Contrary to popular perception, people with a background in general education are more likely to become involved in militancy than those from madrasas, law enforcement officials claimed.
Those who received general education usually have little knowledge about Islam and can be easily manipulated by militant recruiters through misinterpretation of the religion, said investigators involved in the fight against militancy in Bangladesh
Most of the new militants are young and introverted. As much as 80% of the militants arrested so far are between the age of 18 and 22, police say.
However, people from the madrasa background have always played pioneering role in militancy in the country, said Dhaka University Assistant professor Shafi Md Mostofa, who is doing a PhD thesis on militancy in Bangladesh.
“Although the percentage of madrasa student-turned militants is low, it was people from the madrasa background who introduced and patronized militancy in Bangladesh,” he said. “This is what I found after analyzing the data I have collected so far.”
Notorious militant leaders such as Shaykh Abdur Rahman, Siddikul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, Ansarullah Bangla Team’s Jasimuddin Rahmani, among others, are from madrasas.
Militant recruiters are usually from madrasa background, Shafi said. “Because they have better knowledge of Quran-Hadith and know how to misinterpret them to brainwash potential targets,” the researcher added.
Police Bureau of Investigation chief Deputy Inspector General Banaz Kumar Majumder said the environment in which a person grew up was important. “People from conservative social background are easy prey for the militant recruiters,” he noted.
Although the number of militants from Qawmi madrasa background is low among those arrested so far, police say they believe this education system should be monitored to prevent its students from walking the path of extremism.
Police, however, have little idea about Qawmi syllabus and madrasas. They are unaware if the syllabus contains materials that can provoke radicalization.
“We have spoken with a number of Qawmi madrasa leaders and they assured us that there is nothing harmful in the syllabus,” Anti-Terrorism Unit chief Shafiqul Islam said.
“We will scrutinize the curriculum of madrasas and recommend changes to the syllabus, if needed, to help curb militancy,” he added.
The picture has become clearer after police interrogated arrested militants, spoke with their family members, and checked their family income and educational backgrounds.
Sources at Police Headquarters said that the environment, friends, and acquaintances influence the youths more than any other thing to turn to extremism. And education — be it general, English medium or madrasa — plays a minor role.
Of the arrested militants, nearly 35% are from general education background, 30% madrasa dropouts, 20% from English medium and 10% are illiterate, counter-terrorism officials say.
“This is not the whole picture as many of them chose to die than surrender when law enforcers conduct raids to nab them,” said Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, chief of police’s Anti-Terrorism Unit.
Police are now speaking with researchers, counter-terrorism experts, and psychologists to chalk out plans to conduct research on militancy.
They plan to study 500 arrested and dead militants to learn about the patterns and tendency of militancy in order to combat it.
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Of the arrested militants, nearly 35% are from general education background, 30% madrasa dropouts, 20% from English medium and 10% are illiterate, counterterrorism officials say MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU
Some English medium school teachers spread militancy
Students of English medium schools largely come from the affluent families. According to police, some teachers at these institutions play a role in attracting students to militancy.
“We saw some teachers are politically motivated and harbour ideological sympathy towards militancy. For them, it is easy to attract the students to their ideology,” said Shafiqul.
Although police do not have specific intel, law enforcers say they assume that these types of teachers might join the schools intentionally to convert students to extremism. Some school management committees may also have militant sympathizers.
Surroundings play bigger role
Law enforcement agencies and educationists have found that surroundings play a greater role than educational and institutional components in pushing someone towards extremism.
“The environment in which a person grows up is important,” Police Bureau of Investigation chief Deputy Inspector General Banaz Kumar Majumder said.
“People coming from the conservative social background are easier to convince to get into militancy by giving them false or unreal facts and figures. But swaying people from the diverse modern background is very difficult,” he added.
A senior official of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit said the madrasa curriculum did not include Bangladesh’s history, culture, and heritage.
“That is why the madrasa students are mostly unaware of the spirit and sense of patriotism and mass-responsibility,” the official, asking not to be named, said.
“Students of the English medium education are also vulnerable as they are not taught the country’s history and culture. They know better about the west than their motherland.”
“Knowledge of Islamic history, culture or western history and culture alone is not enough for a student to become a patriot,” the counter-terrorism official pointed out.
“If they do not know about the struggle for our independence, they will lack love for the homeland. These students can be diverted easily towards radicalization,” the official added.
New plans for combating militancy
Law enforcement agencies are now prioritizing stopping secret militant recruitment drives in addition to conducting anti-militancy drives, said Anti-Terrorism Unit chief Shafiqul.
“We have almost destroyed the top and middle tiers of the militant outfits active in Bangladesh. But some root-level recruits are regrouping again, patronized by militant leaders,” he added.
“The militants are now engaging their family members in militancy as their organizational set-up was mostly ruined or detected by law enforcers,” he noted. “They use this trick when they cannot contact other people to convert them to militancy.”
He said two adolescent militants arrested with suicide vests in Chittagong were products of such practice.
The Anti-Terrorism Unit chief said the law enforcement agencies were focusing more on families to root out militancy.
“A family can easily detect signs when its members are newly converted to militancy from his or her behaviour. The newly radicalized person will often talk with the family members about religion and engage in an altercation with parents about religious practices,” he said.
“After this stage, the person would stay out of his or her residence for a few days telling their families that they are staying away for recreation or study issues. Later, the radicalized person would go missing -- the militants call it ‘Hizrat’.”
Shafiqul suggested that when parents see such radical behavioural changes in their children, they should talk to police.
“They should also try to talk more to their children and discuss various religious personalities and books which may help change their children’s views,” he added.