countrywide series of bomb blasts on August 17, 2005, RAB and police have been nabbing militants or busting their dens. The youngsters arrested by the RAB recently from different places are reported to have been enrolled as new members of the JMB. We have, therefore, serious reasons to apprehend that many of such members have been enrolled and trained by the JMB leaders to carry on its mission.

After the terror attacks on Twin-Towers, the US government enacted the Patriot Act and following the London blasts the UK government enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 with a view to tackling the terrorists.

In a bid to combat extremism, the UK government has asked the local groups in the multi-cultural British society to evolve ideas and plans for anti-extremism projects. The government has also declared that the local authorities will be able to bid for five million pound starling for trial schemes to help the Muslim communities to tackle extremism.

Our two neighbouring countries, Pakistan and India are quite unfortunate to witness the ugliest face of extremism repeatedly. Before assassination on December 27, Benazir Bhutto faced another worst suicide attack in Karachi within hours of her return from an eight-year exile which killed at least 138 people.

Before diminution of shockwave of this dastardly attack on Benazir, a bomb blast in a mosque in Peshwar on the day of holy Eid-ul-Azha left 56 people killed and scores injured. This suicide bombing inside the mosque was carried targeting a former interior minister of Pakistan.

A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people, including a senior judge, when the bomber blew himself up inside a court in Quetta, Pakistan. The explosion hit when hundreds of people were inside the compound for court cases and police inquiries.

Seven bombs went off on July 11, 2006 in Mumbai's rush hour trains at seven different spots causing large-scale death and devastation. Hell broke loose again on February 19, killing as many as 67 people, mostly Pakistani nationals, when two powerful bombs went off in a Pakistan bound friendship train at Panipath, India.

Since the terrorism knows no territory, these tragedies with India and Pakistan, is no doubt an alarm for Bangladesh. The execution of six JMB kingpins, certainly not go all-out to rid the country of militancy menace. Religious extremism which has made deep penetration, might has developed cross-regional network. The caretaker government must realise the enormity of the danger that is looming large in this region and posing serious threat to peace and security.

The root of extremism is embedded in certain political, economic and social deprivation. Extremism essentially reflects on long but unsuccessful struggle to bring about changes in the state structures. This is a prime cause of frightening rise of extremism in this region.

The failure of Pakistani government in containing religious extremism in the country lies in the fact that, it did not tackle the crisis effecting social reform and political liberalisation.

The reasons of rising religious extremism in Bangladesh, besides other things, are violation of rights of the poor and use of religion in politics. Unless the government ensures the rights of the poor through poverty alleviation and prevent the use of religion in politics, no other things will help people to wean away from the conservative hard-line attitude that is sustaining extremism in Bangladesh.

Redesigning of madrasa education, which is also liable to breed religious extremism to certain extent is imperative to save the young minds from the clutch of religious extremists. The lack of proper education and enlightened governance has enabled extremists to create pockets of support by manipulating religious teachings.

One cannot be oblivious of the fact that, the extremists have been exploiting the religious faith and sentiment of the youths and also the education that they are being imparted in madrasas. Many young minds are opening up to extremists thought specially when getting their lessons of religion being administered not by scholars but by those who have mixed their political agenda with the message of religion.

Religious extremism -- be it Islamist or Hindutva, or any other -- contribute much to the retrogressive development of the society by way of spreading terrorism. The war on terrorism has given a big boost to their dangerous agenda. The boundaries of extremism have overlapped on one end with the traditional religious political parties and on the other, with the militants.

Much remains to be done so far as measures aimed at containing the religious extremism. The assassination of Benazir multiplies the need for correcting all the faults so far done by the immediate past government here in tackling the menace before it attempts to destabilise the state structures.

The immediate past government did a lot of things for arresting the top JMB leaders but hardly did anything of substance to trace the patrons due to their alleged link with them. Demolition of the political links of the religious extremists should be on the top of the agenda, which can be dealt with severely by the caretaker government, as it has no obligation to the vote bank.

What now actually needed for containment of extremists is better performance of all the law enforcing agencies and, of course, a democratic justice delivery system. However, care must be taken in the fight against extremism, as increased repression and coercion are likely to feed it rather than reduce it.

ANM Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star.

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