The Daily Star in association with Manusher Jonno Foundation and Event Exposure organised a roundtable titled “Role of family and religious values in preventing violent extremism” on July 31, 2019. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
- Create scope for cultural activities and sports in educational institutions
- Monitor school syllabus, especially at the primary level
- Children should learn about other religions from an early age
- Encourage parents to spend more quality time with their children
- Parents should monitor their children’s online activities
- Disseminate anti-militancy counter-narratives through mass media campaigns
Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF)
It’s been quite some time now since we have noticed the rise of militancy and violent extremism in the country. The Holey Artisan attack on July 1, 2016 was a major shock for us. After the incident different government agencies have been implementing different activities. Under the technical guidance of Accelerated Funding Mechanism (AFM), led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Manusher Jonno Foundation is implementing the SAMPREETI project to prevent violent extremism in Bangladesh. We are working with the young generation for strengthening resilience against violent extremism and militancy. We ran another 3-year project named “Torun Alo” to prevent violent extremism in rural settings. We have worked with many youth organisations to raise awareness about violent extremism and militancy and reached around 50,000 young people directly from colleges, universities, and madrasas and raised awareness about tolerance and having respect for dissenting views.
We have seen that our young generation is not at all interested in militancy or extremism. They totally reject such views. However, some vested quarters are trying to influence them to engage in such heinous activities by taking advantage of their vulnerabilities.
After the Holey Artisan attack, there was an attempt to term Bangladesh an “extremist” country. But I think the government has been successful in tackling the threat of extremist activities.
Ashoke Ranjan Dutta, Chief Adviser, Event Exposure
We worked with under-graduate level students in twelve educational institutions – eight private universities, three madrasas, and one public university college. We went to the campuses with the perception that we might face some adverse situations. But surprisingly, the teachers and authorities of each of the institutions were more than helpful. The assistance we got from the madrasa teachers, students and authorities was extraordinary. We arranged open speech competitions and extempore speech competitions among the students at the campuses.
The main topic “Sampreeti e Progoti” was divided into some sub-categories. We were amazed at the speeches the students delivered on communal harmony and violent extremism. What we saw is that the madrasa students (we worked only with male madrasas) had a clear idea about the subject. They said they believed in a multicultural society. On the other hand, the private university students had a somewhat superficial idea about the topic. We also found that the girls were very enthusiastic about participating in the competition. Thirty-one girls of the Home Economics college participated in the competition—the number of participants being the highest among all the institutions.
It was clear that they did not approve of militancy or violent extremism. However, we have noticed that there is a general lack of cultural activities in all the institutions. Especially in our madrasas, there is no scope for sports because of space constraints. And the situation in the private universities is pretty much the same.
Shariar Mannan, Programme Manager, Manusher Jonno Foundation
Under the Sampreeti project, we worked in Dhaka and five of its adjacent districts: Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Manikganj, Gazipur and Narsingdi. We worked in 236 institutions in association with 39 organisations. Different youth groups, debating clubs, NGOs, print and electronic media, cultural organisations, and even a number of educational institutions were directly involved with our work. We tried to engage the students in various co-curricular activities so that they get a chance to nurture their intellectual ability and creativity and can also find out the area of their interest. Such activities would surely help to root out the breeding grounds of violent extremism and militancy from the country.
Currently, we are working on a Country Needs Assessment report. Although the report has not been finalised, I would like to share some of the major findings of the report. We found that since most of us now live in nuclear families, the children in these families do not have much scope to share their feelings and emotions with other members of the family. With both parents remaining busy all day, there is very limited scope for the children to share their thoughts with their parents. Then there is pressure on the children from their parents to achieve high CGPA.
There is also a lack of cultural and co-curricular activities in their educational institutions. So, being unable to express themselves, this socially isolated young generation is getting more dependent on various online platforms to share their thoughts. Since the government and the police have been able to check extremist activities at the grassroots level through various measures, the extremist groups are now using different digital platforms to spread their propaganda. They are capitalising on our youth’s isolation, frustration and their lack of religious knowledge. Statistics from our counter-terrorism unit revealed that 80 percent of the 250 militant suspects in the country were recruited online. And 56 percent of them came from general education background, not from madrasa background.
Mahmuda Sarwar Sraboni, Student, Department of Pharmacy, Southeast University
If we learn the basic teachings of other religions from an early age, we may learn to be tolerant towards other religions from a young age. At the same time, we should have the freedom to ask questions about religions.
