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In the name of student politics

  • Published at 12:16 am July 4th, 2018
  • Last updated at 01:42 pm July 4th, 2018
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Is the irony of this lost on our leaders? Photo: DHAKA TRIBUNE

Campus violence seems so normal it is often treated as background noise

It has been two years since the horrible act of terror that was the Holey Artisan incident -- an eye-opening atrocity that led to a lot of discussion over how, despite our nation’s best efforts to keep up a small-town facade, we are not safe from the clutches of organized, ideology-driven, international terror outfits.

The carnage witnessed was brutal, with at least 20 people losing their lives because of the misguided actions of a handful of disenfranchised young men belonging to various, distinct rungs of the Bangladeshi socio-economic ladder. 

And after two years worth of contemplation, commentary, and a multitude of successful anti-terror operations, Bangladesh can finally claim to have jumped into Dubya’s War on Terror bandwagon … for what it’s worth.

Terror level: Blue

Despite all the justified incredulity that the Holey Artisan incident entailed, Bangladeshis are not alien to the concept of terror, even though it has nothing to do with religion, or even any form of ideology for that matter.

I am, of course, referring to the current state of student political parties.

Groups such as the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and Bangladesh Jatiotabadi Chhatra Dal have been raising hell on the streets of our towns and cities long before Nibras Islam decided that the best way to express his pent up frustrations would be to pick up a gun and lay waste to a group of expats and teenagers in an upmarket restaurant.

News of BCL’s thuggery and sudden acts of public chaos is normal to the point where it’s almost treated as background noise; their rampant bouts of violence and vandalism performed under the thin veneer of “conducting student politics.”

Last Monday’s incident at the University of Dhaka, where a group of protesters -- calling for a reform to the existing quota system for administrative government jobs -- was suddenly and viciously attacked by the BCL “student politicians” can be called nothing short of an act of terror.

Take away the assault rifles and explosives, remove the false air of religiosity, and you can hardly tell the difference between a self-styled Bangladeshi member of IS and a member of BCL. 

They are both products of a culture that instills some of the worst values that a young man can translate into characteristic traits, except one of them enjoys the kind of impunity that can only be sponsored by the state itself.

And, indeed, the state has a large part to play here.

Mutually-assured destruction

I have heard an argument being made that each party’s student wing acts as something akin to nuclear deterrence against (ideally) each other. 

While this analogy holds some weight in making sure that the brunt of the fallout is almost always felt by the ordinary citizen, where it crumbles is the fact that there is almost next to no chance of a nuclear warhead targetting its own soil and launching itself.

But how did we even get here? How have we normalized the idea of political parties requiring miniature armies of their own? 

How did the idea of student politics go from actual students (I refuse to believe that the average 52-year-old-looking BCL member has anything to do with academia) protesting Section 144 during the Language Movement of 1952, to rank-and-file thugs beating up peaceful protesters in the same university grounds?

Is the irony lost on our leaders?

As citizens of a third-world nation, we have always existed in that murky realm that lies between development and authoritarianism. But that is a realm of contradictions.

Just as the promise of a Digital Bangladesh is broken by the formulation of the Digital Security Act, so is the promise of a secure and terror-free Bangladesh broken by letting violent groups such as BCL enjoy the level of impunity that they do.

IS, BCL, IRS, no matter what acronym you slap onto an organization that perpetuates violence and wreaks havoc, at the end of the day, terror by any other name is still terror. 

Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.