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Rakibul Hasan: Adaptive terrorism

Rakibul Hasan: Adaptive terrorism

How radicalisation has changed and intensified in Bangladesh

Image above: Mosque at Bagerhat, Bangladesh

Bangladeshi Queen's Young Leader, Rakibul Hasan examines the recent growth of terrorism in his country. He asks why and how this has come about, and what should be done about it.

In Bangladesh radicalisation has never been so intensive – or so successful – in recruiting young people.

There are three major changes in radicalisation and the entire terrorism scenario of the nation: 

  1. These days, extremist outfits have started recruiting more from schools, colleges and universities. Earlier recruits were mostly supplied from madrasas.
  2. Renowned university faculties, professionals and sympathisers from wealthier families – among others – have fallen prey to terrorist masterminds. In many previous cases, it was the lower middle classes who generally provided a wider pool of recruits.
  3. Finally, there’s been a significant shift from the old fashioned mosque or madrasa-based fundamentalist training to growing online campaigns. This is the single biggest contribution to adaptive terrorism in Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, the existing security architecture is too fragile to take on the crisis. The changing patterns have not been addressed. 'Adaptive terrorism' now penetrates the very foundation of our diverse society.

Traffic jam in a very crowded street surrounded by tall buildings

A traffic jam in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image credit: Brian Katz

Recruiting children and students

The backgrounds of young recruits vary. Some belong to radical families. Others are targeted because of the merits or socioeconomic status of their families.

An impoverished class of youths has always been targeted intentionally – using their vulnerability – and gently radicalised through academic assistantship and scholarship opportunities.

Violent extremism does not happen by accident, or by ethnic default. Rather increasing evidence shows that someone injects grievances into children at a tender age.

A small boy plays cricket while his mother looks on smiling

A small boy plays cricket. Image credit: Brian Katz

Children living away from their parents and guardians are more likely to be indoctrinated by extremists and join terrorism. So the agents target school and college students, who are mostly living alone in dormitories or hostels far away from their families.

English medium schools, private colleges and universities often spawn vulnerable students who have little acquaintance with the rich Bengali culture of diversity, folklore heritage, Deltic Sufism, shared histories and eastern traditions that go back thousands of years. Radicalists brainwash these students with revisionist narratives of heavenly rewards and the fantasy of martyrdom.

As consequence, students learn to hate Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Muslims – even though many of them have never interacted with them or been harmed personally by them. Radicalists dehumanise non-Muslims as perverts of the true religion. The Torah, Bible and all other divine scriptures – except the Holy Koran – are degenerated and manipulated.

This provides a so-called motivation to overpower those who practice religions other than Islam.

Infiltrating academia

Academia has become a recruiting venue. Shrewd ideologues indoctrinate hate and revenge in young minds. They provide them with the illusion of psychological emancipation – and sometimes physical training – using academic networks and facilities.

University faculties are both victims of, and responsible for mastering, adaptive terrorism in Bangladesh. While one group of teachers incubates radicalists, another is increasingly targeted by terrorists for their free thinking and secularist ideology.

This is a major shift from decades of practice, where Islamist groups recruited from the masses and the marginalised – lower middle class, half-educated, unemployed rural youths.

fishing boats on a lake at sunset, with an orange sun

Fishing boats in rural Bangladesh. Image credit: Brian Katz

Compared to previously, today’s recruits may be fewer, but they are more effective at overwhelming traditionalists in terms of intelligence, affiliations, influence and capacities.

Going digital

The third shift of adaptive terrorism comes with the digitalisation of information and communication technologies. This is the apparently invincible guerrilla warfare of online terrorism.

In addition, the internet and social media help disseminate terrorist propaganda to sensitive youths, commonly portraying violence as heroism that combats anti-Islamism.

Border securities can perhaps stop any intrusion inside a territory. But with the development of social media and other internet apparatus, terrorists can access targets from anywhere in the world and lure students towards global “jihad”.

The solution

Tolerance is not enough. Only rethinking obsolete counterterrorism policies will gradually minimise the emerging threats in the long run.

Right now, we need to understand the diverse social relationships among factions and communities. And we need to promote interfaith dialogues, interparty co-operation and socio-political commitment.

Among other things, we must remove hate from academic literature and stop the misinterpretation of holy scriptures. Textbooks should incorporate alternative literature on tolerance, diversity and pluralism – which grow critical thinking and reasoning skills among youths – to nullify biased and narrow ideologies.

Rakibul Hassan in front of a big sign that says 'Youth'

Rakibul talking about youth. Image credit: Rakibul Hassan

But we should begin by initiating a bottom-up approach that involves communities that fall victim to radicalisation – for instance, ‘Youth Resistance to Youth Radicalisation’ – and by involving youths in peace journalism.

The best age group to counter violence are perhaps youths because young people are more likely to listen to – and more likely to be influenced by – their surroundings and thoughts.

Before it is too late, we should transform young people from passive recipients into active participants, who shape and implement strategies and policies on the issues that affect them.

This piece was written for Leading Change by Rakibul Hassan