Rakhshanda Rukham, Chairperson, Preneur Lab Ltd
We worked with Google recently on internet safety. As part of our programme, we held focus group discussions with some parents. What we learnt is that parents do not have any idea about the online activities of their children. They have no idea about who their children’s online friends are, what they talk about or what kinds of things they share on social media. When their children go out, they ask them where they are going, but when they are on the Internet, they do not ask what they are doing. This is a big issue that needs to be addressed. Organisations working with this issue should design programmes specifically aimed at parents. Like family values and etiquette, we also need to learn “internet etiquette” when we enter the virtual world—the dos and don’ts on the internet.
Faysal Alam, Head of Crime and nvestigation, Channel 24
No one termed the recent New Zealand mosque attack a terrorist attack. But we almost always try to find a relation between terrorism and Muslims. Such viewpoints need to be changed.
Shahedul Anam Khan, Associate Editor, The Daily Star
There are various categories of terrorism, extremism and radicalism. Typically radicalism is not a bad word. Radicalism does not mean violent activity. Galileo was a radical, so was Copernicus. So was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, to start with. They were radical and they changed the society, and people have come to accept it. Every radical thought is not necessarily dangerous. It becomes dangerous when we attack people to get our own views accepted by them. Extremism and terrorism are not the exclusive preserves of Islam. In fact, 75 percent of all the shootings that ever took place in the US was homegrown. They had nothing to do with religion. Also, the belief that madrasas are creating terrorists is a myth. None of the 9/11 attackers went to madrasas and none of them were from poor backgrounds. They were all engineers and well-trained. So, we have to debunk this “madrasa myth”.
Md Tawhidul Islam Junaeid, Student, Government Alia Madrasah e-Alia
Now that our attention has been shifted from madrasas to private universities, what if extremist organisations start taking advantage of this and begin recruiting from the madrasas. It may be a little difficult to motivate a madrasa student into extremist activities as they have a clear understanding of what it means to be a “jihadi” or “jongi’’. But we have to remember that there are two streams of madrasa education in the country: Alia and Qawmi. And although Qawmi madrasa got approval from the government recently, we do not know what these madrasas teach their students. We need to have a clear idea of their syllabus. We know that poor families send their children to madrasas, whereas those from affluent backgrounds go to the private universities. So, while a madrasa student may not be motivated on religious grounds, they may be influenced by extremist thoughts because of poverty. And in case of the private university students, it’s the opposite. As the private university students seriously lack religious education, they can be easily influenced by the extremists with their misguided version of religion.
Dr Farhana Helal Mehtab, Professor of Law & Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, Daffodil International University
I think the main problem is ingrained in our primary education. Of course, there is English-medium education, Bangla-medium education, as well as madrasa education. But there needs to be coordination among all three streams of education. Students from all backgrounds must sing our national anthem: Amar shonar Bangla ami tomay bhalobashi. This will instill in them love for their motherland.
Since today’s young generation grows up in nuclear families, they get less scope to share their views with other family members. So, today’s parents must create an environment where their children can share their thoughts freely. Also, teaching our children the core religious values is of utmost importance.
Md Shafiqul Islam, Senior Executive, Quran Research Foundation
Does any religion preach extremism? Do we know as Muslims that those who kill people will not have a place in Jannat? Our lack of knowledge about our own religion is pushing us into this situation.
The father of Rohan Bin Imtiaz, one of the attackers of Holey Artisan, said that he mostly guided him till his A levels. He said: “Is it possible to look after your child once he joins university?” Herein lies the problem. Parents should guide their children as long as they are alive.
Major General Abdur Rashid (Retd.), Executive Director, Institute of Conflict, Law, and Development Studies
After the Holey Artisan attack, while others were looking for the social forces that drive our young generation into extremist activities, we tried to find out how the extremist groups were influencing our youth into such activities. After a lot of effort, we found a pamphlet of al-Qaeda titled “The art of recruiting.” The techniques of brainwashing someone into joining such groups are described in that pamphlet in detail. The first thing they do is talent spotting/ hunting. This is about identifying their potential recruits. This is done based on some specific qualities. If we analyse these qualities, we would have a clear idea about their recruitment strategy. They target those who 1) have very little knowledge about their religion; 2) are kind of isolated from the family and society; and 3) are somewhat financially solvent, so that they can bear the cost of some of their activities.
Many students have told us that they spend 18 hours a day at their respective universities. They attend classes and have to spend time on home tasks, in the library, join workshops, etc. If that is the case, we have to redefine family. Only parents and siblings do not make up a family. Teachers are also a part of students’ family. Like parents, teachers also provide them with moral education. What we need to find out is what the teachers are teaching their students and whether there is any element of terrorism in their lessons.
