I was much younger as I sat upright, eyes glued to the television screen, as the horrific Ramna Botomul bombings unfolded, marring the very essence of the Bengali New Year celebrations. The bombings took away ten innocent lives and many others were injured; they were merely there to celebrate their culture on April 14, 2001. It was the first time many of us fully comprehended the actual meaning of religious extremism, radicalisation, and terrorism.
But the naïve kid in me kept on asking, “Why would anyone in their right mind commit such atrocities and that too, in the name of Islam?”
There was no answer.
There have been many more dreadful attacks since then, and the only solace many could find was by telling ourselves that the perpetrators behind these heinous acts were largely uneducated and mostly brainwashed with biased perspectives.
They weren't one of us, they couldn't be one of us.
And now, about 15 years later, we are again left in a dismal state as social media identifies the likes of Nibras, Rohan, Meer, and others, leading to a massive revelation. They were just like many urban 20 somethings – youngsters from affluent families who have been educated in some of the top schools and best private universities the country has to offer. This time, the perpetrators have struck very close to home. This time, there was no room for solace, they were one of us.
The moment their identities and ties with top notch private universities were revealed, it was only a matter of time that fingers would be pointed at these institutions. The authorities of the universities have taken multiple steps to ensure that security measures increased.
According to sources, faculty members have been directed by authorities to report students who miss classes constantly, and anyone who acts “differently.” To be fair, this is probably one of the best methods to keep track of students and point out those who may have the potential to be indoctrinated.
The administration of BRAC University are following strict rules regarding admitting students into the campus premises, where no one is allowed in without displaying ID cards around their necks. The instalment of metal detectors and rigorous bag-checking have led to some difficulties as well. A distraught student, Shadman Nahin said, “While I understand that the authorities are taking these measures to ensure our safety, they should also take into account how we are suffering as these checks can be time consuming while one stands in a queue under the sweltering sun.”
On the other hand, North South University has undoubtedly received much of the heat. Many have not hesitated to bring allegations against the reputed university, since several terrorists as well as questionable figures, like Hasnat Karim had ties with the institution. NSU, like BRACU, has also upped their security routine with metal detectors and meticulous checking at the entrance.
Students of the establishment are often mired in criticism regarding the role of the university. One of the students, Maaesha Nuzhat asserts, “Too many of us have had relatives say, 'What is happening at NSU? Is this what they teach you at your university?' Whether they are insensitive or ignorant is a different argument – the point is that we are in the limelight, and for all the wrong reasons. Our institution is being judged for some outliers and that is not acceptable. Remember, exceptions cannot be examples.”
Another student of NSU requesting anonymity spoke her mind, "I really think that it's time we stop playing victim. Terrorists HAVE come out of our institution, just as they have come out of other institutions and come out of our country as well. Just as they have come out of other countries too. Is it fair to blame the institution? Certainly not. But to completely deny that we have a problem is acting foolish. We need to address the issue, not by holding human chain processions – while these are warm displays of our unity, it doesn't solve the problem. We need to find out what's making these students, these young men and women like you and I turn to terrorism and then we need to kill the problem at its root."
It is undeniable that the reputations of these institutions have been under severe scrutiny since the recent terrorist attacks and subsequent raids. However, it is never wise to judge the thousands of students who belong to the universities, based on the actions of a few. Rather, it would be prudent if the authorities concentrate on identifying those who are to blame for indoctrinating youngsters, and giving them false ideas about religion. Additionally, universities should also focus on collaborating with the authorities, and creating an educational system that not only focuses on lessons for money, but tries to instil universal values of humanity and freedom in their students.