We are often assailed with the ‘militant’ issue and reports of militant activities intermittently crop up in the news. We stir up a storm in a teacup, cry ourselves hoarse on TV talk-shows. Then when the next new event comes along, we swing away our attention there in no time at all.
We call March the ‘month of independence’. It’s only natural that we get a little emotional this month. Then there was time spent in protesting about Rampal. Now we are so engrossed with Sheikh Hasina’s forthcoming India trip and so anxious about the future of Teesta. Added to that is the proposed defence pact or memorandum of understanding with India. Then suddenly attention shifted to the death sentence of Mufti Hannan, militant attacks here and there and finally the military operation at Atia Mahal in Sylhet. We are not at ease.
Awami League and BNP are the two major political parties of the countries. They fight with each other on anything and everything. They even play the blame-game over the issue of militants. The leaders of the parties blame the opponents and issue castigating statements. Awami League leaders say BNP backs the militants. BNP says Awami League is using these militant activities in their own interests. If they have any proof to back up their allegations, they should present it in public. If not, then they should just keep quiet. It is just not right to make light of militancy. The issue needs serious thought, not flimsy finger-pointing.
This rise in militancy has not suddenly sprung up on the scene. It has been there for some time, in the bomb blasts at the Udichi, CPB and Chhauanaut gatherings, at the cinema halls, the churches, at the jumma prayer congregations, and at the courts. When bombs blast simultaneously in 63 districts, this was a sensational occurrence. We couldn’t carry out such coordinated attacks on the enemy even in 1971 during the liberation war. Was this just the work of religious zealots blinded by fanaticism? Later we found that they has patronage of the state.
There is a government within the government. This is nothing new. Quite some time back I had read a book called Invisible Government, dealing with CIA activities. The book had created quite a stir. Such intelligence agencies run parallel governments in many countries. It’s like a genie, once out of the bottle, it can’t be put back. This is an extremely sensitive issue for us.
Several senior officials of the country’s civil and military intelligence are presently in jail. They are accused on several different accounts, including the ten truck arms case. The government surely takes all this into cognizance.
Epics can be written about militants and militancy. I would say attention should be paid to who are the ones that are being ‘misguided’ under this influence. Most of them are young, educated and with solid families backgrounds. Some are even offspring of freedom fighters. Why do they choose this path? Many may say this is a matter of sheer brainwashing. But everyone isn’t being brainwashed. Only some are. Is there any simple explanation to this? When a young person straps explosives to himself ready to commit suicide, his state of mind must be understood. What ideology or inspiration drives him to this?
We have glorified suicide attacks in the past. Revolutionary Preetilata Waddedar swallowed potassium cyanide, preferring death to being caught. She had been given the idea that killing a couple of white persons would bring independence to the country. Some took such acts up as a war strategy. Gandhi or Rabindranath never supported such movements. We are so proud of Preetilata and Khudiram and we don’t see them as terrorists. We call them freedom fighters. This sort of struggle didn’t last long in this country. But we saw this propensity in the sixties and seventies, particularly in Palestine.
A different sort of ‘revolutionary urge’ showed up in this country towards the end of the sixties. Naxalite movement leader Charu Majumdar had given the young generation a hard shake. Many at the time equated ‘class struggle’ with slaughter. Many young persons left their homes, never to return. They fell victims to their own politics, as did others. By decapitating the statue of Rabindranath in Kolkata, they imagined this was some sort of great victory against the ‘feudal landowner’ Rabindranath. That wave died down and now no one talks about any class struggle. They do their duty by addressing seminars and symposiums.
Four or five Awami League members of parliament were victims of this ‘revolution’ in 1970-74. After independence, Sarbahara Party and JSD took up the Naxalite style of violent politics. In the meantime, the Iran revolution of 1979 gave rise to a sort of Islamic renaissance. Under Imam Khomeini, the people sought liberation from the autocratic and imperialist rule of the Shah. Khomeini successfully established a representative Islamic republic in Iran. But it was different for Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban. A new form of terrorism and suicidal politics emerged from there. All of us more or less know who was behind this and why.
Why does the youth fly to the flames like hapless moths? What ideology drives them? We have no social dialogue with them. We want to solve the problem with RAB, the police and the military. Then there are some who say that giving indulgence to religious politics has led to the militant trend.
Many may misunderstand me for drawing a comparison between the freedom fighters of the early twentieth century and the Naxalites, or comparing both of these groups with religious zealots. What I want to point out is that an ideological drive is such a force that pushes a young person to extremism. That ideology may be nationalism, communism or a religious state. Extremism must always be shunned, but we often realise that too late.
Down the ages, youth have sacrificed their lives for ideals. We were not familiar with the trend of sacrifice that we see now. But the common people of the land have always sought salvation in religion. No matter how we may modernize the constitution, the common people do not read the constitution. We must remember, when the most hated person in Turkey was its Sultan, there was a khilafat movement in this country in his support. No other Muslims in the world had such a movement in his support.
A large section of our youth live as if stranded on an island. We do not communicate with them, we do not try to understand them. We do not look at their dreams or their pains. We do not try to understand why an 18 or 19-year-old boy jumps into the fire in such a manner. Without getting into the debate as to whether these are IS or homegrown militants, I want to say that this is not a matter of law and order. Are we offering any better narrative to the young people than given by those who are influencing them in this manner? Are we also being blinded by the conspiracy theory rhetoric?
*Mohiuddin Ahmed is a writer and researcher. He can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
*The article, originally published in the Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir