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Bangladesh: when states give space to extremists

Friday 27 November 2009, by siawi2

The Daily Star, November 26, 2009


by Shahedul Anam Khan

Is the method of combatting terrorism any different from addressing the issue of extremism? How does one relate the issue of human security to the issue of extremism; is it too simplistic to suggest that once all the factors that militate against human security are removed, and by empowering the less endowed, we will be able to reduce the chances of extremism finding roots? These were some of the issues that international scholars of the region and from Japan had been delving in last week under the auspices of the BIISS.

Extremism, terrorism, radicalism are fungible words and the less perspicuous may be forgiven for using it as such. It would not be wrong to suggest that while the term radicalism is not normally considered pejorative there is little substantive difference between extremism and terrorism.

It provides little comfort to be told that while all terrorists resort to violence, that is not necessarily the main expedient of the extremists. Our views of extremism have been shaped by our experience of various extremists groups in Bangladesh and the region of South Asia, which compels us to believe that there is little to choose between the two when it comes to their method of operation.

Extremism had been glorified in the past and that perhaps may validate the premise on which the “non-violent” attribute of extremism is situated. Clearly the US Republican candiate’s comment in 1964, that extermism in the defence of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, relied on the passive aspect of the phenomenon to justify the defence of a good cause.

However, while extremism resides primarily in the realm of the mind it tends to be exclusive and intolerant. And that possibly drive extremists to find acceptability of the majority, and finding little resonance of their position in the psyche of the common people violence becomes the only means of imposing their conviction. Therefore, the line, that apparently separates the two, is breached more often out of compulsion if not conviction.

In our effort to devise countermeasures it would also stand us well not to be bogged down in conceptual discourse and hair splitting on categorisation of extremism. Extremism is not a singular construct and the motive force may differ, but the ultimate aim remains the assumption of political power or attaining enough clout to achieve parity with other state actors to influence politics and policies.

The purpose of mapping extremism is to use the findings to formulate appropriate responses. Therefore, the focus should be on why it occurs in the first place i.e. the root causes, and certainly that would differ from country to country and with the types of extremism.

And the point that one would like to stress here, when the focus is on human security as a vehicle to counter terrorism, is the “poverty-conflict trap.” It is a universal argument that poverty resists good governance, which in turn generates extremist tendencies. While not in anyway downplaying the impact of poverty, it will be worth our while to look at other regions of the world which were more endowed in resources and more affluent yet suffered the wrath of violent extremism.

In trying to assess the footprints of extremism in South Asia one is faced with some very interesting realities. Not only do the scope and intensity vary from country to country, the potential to impact on politics is more severe in some countries than others.

Looking at Pakistan, it seems that the extremists are no longer going only after soft targets but making the centre of power their objects of attack. They are now being engaged in classical combat by the Pakistan army and only time can tell whether they will meet the same fate as the LTTE. Do they have enough in terms of military resources to put up a protracted fight? But the issue is not their military defeat alone. It is their ideological position that has many supporters within the Pakistan army, which will determine the future of Taliban and the nature of politics in Pakistan.

The Indian picture is equally alarming. The fact the politico-religious extremists have found firm roots in Indian politics through political parties is indeed frightening. Extremist organisations like the VHP and the RSS are represented in Indian politics through the BJP; that they backseat-drive the party is no secret, and the BJP had held the powers in the centre and is the ruling party in certain states in India.

Sri Lanka has defeated the LTTE in battle, but the point at issue remains unresolved.

As for Bangladesh, there is suspected link between the religious extremists and certain religion-based parties. While the extent is yet to be ascertained, these parties have never been voted to power as a party but have managed to assume state power through electoral alliances.

It would do well for the mainstream political parties to remember that extremism thrives because of political space they are afforded, wittingly nor unwittingly. Preventing that must be the top priority.

Brig. Gen. Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd) is Editor, Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.

Source : South Asia Citizens Wire, 26-27 November 2009
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