Let me start by asking you all a question. You may have a very strong religious affiliation; your faith may be impeccable. Or you may be deeply indoctrinated with a political ideology. Passion runs deep in your vein in favour of your faith or ideology. But does this passion permit you to break the basic law of humanity, i.e. kill innocent people? And if you do carry out any such act out of this strong political/religious conviction, can you get away with saying that, “it is not my fault, some religious or political leader used my passion to make me commit such a crime?”
Let me be more specific. As alleged by the law enforcement agencies of the USA, Bangladeshi student Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis planned and attempted to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in New York City of USA. It is however alleged that through the sting operation, in fact an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a fellow Muslim with a Jihadi passion, influenced, provoked and facilitated Nafis to attempt to commit the alleged action of terror.
This may be true that Nafis’ insecure unstable mindset was heavily influenced by the FBI agent. But it is also true that Nafis indeed attempted to commit a major crime. If a religious cleric or a best friend or a person who you respect immensely, asks you to kill people or blow up cities for Jihad, will you agree? Let alone causing a massacre, will any of you ever be convinced by the best of your friends to murder only one innocent person for the best of the causes? I have no doubt the answer will be an emphatic and unanimous ‘No’. And this makes you different from Nafis.
The majority of 9/11 airplane bombers were clueless students like Nafis. Instead of an FBI agent, the person who influenced them was a man named Mohammad Atta. And as a result we saw the devastation of 9/11. Just try to think what Nafis would have done, if the person influencing Nafis was someone like Mohammad Atta instead of the undercover FBI agent! Yes, Nafis was influenced by religion and provoked by the FBI agent but that does not clear Nafis of the horrendous crime he attempted to commit. Even a ten-year-old boy has the capacity to differentiate from good to bad and refuse to do the wrong thing. Nafis, in contrast is an emotionally competent adult.
A few decades ago, thousands of young men of this region of Indian sub-continent, influenced by a revolutionary leader named Charu Mazumder, started killing innocent people in the name of red revolution and class warfare. Law enforcement agency members hunted down all those thousands of bright young men one by one and then either killed them or maimed them for life or threw them in prisons. Nobody gave them a pass because they committed all the crimes being influenced by an extreme band of Marxism or by Charu Mazumder.
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Now the question you may ask, how we can be so sure that Nafis indeed attempted to commit all the crimes the FBI is attributing to him. What is the guarantee that the FBI is not making things up? OK, it seems the FBI is proceeding with normal US judicial process. FBI says they have all the audio recordings of conversations as well as the suicide video message Nafis recorded. Before even the trial of Nafis can proceed, i.e. before even Nafis can be charge-sheeted (indicted in US legal terms), all these evidences must be seen by a group of randomly selected New York residents. Once this group of people, called the Grand Jury, is convinced that the FBI evidence is sufficient to proceed with a trial, then a jury trial will begin. During this lengthy process, Nafis will be able to meet and talk to any lawyer he decides to employ. Nafis will also be able to meet people from Bangladesh embassy. Nafis will get numerous chances to say and prove that all these allegations against him are false. The trial will be open to public and all proceedings of the trial will be on record. And the persons who will look at the evidence and decide whether Nafis is guilty or not are not the judges, rather members of a jury board. This jury board will be randomly selected from New York and there is all the statistical possibility that a Bangladeshi American or a Muslim American may be part of the jury. After all the rigorous and transparent scrutiny of the evidence, it will be very difficult for the government to punish a defendant with fake and unsubstantiated evidence. And if the evidence is not strong enough, Nafis will be freed and exonerated.
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The case of Nafis brings forward some other very relevant issues and demands discussion. The problem with Nafis did not start with his arrest. The problem started way before that.
Was Nafis prepared (emotionally, academically and financially) to move to USA to study and struggle to make a career? From media reports and statements of the university Nafis attended in Dhaka, it is clear that Nafis was having difficulty with studies even in Bangladesh. How can we expect a student, who, even in the most favourable circumstances i.e. no financial responsibility, free boarding and dinning at parent’s place, cannot cope with the studies, will be able to make it in the USA? Here in the USA, in addition to full load of studies, foreign students must enrol; he was expected to work to earn his tuition and make his ends meet.
It is true that parents in Bangladesh want to believe that sending their kids overseas will solve all the problems. The kid is not catching up with studies, the kid is too lazy, the kid is having drug problem – send him abroad and all the problems will be solved! This is blissful ignorance.
Yes, in the past many young people came this way and ultimately made a living in the USA and other places. But the world has changed. The events of 9/11 have changed the whole west, not only the USA. Also has changed the economic situation in the Americas and Europe. In the past there were lots of low-end jobs and foreign students were tapped to do those jobs. It is not like that anymore. In America, unemployment rate is very high. The government is cracking down on employers who hire people without legal documents to work.
It is also important to understand that undergraduate studies in the USA are a protracted process. Student life could be much easier if one comes to the USA to finish graduate level education after finishing undergraduate studies in Bangladesh. A student who comes to the USA for a Master’s degree is much more likely to complete his education and join the work forces, either here in the USA or back home in Bangladesh.
Another point also worth mentioning is that the moment Nafis was transferred from the first school in Missouri to a non-degree offering technical training institute in New York City, he decidedly pulled himself out of education-professional job track. The institute he enrolled in New York would not give him any degree that would enable him to be considered as a skilled employee. It seems he moved to New York to work and earn his living. This path is a very slippery slope and there are high chances of losing legal status in the USA. In the past decades, thousands of Bangladeshis dropped out of universities, moved to New York for easier life and ultimately ended up spending rest of their life under constant uncertainty as an illegal alien in USA.
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But the most glaring problem in this Nafis fiasco is the blatant double standard that is being shown in Bangladesh. Since this government came to power, on the excuse of zero tolerance to Islamic extremism, young men, suspected of having the slightest connections to Islamist organizations, are being rounded up and taken into custody. Unlike Nafis case, in most of these cases the families of the young men have no clue of their whereabouts. People are being kept in custody for indefinite period without any charges or hope for any chance of transparent trial in near future.
At least, it seems Nafis is going to get a due and transparent judicial process, which the Nafises in Bangladesh are not getting.
Let me end this piece with another question. If a foreign student in Bangladesh or even a Bangladeshi citizen is caught red handed while trying to blow up our parliament building or while planning to harm our leaders, what treatment, you think, the culprits will get at the hand of our law enforcement agencies? Would this really matter who or what influenced the person to commit such a crime? If the wrath of Bangladesh legal system can come down on that alleged culprits with full vigour, what is the problem with the US legal system clamping down on a foreign student who planned and attempted to destroy the main US city?
Rumi Ahmed is a blogger at alalodulal.org and writes from Florida, USA.