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Fundamentalism, extremism, and terrorism alert!
Publication Date : 19-09-2013
The words fundamentalism, terrorism and extremism continue to be subjects of intense public discourse. These three words have been bandied about so very often that they are likely to lose importance, as happens so often with issues that are both overplayed and underplayed, unless we stopped using it out of context or exploiting these for political purpose. Unfortunately, these, as well as the religious sentiment of the people, are being exploited by all the political parties in equal measure.
The tendency to use the three terms as fungible expressions, distorts their very basic and essential meaning. The ordinary person can be forgiven for the mix up, but coming from the better informed in society, some of whom hog the TV talk-shows, this can only be taken as an exercise to mislead or to provide simplistic explanations as rationale for the incidence of violence occurring in the country. It not only dilutes the significance of the issues these words subtend but also influences the mechanism of dealing with their outward manifestations.
Tomes have been written on fundamentalism. Somehow the term has come to be used pejoratively, particularly in Bangladesh. Not necessarily does all the violence a society experiences stem from fundamentalist mindset nor are all incidents of violence acts of terrorism, nor are all fundamentalists terrorists or extremists. It is essential, as one author avers, to “understand the difference between the religious fundamentalist who, in essence, simply holds an absolute truth and value-perspective, on the one hand, and the so-called fundamentalist who engages in the extremist and violent behaviour of terrorism, on the other.” Extremists are willing to kill to protect or enforce their beliefs, while the terrorists have a political agenda to fulfill.
Unfortunately, fundamentalism, whether Christian or Muslim, is accused by some of distorting the very religion it seeks to defend. And by the same token, and equally unfortunately, the word secularism has been cast as anti-religion. I neither have the authority nor the scholarly credentials to either explicate or offer my own opinion on the issue except to say that inclination to apply the term out of context or with a political motive should be resisted.
As for terrorism, we have been told very recently of serious terrorist threats lurking in the wings, waiting for the ruling party to lose the general elections. We are informed by various reports and research works that there are 50 or so Islamist extremist organisations in Bangladesh. This is perhaps a record and a credit that no other country can wrest from us. This is an alarming figure if true, even if the number was half the figure given.
We have also heard of new accusations made regarding the involvement of the opposition leader in the August 21 grenade attack on the Awami League rally in 2004. This is a revelation that has neither got the attention of the media nor the public that it should have.
We have reasons to worry about religious terrorism, more so with the impending drawdown in Afghanistan come 2014. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has its ramification on the overall security situation in the subcontinent, particularly given the estimated figure of extremist organisations in Bangladesh. Many of them are facing bans but what should worry one is whether the law enforcing agencies have a full tack on them and have an assessment of the capacity of these elements to mutate from an extremist to a full fledged terrorist organisation with a political agenda to establish. As per South Asian Terrorism Portal list updated up to September 8, 2013, there are four terrorist organisations in Bangladesh and one extremist group. If it is true that there are many terrorist groups waiting to pounce, and one should not take issue with the figures since they come from people close to the centre of power, we wonder what actions have been taken to identify, anticipate and neutralise them. Or is it just alarmist rhetoric to garner votes? That would make light of an issue that we should take seriously.
If the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its alliance are blamed for exploiting religion of political gains, which they have done quite effectively in recent times, the AL led government cannot avoid the same criticism. Reportedly, the government has decided to launch a political offensive against Hefajat-e-Islam and Dr. Yunus. And that will be done through the Islamic Foundation and the Imams of nearly 5 lakh mosques in the country. One wonders whether that is not exploitation of religion for political mileage.
The writer is Editor, Oped &Strategic Affairs