After the Holey Artisan attack, we arranged some view exchange meetings with the students of many private universities. We studied the environment of few universities, where we found some loopholes. We need to seriously discuss the learning environment of our educational institutions.
Rasheda K Choudhury, Executive Director, CAMPE & Former Adviser, Caretaker Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
In our society we have the tradition of making prior decisions about a child’s future before they are born. And later when the child grows up, it cannot be guaranteed that he or she will be able to continue their work life in their respective field of study. This is a major failure in the system.
In our education system, too much pressure is placed upon the students. Majority of them are incapable of obtaining healthy mental development as they are deprived from recreational facilities, such as sports. Later on, due to the failure of the system, when the graduates are unable to get their desired jobs, or maybe at an earlier age when they become frustrated with their monotonous lifestyle, they get engaged with different kinds of crimes. Besides, the books in high school should not have contents that show distinctions between different religious groups. The youth should have the belief that everyone is human and deserves to be treated equally.
Sumaya Siddiqa, Student, Asian University of Bangladesh
The whole responsibility doesn’t lie with the family only; I believe their responsibility lies up to the point of giving guidelines and creating the scope for the guidelines to be followed and practised. However, at the end of the day, practising the guidelines and exercising them properly is totally upon us, the young people. I believe if the society was more inclusive instead of repulsive towards the youth, the seeds of wrong thoughts can be eradicated. And lastly, I believe the education system in Bangladesh should not only be based on books, it should have more practical knowledge that could be utilised to adorn life in a better way.
Prof Dr Sukomal Barua, President, World Buddhist Foundation-Bangladesh Chapter
To me Samp-reeti is about equality; equality in terms of colour, gender, race, age and nationality. Every human being deserves equal opportunities on the basis of their abilities and desires.
Religion is the set of guidelines that are needed to keep our life and society enlightened and on the right track. Every religion teaches us to do good, not to lie and to restrain from acts of violence. Above all, every religion has mentioned humans as the best creation. If we abide by the principal understandings of today’s discussion topics, we can easily overcome every kind of problem related to violence.
I believe that Napoleon was absolutely correct in saying that, “Give an educated mother and I will give an educated nation!” If the women are properly educated, they can help in grooming their children the right way. A mother’s teachings are very important because every child shares a very deep bond with his/her mother.
Khairul Alam Shabuj, Actor and Writer
On this note, I would like to mention that it is crucial for our society to have a change in their perspective towards literature and cultural activities. This does not apply to entertainment only. Literature and cultural activities can help an individual obtain inner peace and guide their mind in a sober and rightful manner. Instead of engaging in video games where the young ones learn to fight, a good book can help to develop the mind.
Earlier we had attachments to the local community. In this present generation, the tendency is to live in nuclear families where both the parents are working. The children are left without human contact for a major portion of the day. It is important to extend the circumference of family. Our neighbours are also like family and therefore they can also help us move in the right direction.
AKM Shahidul Haque, Former Inspector General of Police
I believe that it is not frustration and the grooming obtained from families that affect the decision of the youth to join the extremist or terrorist groups. The young people are easily influenced by this group because they lack concrete knowledge about the reasons that influence the formation and the growth of the extremist groups.
It is important to know that the extremist groups have been formed as a result of international political propaganda which has been backed by global media. Western politics has played a vital role in forming these groups for their self-interests. The members of these groups often quote lines from the Holy Quran, but they do not convey the right meaning.
Thereby, above everything else, the proper knowledge and information related to these groups and their motives need to be properly conveyed to the youth. This is where the role of counter-narratives comes in. It is the duty of the government and non-government bodies to develop comprehensive counter-narratives which will be easier for the young ones to deduce and make the right choices.
Carrying out anti-militancy campaigns is also very important. This should not only be on billboards. Religious institutions and leaders should be made part of the anti-militancy campaigns. These counter-narratives should be widely disseminated through social media platforms.
Prof Shamsher Ali, Founder Vice Chancellor, Bangladesh Open University & Southeast University and Former President, Bangladesh Academy of Sciences
We need to prioritise the bond between parents and children. Likewise, family needs to be prioritised. More time needs to be spent with family. We should not compromise on our responsibilities towards our children.
We are getting more attached to our cell phones and tabs than with our family members. Parents should not provide the children with smartphones before the age of 18.
The media should try not to allow advertisements which create discrimination among people of different complexions or socio-economic classes. The telecommunication firms should not encourage the subscribers to stay up late at night because of low call rates. Young people should have the scope of growing up in a healthy way.
Lastly, our education system requires certain levels of modifications. There should be the subject of religious study which will focus on the teachings of good values and convey the significant message that every human being is equal and that every religion teaches good thoughts and thus should be respected.