Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

Third Eye

Facing up to the challenge of extremism

Syed Fattahul Alim

Facing up to the challenge of extremism
Syed Fattahul Alim

Popular News

The latest victim is a poor tailor in a remote village of Tangail. Considering the style of the attack and the method used in the killing, it clearly bears the signature of the recent spate of murders in which on April 25 were put to death the editor of a pro-LGBT magazine and his associate in the Kalabgan area of Dhaka following the assassination of a Rajshahi university teacher two days before. In all these bloody incidents, the attackers used sharp weapons that include knives (meat-cleaver, machete and suchlike). Going further back, we may recall the murder of Nazimuddin Samad, a Jagannath University student, in the first week of the last month (April) and decapitation of a Hindu priest in Dinajpur in the second half of February. Though sharp knife-like instruments were the chief killing weapon, in some cases the assassins also used firearms and explosives in addition to machete or such.
Evidently, despite the fact that, in every case, the unknown attackers had all kinds of preparations to complete their killing mission; they made it a point to use a particular type of weapon to demonstrate their characteristic style of operation.
A website claimed it was the work of Jihadi elements affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS). However, as usual, the government and, and its law-enforcement wing reacted to such claims by rejecting them out of hand. In the same vein, they also reiterated their conviction that the perpetrators are home-grown terrorists without any foreign connection and that these elements are out to destabilise the government and the country.
Even if we ignore the claims made in the particular website (although, the international media has been giving much publicity to such reports on the IS-linked local militants’ owning up to the killings), the question as to who are exactly behind these killings perpetrated in a particular style does not stop to bother us. The victims’ families and all others who are helplessly watching these terrifying incidents taking place in broad daylight before their own eyes definitely do not want to see a repetition of such murders. Moreover, they also want to see that the law-enforcers are able to nab the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
To make that happen, the law-enforcers, especially, their intelligence branch needs to proceed with an open, not a closed, or biased, mind. And nothing should be kept outside the purview of consideration. If, to begin with, the police keep closed one of the windows of possibility, say, any foreign link to the murders in question, how can they (the police) ensure that the method of their investigation is foolproof? And so far as the progress relating to the investigations into   previous such killings of bloggers, publishers and the members of minority groups are concerned, the record is not much to write home about. Talking of success in bringing the murderers to justice, of some 11 incidents of ‘blogger’ killing, trial of only one case is learnt to have been completed, while three are under trial. The rest are under investigation.   
The debate about who the killers are, or whatever their origins or connections are, it is hardly of any consequence, so long as the fallout of their actions is concerned. The ultimate losers are the victims and their family members. And their numbers are on the rise. Since the members of the law-enforcement department seem, in most cases, to be in the dark about the exact identities of the killers, the general public is left wondering in fear as to who is going to be the unknown killers’ next target. And as the possible list of the attackers’ targets keeps widening cutting cross class, faith and demographics, the blanket terms like secularist or bloggers or minority group are proving to be inadequate to accommodate all the types or groups of people now in the crosshairs of the unknown assassins. This is a new type of situation of fear facing the populace.
As it came out after each killing incident, the victims were found to be individuals who uttered or wrote something derogatory about Islam or Prophet (SM).
Against this backdrop, the government has, understandably, taken a cautious stance against any utterance made or opinions put in writing by individuals that may hurt the religious sentiment of people, particularly of Muslims who comprise the largest chunk of the population. Accordingly, it has even punished some individuals against whom allegations of uttering blasphemous remarks were brought by fellow people. Such an incident was reported from Bagerhat where two schoolteachers were jailed on charges of having hurt religious sentiment of the people.
The government, under no circumstance, can allow any individual to destroy social and communal harmony by making hate-speech, uttering racist remarks, or using any insensitive words that divide people. Religion, too, is a highly sensitive issue and that is more so in recent times, not only in Bangladesh, but globally. This demands utmost care on the part of the government, the media as well as different opinion leaders in society when it comes to handling issues having to do with the public’s religious sensitivities.
But the question of religious and communal harmony has nothing in common with dealing with incidents of crime like murders including targeted killings, even if that happen in the name of religion. There is no scope for mixing up the two different issues.
However, it is one thing to deal with a murder case (even it is committed by religious extremists), it is quite another thing to handle the subject of religious extremism. Hunting down the miscreants involved in the killing is purely a law and order issue. But it would be too simplistic to look at the ideological problem of extremism purely in the light of law and order. And since religious extremism has broader political and ideological dimensions, while handling the ideologues and their aficionados, the police should treat them as such and not as ordinary law-breakers.
The government recently hosted inter-faith communions among leaders of different religious beliefs. In itself, such gatherings are very helpful in a nation where holders of many faiths live side by side.  
However, if such dialogue was hosted against the backdrop of the growing religious intolerance in different countries with accompanying rise of the rightwing politics, more specifically, its far right version in Europe, the USA and Asia, then it is, undoubtedly, a welcome move in an avowedly secular Bangladesh.    
But if it was organised with an eye to the recently occurring incidents of hacking to death of secularists, bloggers, and publishers as well as some individuals belonging to different religious minorities, then one is to take the move with a pinch of salt.
The answer for the problem of targeted killing lies in advanced intelligence gathering, monitoring and all-out preparedness of the law-enforcement department against the looming danger. Also, to face the ideological aspect of the issue, law-enforcement personnel need also to equip themselves with the necessary theoretical knowledge about the politics of religious extremism.  

The writer is an Editorial Consultant of
daily sun