Bangladesh has hit global headlines in recent months following a series of terrorist attacks on bloggers, journalists, foreigners, religious minorities, spiritual leaders and academics. This has unfortunately generated a sense of insecurity and negative perceptions of youth in the country.
In this backdrop, MOVE Foundation has taken the initiative to reach out to youth from diverse backgrounds – students of public universities, private universities, national colleges, qawmi madrassas, religious and ethnic minorities, faith leaders and young professionals – in order to listen to their perspectives on preventing radicalisation, upholding freedom of speech, building tolerance and respecting differences of opinion in society. Between August and September 2016, a series of day-long workshops was conducted on tolerance, respect and peace to reinforce the spirit of pluralism and provide counter-narratives rejecting religious militancy. 124 youth aged between 18 to 35 years actively participated in six workshops held in Dhaka.
With the generous support of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Dhaka, the workshop culminated in MOVE Foundation pioneering a youth network of ‘Community Peace MOVErs’ comprising of university and madrassa students to develop creative initiatives in preventing violent extremism and building social cohesion in urban communities. The objectives of the workshops were to guide youth to identify conflict drivers and mitigation strategies, promote the spirit of freedom of speech, democracy and pluralism amongst youth, disseminate religious perspectives against terrorism as counter narratives preventing the radicalisation of youth, mainstream conflict resolution strategies as an effective mechanism for CVE and build a network of Community Peace MOVErs to serve as a permanent platform for peacebuilding by youth at the local level.
The workshops were conducted through standard participatory approaches including brain storming, interactive discussions, group exercises, scenario analysis, lectures, and question answer, were employed to ensure active participation and maximum involvement of youth. During the Countering Violent Extremism session, a video on the recently developed app ‘Hello CT’ of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police was promoted for community collaboration in fighting terrorism. Posters and videos of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) as well as relevant verses of the Holy Quran and narratives of Al-Hadith denouncing terrorism were disseminated to the youth participants.
The workshop reinforced the spirit of freedom of speech, democracy and pluralism amongst youth participants in order to motivate their peers in practicing tolerance and respecting differences of opinion. It equipped the participants with a hands-on understanding of conflict resolution tools and counter-narratives against religious extremism amongst urban youth communities. The participants gained a strong understanding and appreciation of the role of youth in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism, thereby internalising the SDG Goal 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies) and UNSC Resolution 2250 (youth, peace and security).
One of the most important aspects of the workshop was to ensure that the youth were having their voices heard. According to the opinions that surfaced during discussions, it was obvious that the participants felt they were not adequately integrated with CVE measures undertaken by the government and civil society, and that a section of the media may be inadvertently generating sympathy for terrorists by simplified reporting on “good boys turning into extremists”. It was also agreed that the spirit of community collaboration has to be mainstreamed in law enforcement agencies from the central to the local levels.
The recommendations that were put forward included affordable and adequate mental health support, including psychological counseling, being made available for youth in conflict situations and/or vulnerable to radicalisation; incorporating values of tolerance, pluralism, respect, dignity, non-violence and ethics in the civil education curricula; promoting religious education by authentic scholars who reject violence and extremism in order to prevent youth being misguided by misinterpretations of scripture; propagating counter narratives rejecting religious extremism through traditional and social media; increasing opportunities for intellectual and cultural activities by youth, including debating, writing and theatre groups to channel their energy in a positive direction; and raising awareness about the nature of social media to prevent rumours triggering violence.
Given recent terrorist trends in Bangladesh, including the July 1 hostage siege in Dhaka, government-civil society-youth collaboration in countering violent extremism is more important than ever. The Bangladesh government has so far shown a strong political will and determination to counter terrorist groups, including dismantling their organizational capacity and operational space. The immediate priority for the government, educational institutions and civil society is now to counter the radicalisation process underpinning violent extremism and terrorism by developing counter-narratives to prevent the ideological and tech-based recruitment of youth by specific local and transnational terrorist groups. The MOVE Foundation workshop series with youths gave an opportunity to interact with youth from diverse age and backgrounds in imparting knowledge on conflict analysis tools.