When kids become monsters: The Daily Star columnist

People attend a candle light vigil for the victims of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, in Dhaka, on July 3, 2016.
People attend a candle light vigil for the victims of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, in Dhaka, on July 3, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

The seeds of today's scourge were laid by the West in the camps of Pakistan many decades ago. The use of Islamic zealots to fight their wars have now come back to haunt us all. Today thousands are perishing the world over for bad political decisions.

Syed Mansur Hashim

The Daily Star/Asia News Network

We have been attacked as never before. The facts do not need to be repeated.

The savagery with which 20 hostages were slaughtered need not be retold.

Islamic terrorism has arrived in Bangladesh with a bang and it has shaken us to our foundations.

The relative peace we lived in while the world around us disintegrated in the face of onslaught by extremist outfits such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda and other similar outfits across the length and breadth of all continents is now not news anymore, merely a fact of life.

What took many of us by surprise is that three of the dead terrorists turned out to be students of elite English medium educational institutions like North South University and Scholastica School (as identified by friends when pictures were released on social media).

This blows apart our perception that the marauding hounds of hell who constitute Jihadi outfits in Bangladesh are all, essentially, products of madrasas.

So, why on earth would the children of well-to-do parents end up wielding automatic weapons and other weaponry be on a suicide mission?

What has happened in Dhaka is big news for us, but it is hardly news.

The world has been witnessing young people of similar backgrounds from Europe signing up to fight the militant fight in Syria and Iraq under the banner of the IS.

Things did not come to this state in a day.

Although this article is not a lesson in history, we do have to look to the past in an effort to try and understand why bright young men decide to throw away their lives in the false belief that it is alright to take the blood of innocents to gain martyrdom.

Every major religion has its zenith and its decline.

Islam had its heyday.

Hegel defined the rise of Islam as the revolution of the east.

Following a few centuries of unparalleled growth that allowed space for rational debates that ushered in a glorious civilisation, rich in science and the arts, the Muslim world witnessed the creeping in of rigid orthodoxy by the 12th century.

With strict indoctrination crept in corruption, ignorance and inept governance.

The decay was many centuries in the making but by the time Europe entered into the industrial revolution in the 18th century; the Muslim world had fallen far behind.

Unable to match the West in terms of technology and challenged intellectually, it was impossible to stop the flow of ideas from an alien world that ushered in liberal thoughts that threatened the orthodoxy from which the Muslim world could not recover.

New fangled ideas in the guise of nationalism and socialism attacked and overturned the set order of things in the Muslim heartland of the Middle East.

Westernisation was inevitable and it ripped apart the spiritual and the cultural identity of the Muslim world as the young rose to challenge the old.

Colonialism in its many manifestations threatened to engulf and perish the Islamic Order that had recoiled from learning from other civilisations and was stuck in the past. Modernism was frowned upon but could not be stopped.

Nation States were carved out of the old Order by colonial powers and Muslims were relegated to second grade citizens in a world where they had wielded considerable influence and prestige.

In the midst of this onslaught orthodox Islam spread its wings in the form of "exporting" madrassas globally which taught young men a strict version that was known as the Wahabi school of thought.

The world came to know of this when the United States and its allies sought to contain its erstwhile cold war adversary, the Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan.

The Mujahideen were recruited from the madrasas in neighbouring Pakistan and fighters adhering to radical schools of thought globally flocked to the training camps to form an army to fight the "infidel" Soviets.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Afghan campaign, the world was left with thousands of battle-hardened fanatics with no war to fight.

But there is always a war to fight and that came when Saddam was toppled and Iraq disintegrated into a battleground where the Sunnis lost overnight their right to rule.

Saddam's army was disbanded and thousands of former soldiers found that they had lost their purpose.

The Sunni populace lost their homeland and were relegated to second class citizens by Baghdad where Shiites ruled supreme - and their country which they believed was theirs to rule turned into a wasteland.

Reaction was inevitable.

Insurgency crept in, as did radicalisation.

Former officers merged with guerrillas from the Afghan campaign and beyond, birds of different feathers united in their common goal - fighting under a banner that promised death to "infidels" and the resurgence and re-emergence of Sunni dominance.

Post-invasion Iraq is the place where modern day radical Islam found a breeding ground for growth.

A once proud nation that had been humiliated to the point that mass despair set in; millions unemployed and thousands dead - it provided the perfect setting for extremists to plan, organise, recruit and execute a long campaign that would give birth to outfits like the ISIS.

A global militant movement was born that would draw in the disaffected and the disenfranchised in their thousands, not just the madrasa students but the sons and daughters of the elite, educated in the best institutions, but radicalised by their perception of being relegated to 2nd class citizens for being Muslims - by the West.

One question that is not often asked is why distorted interpretation of Islam is able to draw in people from different backgrounds, with varying educational qualification.

The answer simply is this: Islam in principle, allows for inclusivity.

That is why over 14 centuries, Islam has spread to all continents and why today a Bangladeshi and an American Muslim can relate to each other on the basis of faith.

The seeds of today's scourge whether it is the ISIS or one of the several local extremist movements that exist in our country were laid by the West in the camps of Pakistan many decades ago.

The use of Islamic zealots to fight their wars have now come back to haunt us all. Today thousands are perishing the world over for bad political decisions.

So what do now?

We have chosen to ignore the warning signs despite repeated killings by such elements over the last year or so.

Free thinkers, members of minority communities and other sects have been killed with impunity - all the while the State claiming that we are insulated from these forces.

We have heard talk about uniting to defeat these forces of darkness who kill and maim in the name of religion.

That is tall talk where political dissent has been effectively quashed to the point of extinction and the vacuum created has been filled up by Islamic radicals.

These elements are drawing their "soldiers" from the disenfranchised, the millions of unemployed, but they are also drawing them from the elite - because at the end of the day, the success of IS in holding territory and fighting it out with global powers and surviving, sends a very powerful message, however distorted, to millions of young Muslims worldwide that there is a 'fight' worth fighting for.

In Bangladesh, we have to wake up to these realities. As radicals join a pan Islamic movement to propagate global jihad, there is a counterbalance to that in the form of other nations that have fought the scourge for decades.

These countries have developed counterterrorism techniques and outfits that have tackled radical outfits which cannot be tackled by conventional law enforcement.

When will we get our heads out of the sand and admit we have a problem and we need help from friendly nations?