US keen to see Bangladesh as alternative to extremism, The Independent, 16 January 2012

Date: 16 January 2012

DHAKA, JAN 16: The US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan W. Mozena, said on Monday that his country is keen to put forward Bangladesh as a moderate, tolerant, free and democratic alternative to violent extremism. He was addressing a three-day regional conference – “Countering violent extremism through strategic communi-cation” – jointly organised by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and the Centre for Civil Military Relations (CCMR) of the USA at a city hotel.

Mozena said: “America promotes a peaceful, secure, prosperous, healthy and democratic Bangladesh to the world. Terrorism has become an individual as well as a collective threat to nations. It has become an impediment towards building a moderate, tolerant, prosperous and free society respecting the rights of citizens. Such societies would encourage each citizen to realise his/her own potentials and provide a better future for children.”

Major General (retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique, security adviser to the Prime Minister, attended the function as the chief guest, while the president of the BEI, Farooq Sobhan, chaired the entire event.

Representatives from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri lanka and Thailand are attending the three-day conference.

Mozena said the USA’s financial aid to Bangladesh, worth about USD 182 million this year, intends to turn Bangladesh into a model nation. “As our partnership strengthens, I believe Bangladesh will become less hospitable to the preachers of hate and intolerance.” Strategic communication works best when it shares hope with the country’s people, he added.

”If we believe in a free, open and tolerant society, we must fight to defend our values,” he asserted. He observed that terrorists must be prevented from sowing the seeds of hatred and intolerance in the country’s soil, and described hope as the key to countering radical extremism.

Mozena praised Bangladesh for reducing fertility rate, maternal mortality rate and child mortality rate. He said the country is ready to combat diseases like cholera, AIDS and TB. He also lauded Bangladesh’s disaster preparedness.

Major General (retd) Siddique said the root causes of extremism should be addressed. The government would show zero tolerance to extremism, he remarked. Some Islamic parties, including NGOs, have made significant amount of investment in different sectors like banking, insurance, media and education. Profits earned from such investments are being used to communicate and propagate Islamic radicalism, he added.

He rued that many students often fall prey to radical Islamic groups owing to the faulty education system prevailing in madrasas. The government has enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2009, to strengthen its fight against terrorism, and the Money Laundering Act, 2009, to stop financing terrorists groups. He said the government has undertaken a programme to reform madrasa education. The Imams would be told to motivate people.

He noted that four extremist organisations have already been banned in the country.

Farooq Sobhan observed that preventive measures can help curb extremism.

Dr Paul Clarke stressed the need for an integrated approach to face the challenges of extremism. He said South Asian nations need to adopt a more holistic approach in their counter-terrorism strategy to fight the growth of extremism.