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Times of terror

  • Published at 06:38 pm March 19th, 2017
Times of terror

The word “jongi” is now a part of our everyday vocabulary. Post Holey Artisan, Bangladesh has experienced a wide variety of unease.

However, just when foreigners in Bangladesh were beginning to venture outside and security restrictions by many multi-nationals were beginning to relax a little, we had two incidents where, apparently, lone wolf radicals tried to carry out attacks within the RAB headquarters.

Reportedly, one detonated a suicide vest which wounded men in uniform. The authority has declared that any militant outfit or activity will be dealt with a strong hand, and, so far, we have seen quite a few operations which claimed to have thwarted radical plans to disrupt social harmony.

Now, as a journalist who has worked, and still works, in international development, the question I often face is: How safe is Bangladesh?

Can one go out on the streets without falling directly into some radicalisation-driven mayhem? The first thing I say is, Bangladesh is no less safe than any other European country and not immune to petty crimes which affect other major cities.

Yes, there was a militant attack last year but this does not mean that anyone going out will be a target.

But of course, there is always the subconscious fear of whether we show it or not. When we talk about militants, it’s prudent to keep in mind that, tackling a group of radicals is easier than dealing with one person who isn’t sharing any of his plans.

Of course, the response from the authority has to be robust and firm, but something that a journalist from an international media house once asked me in an interview keeps coming back to me: “How do you fight an enemy who wants to die?”

The only viable way is to reach out to the young, impressionable section of society, which is usually targeted for militant indoctrination

Realistically speaking, the only viable way is to reach out to the young, impressionable section of society, which is usually targeted for militant indoctrination.

Giving law enforcers the latest weapons and communication tools will tackle an emergency or a subversive plot.

However, simmering resentment stemming from misconceptions or misinterpretations of religion needs to be addressed in a conciliatory way.

This means that a section of law enforcement needs to lay down the weapons and take off the menacing uniforms and sit with youngsters.

Don’t take this literally, a social media dais is just fine.

Sorry to say, in the diligently sustained colonial format of law enforcement, where instilling fear is the key, there is hardly room for police, students, and religious scholars to come to one platform to openly discuss disturbing/deviant ideas that form the root of radicalism.

This is not to denounce stern measures in any way. Of course, the approach has to be swift, and calculated, but risk-mitigating attempts need to be made to ensure the situation does not even go that far.

I am sure our law enforcers take no pleasure in gunning down derailed youngsters.

Do we have ward-level police-society interaction? What about a “police week” aimed at reaching out to the young?

The truth is, when the law enforcement agency is used as a political tool, very little progress can be expected to either curb institutional corruption or proactively engage the young on issues that feed their angst.

My fear is that since lone wolves are starting to attack, one day someone might commandeer a truck or a large construction vehicle, seen often on main roads, and carry out a horrific mowing down of people, in a replication of several incidents in Europe.

The worrying factor is the isolated person being proselytised by surfing some dubious website.

Therefore, a social media platform opening up to the young, dealing with their confusions, should also be considered along with the adoption of stringent counter-terrorism.

And this has to be done keeping aside all political considerations. Terrorism, small or big, is here, and whether it’s BNP or AL in power, this scourge will proliferate unless checked.

Sadly, at this time, we see nasty political whataboutery at play and recriminations flying from all sides, while the sole application of ruthless force cements someone’s malicious resolve in some remote corner.

Let me give a small example where political differences are set aside for judicious unity: In the UK, despite the barbs shared in parliament and the constant zealous efforts from both sides to undermine the other, on the issue of tackling radicals, there has always been a consensus.

In Bangladesh, at least on this issue, let’s see a united front, otherwise, the relentless mudslinging will only provide fertile ground for more animosity, which may, in certain cases, lead an isolated few to commit diabolical acts.

Their motive is simple: Exploit the visceral antipathy between the two major parties and destabilise Bangladesh.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.