While the Bangladesh government has, in the past few years, achieved considerable success at disrupting extremist groups and keeping them on the run, the reality is that these groups have spent the past few years regrouping and have continued their activities unabated, constantly finding new ways and means to thrive and survive.
The factors that enable these groups to function revolve around a local network of supporters and trainers, their particular brand of ideology, religious and political, and sources of funding.
The government along with relevant stakeholders – including civil society, the media, the private sector, religious clerics, public and private schools, state-run madrasas, colleges, universities, students and youth in general – must, without delay, take steps to counter the threat of extremism.
Among the key measures should be:
- Developing, first and foremost, a mass awareness campaign about the dangers of extremism and how it goes against the basic tenets of Islam. In order to gain traction, this drive must target all sectors of society.
- Drafting a national strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism. Such a strategy should have a strong emphasis on recognizing and curbing early signs of radicalization by focusing on the role of families, in particular, mothers and women in general, as well as civil society at all levels, the private sector, clerics, educational institutions and the media. Furthermore, the strategy should enlist cooperation through educational campaigns, culture and sports events, and even by utilizing well-known personalities such as sporting figures, musicians, literary figures and others.
- Developing a dedicated National Counter Terrorism Agency – a supranational body under which various counter-terrorism bureaus and agencies would operate. Such national agencies or bodies exist in a number of countries including Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Russia and South Africa.Having such a national agency would strengthen coordination between the various law enforcement and intelligence agencies fighting terrorism.
- Strengthening the training and capacity of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including improving human intelligence and real-time intelligence sharing between agencies.
- Designing a “deradicalisation” programme for the rehabilitation and reintegration of extremists into society, as well as addressing the growing problem of radicalization of youth (from all socio-economic backgrounds) and extremists jailed in prisons. The model for such a program could come from various successful international de-radicalisation programmes such as those in Denmark, Germany, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, among other countries, but within the context and resources available to Bangladesh. Importantly, such a programme should include former extremists who can help with the process of deradicalisation.
- Closer monitoring and countering online activities of extremist groups, such as creating a dedicated National Cyber Security Centre.
- Enlisting and encouraging more religious scholars and clerics to speak out forcefully against religious extremism — not just in mosques, but in schools, colleges, universities and in public forums. There has already been some movement in this direction but rather than being ad hoc measures in needs to be institutionalized.
- Engaging and seeking the support of all political parties to build a unified front against extremism.
- Developing more robust legal measures to counter the threat of violent extremism.
- Placing greater emphasis on the rule of law and human rights in acting against extremism.
A cornerstone of the government’s success on these fronts, however, must be a comprehensive national strategy to address the problem of extremism head on. This strategy would supplement public efforts to shape and strengthen overall initiatives in countering violent and non-violent extremism, both in the short and long term.
The major lesson to learn from the history of extremism and modern terrorism is that countries often wait until the problem takes on unmanageable proportions before designing and developing counter-extremism strategies. Rather than spending many years and large amounts of money combating extremism as it arises, it needs to be tackled at its genesis. In other words, there is an urgent need to focus on the preventive aspects of extremism.