The world has witnessed terrorist attacks all over the world – Brussels, Parris, Nice, Munich, London and many other countries in recent times. Bangladesh is no exception. The Holy Artisan tragedy – deaths of 22 hostages, made headlines around the world, is the deadliest terror the country has ever witnessed. And this issue became a wakeup call – the country's tolerance and peace are in unfavourable condition.
Every year on November 16, the International Day for Tolerance and Peace is celebrated worldwide. The theme for this year is "Prospering from Pluralism: Embracing Diversity through Innovation and Collaboration."
Despite being the world's one of the largest Muslim majority countries, Bangladesh has a secular and plural practice in terms of religion and culture from its independence in 1971. Hence, according to the latest data from Unicef, 79 per cent of men and 83 per cent of women aged 15 to 24 embrace a secular viewpoint.
Violent extremism in Bangladesh began in 2013. Since then it has seen brutal murders of a number of secular bloggers, liberal academics and LGBT activists. But what is leading an inclusive society like Bangladesh towards extremism?
Though violent extremism is a global phenomenon, local problems like corruption, political polarisation, governance issues, religious extremism, and frustration are trigger points.
"When people face threatened to be opinionated and unable to practise their culture and religion regardless of gender and ethnicity, violent extremism may become a way to establish their ideology as they feel neglected. The reasons behind are not set in stone. And we have to approach these issues from a very humanitarian aspect." said Shariar Mannan, programme manager, Manusher Jonno Foundation.
Bangladesh has scored 26 out of 100, two points lower than the 28th place in 2017, in the Corruption Perception Index 2018 by Transparency International. To reduce corruption, shifting or changing administrative positions are not enough. Therefore, moderation of powerplay is a necessity in politics to curb corruption and business in the name of religion.
It could be said that intolerance is both a cause and consequence of governance deficits and may create chaos in society. Reducing intolerance could, therefore, bring prospects for preventing violent extremism.
Before asking for solution, mapping the most vulnerable groups would be first of its step. A 2017 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) said that the key focus of all violent extremist groups is to use the youth. In a recent training for civil society organisation by USAID, it has been said that educated young generation is most vulnerable in the society to radicalisation. Lack of job, broken relationship, authoritarian parenting drives the youth to violent extremism.
What is the issue that should be targeted to unstitch the intolerance from Bangladesh? To make the fight worth what it requires most is access to law and policy, information, education – primary to a higher level, and in that process, raising individual awareness.
"We need to follow a comprehensive approach for an inclusive society. It should start at home. Respect for each other's opinion and coexistence of binary opinions would increase tolerance. If inclusivity is practised from childhood, our generation would grow up being more tolerant," said Md Touhidul Islam, associate professor and chairperson, department of peace and conflict studies, University of Dhaka.
From bad parenting to corruption – violent extremism comes as a result of problematic social structure. Acceptance and admiration of different cultures and ways of life would abolish violent extremism.