De-radicalising Bangladesh in four steps (III)
Asif Shibgat Bhuiyan

We need a program that caters to everyone and allows us to work together. This is the concluding part of a three-part long form

  • Let’s strive for a more holistic approach to Islam  
    Photo- NASHIRUL ISLAM

Such religious discussion and content should be relevant, meaning it should not be restricted to a domain of personal observance and ritualistic aspects. Rather, it should talk about everything it naturally has a stake on. From family issues to state politics, and from rituals to social and economic issues.

Failing to do so will render it irrelevant and ceremonious, having no impact on the minds and lives of the religious youth. Needless to say, this will then turn them towards other, external, problematic sources to receive their spiritual guidance from. The notions that are controversial should not be shunned in fear, rather delved into with curiosity in order to bring forth a reasonable explanation of such issues.

For example, the concept of “jihad” in Islam should not be quarantined in a progressively relevant Islamic content. A hush-hush will only stir more curiosity, often to a detrimental effect. Rather, all-encompassing research and discussion should take place in making sense of “jihad” using Islamic sources, scholastic tools of interpretation and contextualisation, and modern socio-political understanding to extract a purposive explanation that will efficiently answer the difficult questions that our youth needs an answer to.

Such a double-helix approach of a holistic religious paradigm, which doesn’t shun relevant secular disciplines but rather creates a symbiotic relationship of mutual inspiration, was long overdue. It is not new either. But it is not ubiquitous yet. The time has come then for it to be so. Everywhere and here in Bangladesh.  

But then, in creating relevant double-helix religious content, the religious entrepreneurs need a nod from the government and the law enforcement bodies that they will be allowed to do it as long as they do not misuse the trust. The government should not politicise such activities and programs.

Any committee or body to oversee such a development should include credible people with religious authority and background so that the trust factor is always at play. It can’t be headed by people with ulterior motives. Only including, for an example, Bengali nationalists with no known religious commitment and credentials will defeat the purpose severely.

I am not saying either that it has to be the traditionalist religious leaders only. An intellectual check and balance should be invoked by inviting people of different disciplinary authorities but a significant authority should be entrusted to religious leaders and scholars.

A failure to do so will then result in a downward spiral of allegations of politicisation -- the last thing we can afford to have.     

Introducing a preventive de-radicalisation program

Bangladesh is well reputed for its natural disaster management in the world.

For decades, we have shown that we are adept at managing natural disasters like floods to which we are so often exposed to.

There’s no reason why we can not become a premier centre of management and research of man-made disasters too. There should be no lack of motivation either.

It is our chance to show the world what we are capable of doing as a nation, that we are not simply hard-line nationalists feeling a non-existent supremacy over Planet Earth that is oh-so-common in a typical third-world country.

We should fast establish cutting-edge research centres on terrorism and radicalism and how to de-radicalise the more radical elements in society.

There are great research centres in the West. For example, I know of two in the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

I haven’t come across any such reputable research centres in Muslim countries that can lead research in this particular field.

In the West, it is now a great debate among people engaged in de-radicalisation programs whether such programs need to involve religious (read: Islamic) scholarship to have a long-term effect, or if social, economic, and legal procedures are enough to make it successful.

To me, it is beyond doubt that such programs, to fulfill their objectives, need the full participation of religious authorities, among other such elements.

Radicalisation is not only a religious problem, it is a religious problem nonetheless. Other social, economic, political, and psychological issues pertaining to terrorism are important and are already proving way too disastrous to be ignored.

But the religious factor, which is alleged to be laying the platform for its creation, should be let into the process of reversing the tide of radicalisaton.

It can be understood why it may be both inconvenient and difficult in the West to incorporate the Islamic factor in the de-radicalisaton program, especially in the context of Islamophobia.

As for us, being a Muslim-majority country, we have to involve Islam in dealing with problems associated with it.

Here, it should be convenient, logical, and essential.

Such programs should invite scholars, Muslims, and non-Muslims.

It needs to be both preventive and prescriptive.

It must find causes of radicalisaton and factors incubating it in the first place.

Likewise, it must find a way to rehabilitate those who are already infested by it.

In the age of the internet, social media, and artificial intelligence, it is now becoming exceptionally easy to locate terrorism-savvy discussions, conversations, and activities.

Unlike some places in the West, it should not let people be radicalised first and then trapped, often sending informants from the very program that seeks to prevent it.

The de-radicalisaton program should rather pinpoint what terrorism actually is and how it starts to crystallise, and try to prevent it from the very outset.

The program can take help from IBM and other social analytics giants in developing programs which will apply cutting-edge image and text recognition to identify aberrational and problematic patterns taking place in social media.   

These are some beginning guiding comments which, I understand, can be improved manifold by people with a better understanding than I do.

The government and other dominant political parties, along with the intellectuals and the common people should come up with something concrete, well-planned, objective, and timely to act immediately, with efficiency and effectiveness.

Rhetorical over-the-top claims, mud-slinging, and self righteousness will only save our faces individually for the moment, but will topple us all collectively.

As we have often shown, with precision and unity, we can stand to any challenge put forth by nature; it should not be difficult for us to do the same for the challenges which are man-made.


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