The economics and social chemistry of militancy are being studied in the West. But Western governments are acting otherwise, pursuing a one-dimensional policy of attacking the militants militarily to uproot them from Earth forever. Dhaka today follows suit, at least avowedly, barring any research, correct reasoning, and serious thinking about militancy. Rather over-enthusiastically, the authorities assign law enforcers to sell the term as many times as possible to draw political dividends.
Once condemned for his undiplomatic and aggressive moves, George W Bush is instead being followed in dealing with non-state “jihadists” and, of late, multi-national operatives of Islamic State. In Bangladesh, the rulers have adhered to Bush’s philosophy: You’re either with me or against me. Bush had at least tried to give an explanation about “terrorist upsurge,” presenting poverty as a key reason. We now know he was wrong. It is Western research that confirmed most of the jihadists were bright graduates and successful professionals, especially engineers.
So, blaming the “poor” students at a Chittagong madrasa for trans-national Islamist militancy has in fact been a bankrupt policy. Even if you unfairly suspect them, you’d find that poverty has constrained their capacity and courage to issue a formidable threat, let alone act independently on the big international scene. Look at Hefazat-e-Islam, a coalition of madrasa-educated groups, which could not dare to regroup after the crackdown on its gathering in Motijheel in May 2013. Cadres of IS have been indoctrinated in such a manner that they are ready to sacrifice their lives for a cause they think is righteous.
President Barack Obama’s initial hesitation in launching airstrikes on IS militants indicated Washington’s unwillingness to engage in long-term wars anymore, after Bush’s twin setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why then, have the Western leaders preferred airstrikes on IS strongholds in complex civil war-torn areas in Syria and Iraq? Because of their geopolitical and economic interests and the business interests of the war industry.
However, the West has managed to justify the war, even if not to everyone or all the time, on the plea of perceptible threats – be it Osama bin Laden, or oppressive regimes. While Washington maintains a position that best serves American interests, Dhaka has proven how to secure only the regime's interests by capitalising on the militancy issue. There are seasons of raids, arrests, police remands, recovery of jihadi books, and forced statements, in a self-proclaimed war against invisible enemies in a peaceful country.
Thus, the actual state of militancy had never been dug out. Though Shaikh Abdur Rahman and his followers were caught and executed for a series of bombings, not much was said about their rise, training, funding, and national and international connections. So far, no big chunk of money, owned or transacted by fanatic forces, has been detected.
A misplaced state policy devoid of proper investigation of potential threats of militancy may invite a situation where it will be impossible to address the issue. What the incumbents are doing is harassing political rivals and appeasing foreign governments by imitating their policies, considering militancy as a law and order issue.
The West has overlooked the frustration and anger among the Muslims due to a double standard: Condemning killings by namesake Muslims but virtually supporting the Israeli killing of Palestinians in Gaza. Such insurgencies involve costs for those who are the combatants and the innocents in the crossfire, apart from the insurgents themselves and their patrons. The United States paid some price for its global role in terms of security alerts and military operations. Pakistan has to pay a much higher price for its strategic location and for the complicity of elements within that country.
India is another country which has been exposed to militant threats and economic costs and this depends on how New Delhi treats Muslims at home and whether it pursues perceived anti-Islamic policies like developing closer ties with Israel.
Dhaka has overplayed the issue to score internationally for the survival of the regime. In the process, the administration has missed out on some of the most serious, far-reaching issues relating to a probable rise of radical politics. We are yet to look for answers to a few important questions:
Has the fear of militancy given secular and moderate forces the divine right to commit corruption and deny the democratic aspirations of the people?
Where have the university graduates gone (in terms of political allegiance) after the degradation of student politics, associated with major political parties since the mid-1990s?
What will be the rules of the game in politics, should the currently excluded forces of the society, such as madrasa-educated people and economically-deprived groups, manage to assert their positions?
Is the most probable reaction to global trends from the people who belong to different schools of thought within Islam one of peace or violence?
How will the governments and presently-dominant groups in Muslim societies sustain in the current mode of governance characterised by exclusionist politics, reign of terror, and the absence of accommodative dialogue?
As the Internet has made it easier to be indoctrinated with radical views, and as the state too has strengthened its coercive surveillance over individuals, where will people with free-thinking, revolutionary, or even terrorist attitudes take shelter?