• Thursday, Nov 15, 2018
  • Last Update : 10:47 am

A crisis we can’t ignore

  • Published at 12:02 am September 17th, 2016
A crisis we can’t ignore

In the aftermath of these attacks, a natural government response is to increase the power of, and boost spending for, the nation’s myriad security forces. Yet Bangladesh is already a heavily militarised and securitised state, complete with a liberal use of law enforcement authority.

It would be far more useful to craft specific solutions in the areas of security, political rehabilitation, civil society, and grassroots activism. Recommendations in all of these areas are detailed in The Comparative Jurist policy paper “Anti-terrorism and counter-extremism in Bangladesh: From policy to grassroots activism.”

As the number of internal armed conflicts in the Muslim world has increased over the past few decades, there has been a steady rise of extremism-inspired terrorism and militancy among segments of disaffected Muslim populations around the world.

The backgrounds of the Gulshan attackers continue to demonstrate that radicalisation can affect individuals of all educational levels and socio-economic backgrounds.  In response, various Muslim countries have developed specialised programs for their citizens who have participated in activities involving terrorism and militancy, both within their borders and abroad. Likewise, various European countries dealt with its citizens returning from fighting in conflicts abroad.

The Saudi and Danish models

Most Muslim countries treat militancy and terrorism as crimes punishable by imprisonment or death, depending on the severity of the crime.  Yet, several nations have also launched rehabilitation programs designed to “de-program” select citizens from extremist ideology.

Indeed, while boasting some of the broadest and most draconian anti-terrorism laws in the world, perhaps the most notable rehabilitation model is Saudi Arabia’s “Care Rehabilitation Center” (CRC).

Established in 2007, the CRC is located in a former resort complex outside Riyadh. The program’s two primary objectives include “changing perceptions and views” and “behaviour modification,” with the overall goal of creating an environment which “encourages detainees not to commit violence again.”

CRC features art therapy as well as religious and psychological counselling services in order to apply a “soft approach” in altering the hardline views of participants and their eventual re-integration to society.

The program features 205 “graduates,” but there are two major requirements: Participants must demonstrate a “willingness to change” and their activities cannot have resulted in injury or death of any Saudi nationals.

Saudi officials claim that the program is largely a success. Participants include Saudi nationals accused of domestic or foreign terrorist-militant activities as well as released Guantanamo prisoners.

Likewise, while most European countries punish citizens convicted of conducting militant and terrorist activities abroad with lengthy prison sentences, in 2007, Denmark launched its own rehabilitation program in Aarhus. The program was initially designed to deal with right-wing soccer hooligans, but has now evolved to re-integrate Danish citizens returning from fighting in Syria.

Like the CRC in Saudi Arabia, the Danish program involves “counselling, help with re-admission to school, meetings with parents, and other outreach efforts.”  The program is a collaboration between police and welfare services.

A dedicated de-radicalisation program will serve as a crucial alternative to the vastly overburdened and overused criminal justice system. Such programs have particular benefits in helping to prevent extremists from sharpening their criminal expertise while simultaneously stemming the radicalisation of other prisoners

A dedicated Bangladeshi counter-extremism program

There are several potential legal and policy lessons that Bangladesh can learn from these rehabilitation models which will be crucial in conceptualising and implementing its own program.

While the exact contours of such a program will certainly require further analysis and input from specialised partner organisations and experts, there are several foundational guidelines.

For instance, advisory panels of psychologists and other experts can help judges consider candidates for the program on a case-by-case basis, based on a number of aggravating and mitigating factors such as the nature and results of the activities they participated or attempted to participate  in, the individual offender’s level of culpability, their socio-economic circumstances, the likelihood of danger they would pose to society, and demonstrations of remorse and willingness to reform.

The program may even be used to treat Bangladeshis who attempt to join or are former members of international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and IS. A dedicated de-radicalisation program will serve as a crucial alternative to the vastly overburdened and overused criminal justice system.

Such programs have particular benefits in helping to prevent extremists from sharpening their criminal expertise while simultaneously stemming the radicalisation of other prisoners.

These programs also provide a substantial incentive to surrender, for both potential and active militants.

They also give concerned family members and friends a specialised avenue for referring troubled individuals without fear of their loved ones enduring strenuous interrogations, torture, or imprisonment.

In addition to the programs in Denmark and Saudi Arabia, there are additional programs in Algeria, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  The Bangladeshi government should carefully study and audit the programs to see which models (or which aspects from multiple models) would work best in a Bangladeshi context.

A manageable ailment

There are no silver-bullet solutions to the pestilence of violent extremism and political violence, and it can’t be accomplished overnight.

Indeed all of the recommendations featured here are intended to serve as a means of continuing a national dialogue, and it is the guidance of the experts on the ground which should be heeded.

Working towards enacting concrete solutions on both an institutional and grassroots level is the right step. Violent extremism and political violence are not insurmountable crises.  South Asia has endured centuries of foreign subjugation, the horrors of Partition, and sectarian and ethnic carnage.

Muslim civilisation has overcome seven Crusades, Genghis Khan’s ravaging hordes, and the Bubonic Plague. The recent string of attacks in from Turkey to Malaysia -- and especially the attack in Mecca -- have galvanised the world against violent extremism in an unprecedented way.

We can and will overcome IS, al-Qaeda, and all of these anti-Muslim terrorists. 

Atif Choudhury is a LLM candidate in Queen Mary University of London’s Public International Law program. This article is an adaptation of a policy paper published in William and Mary Law School’s The Comparative Jurist.