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Bangladesh: Expanding influence of Islamists among the youth | Mamun Rashid

16 April 2015

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Dhaka Tribune - April 16, 2015

She is smart and pretty. She writes well. She is an architect from one of Bangladesh’s most prestigious institutions. She is always clad in nicely tailored burqas. She seemed to be well aware of my bias against certain religious values and activities. She started to send me short messages on my cellphone, trying to impose her Islam on me.

She obviously did not like the US attack on Iraq or even the Bangladesh government’s attack on any “Islamist” groups. She did not like how religious groups were being treated in Bangladesh, and she was not happy about the Bangladeshi education systems, and she certainly didn’t think Pohela Boishakh should to be observed by Bangladeshis.

Unfortunately, she is not alone. I come across many young men and women studying in various prominent government educational institutions or in leading private universities harbouring the same beliefs. It is the same case with a few young men and women working in large local corporations or even global multinationals. I almost fell from my chair when my reputed US university-educated cadet college buddy was arrested by RAB for his alleged involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

When a public university teacher was arrested for his alleged involvement with religious extremists, I was, of course, saddened. But these days, I come across many quiet but brilliant business graduates working for global banks, and leaving their jobs because they do not like the interest-charging banking system. They are very serious about praying five times a day and on-time. Some of them have investments in corporate advisory firms, but do not want to do any work for banks for the same reason.

For the last two or three days, I have been receiving some mail castigating the observance of Pohela Boishakh. This, apparently, is not Islam-approved or Islamic. Some of them even said that through the observance of Pohela Boishakh, the entire nation is subjugated by Hinduism. The writers also seemed to be a little shaken with the gala observance of the Bengali New Year. They didn’t like the singing in the parks, the moving around freely in public, and young girls and boys holding each other’s hands and walking. Most of them saw these as the opposite to the preachings of Islam, and more importantly, directly conflicting with “Nobijir poth” — the values and teachings of the prophet.

What does one do with them? They are not madrasa students being overdosed by their backdated teachers and deprived of the basic possible amenities of life. Bangladesh is seeing a rise in soft-speaking, IT aware, and articulate youths joining the bandwagon. Madrasa students may be joining similar forces in Afghanistan or in the Middle East, but what do we do with these new emerging youths? They don’t like the way this government is working.

Many of them think the ruling government is anti-Islam and they are ready to debate on this for hours. Many of them are computer engineers or doctors coming out of prestigious public medical colleges. Surprisingly, this group contains academically brilliant sons and daughters of armed forces seniors too. They want a more “Islamic culture” to be practiced and the nation not to be driven towards the “Hindu culture.” Many of them oppose democracy.

It seems we can’t do much about this either, unless they also go overboard, thus warranting punitive measures. Most of them are docile, but very well-networked. They are spreading their beliefs and values faster than anyone else. Globalisation, growth of information and communication technology, limitations in monitoring capacities of different government agencies, and weak political institutions have further accentuated the situation for both — the “too conservative” forces as well as modern educated youths. Recently we are also seeing 9/11 type self-radicalisation in the youths.

Despite government crackdowns and almost pushing them to the wall, Hizb-ut-Tahrir continues to follow the strategy of propagating their ideologies and beliefs through the internet, social websites, blogs, CDs, fliers, and posters. There is such self-radicalisation happening among vulnerable groups and individuals too. They think the present system and political institutions won’t do anything for them, but the rich and the powerful only. The “us and them” mentality is also working strong here.

What do we need to do in this case? I am sure Amartya Sen might have had an answer. Income inequality, the super domination of Indian media, and to some extent Indian culture, the Western lifestyle, or the growth of the new rich class under direct patronisation of the political government have their causes rooted inside. An integrated education system, well organised cultural activities, faster poverty alleviation programs, practice of democratic values, and maybe more space for the opposite school of thought might bring us closer to an answer.


The above article which appeared in Dhaka Tribune under the title ’Radicalisation of the youth’ is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.