The last decade has seen a record number of young people becoming indoctrinated in religious extremism and involved in terrorist activities at home and abroad. After the tragic unfolding of events at Holey Artisan Bakery in 2017, in which nearly 20 foreigners lost their lives, Bangladesh suffered tremendous image problem. This goes without saying that keeping image intact is crucial for the growth of international trade and commerce.
The country has been struggling to rein in the radicalization of the young individuals. The growing radicalization appears more dangerous and damaging than climate change. Without constant vigilance of every citizen in our nation, it would be impossible to root out this insidious problem. Parents can play a significant role in guiding their children properly so that they can stay away from radical individuals.
The government of Bangladesh has recently published a research based public service announcement regarding this issue. The article contains 18 “Radical Indicators”, or signs which the vigilant citizen should look out for. The research highlights boys and men from the age of 12 to 35 years as most likely to be involved in such criminal activities.
One of the indicators of radicalization is a sudden interest in learning and researching about religion. If a person suddenly becomes introverted and starts to isolate himself from others it is an indicator that they might have become involved with an extremist organization. Being secretive in terms of who they are spending their time with is also a cause for concern. The most important indicator is when the person becomes interested in physical training and camping along with an obsession with matters related to religion.
The research also highlights 4 steps in which radicalization takes place, i.e., pre-radicalization, conversion and identification with radical Islam, indoctrination and increased group bonding and actual acts of terrorism or planned plots. The radicalization simply starts with discussions and debates which act as an icebreaker. Next, this progresses to gradual introduction of hateful ideology and an extremist worldview. After this has been done, the target is then given training in the form of audio, video and printed materials. They are taught combat skills and also how to communicate without detection. After all these stages have been completed, the individual now moves on to acquire weapons and explosives, targeted killing as well as planning and participating in terrorist acts.
This problem is not likely to go away on its own and nor will it be as straight forward as just arresting those involved. In order to cleanse society of this evil, we must also identify how we as a society have fostered an environment for such a movement to be able to take hold. Children are increasingly becoming more and more isolated from their parents or other primary care givers. The emotional neglect that they endure during their formative years make them into the kind of monsters who do not hesitate to kill hundreds of innocents.
Certain groups of individuals are more prone to engaging in these kinds of activities. Individuals, who have been bullied, socially stigmatized or have financial difficulties often end up becoming frustrated with society and feel like they have been ousted by the system. Rising rate of unemployment also exacerbate this further as the aimless youth struggles to find any purpose in life. In response to this, they lash out at the world which has been so cruel to them.
The increasing sectarian ideology and violence in our country is also promoting the rise of radical Islam. Our country was founded on the basis of religious tolerance and cultural harmony amongst our people. During the 1971 war for independence we sacrificed our lives to be able to live in a country which does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Where have those values disappeared?
It would not be fair to blame the rise of militant Islamists solely on our lacking as a society. We must consider the big picture and the spread of terrorism around the world. Global political tension and warfare only fuel the flames in our increasingly divided and violent world. International terrorist organizations have a vast network and their reach is only increasing thanks to the spread of internet.
These organizations have perfected their recruitment and brainwashing techniques which they implement on vulnerable, frustrated, lonely youths. They make them believe that they are becoming a part of something vital and they are made to feel important. However, the sad truth is that these people are expendable and simply being used for a heinous agenda.
Mental health issues need to stop being stigmatized. Schools, colleges and other institutions should provide counseling to those individuals who are struggling to fit in. There also needs to be more awareness on the part of parents, school, college and university administration on the indicators of radicalization.
Regular seminars can be held for young people where they are informed of the dangers of interacting with strangers and given a platform to vent their own frustrations. Support groups can be set up for the most vulnerable so that they do not have to turn to the wrong people for help. We must be proactive in our fight against radicalization. If we fail to address and resolve these issues which are plaguing us from within, society as we know it might soon face extinction at the hands of this long standing threat.