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0Let 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.

* * *

New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly speaks to the media regarding the arrest of Nafis. Photo: Reuters
New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly speaks to the media regarding the arrest of Nafis. Photo: Reuters

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.

* * *

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.

Mr Ahsanullah said he spoke to his son 24 hours before he was arrested. Photo: Reuters
Mr Ahsanullah said he spoke to his son 24 hours before he was arrested. Photo: Reuters

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.

* * *

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.

18 Responses to “One Nafis, many problems”

  1. Tabriz

    Rumi Bhai, without discussing this specific case I think it is wrong from FBI side to run this kind of operation. You have a point one should not be influenced by someone to do wrong, but in real world what would you do to the person or group who influence the person to commit the crime, you would put them in trial too. Would you then suggest the FBI agent should be tried also? It sounds funny, isn’t it? But this whole thing is a trap, psychological and theoretical, how would you confirm if he was going to be influenced by some real terrorist he would behave the same way or what was the probability some one like him who came only about a year before would be influenced by some real terrorist? Without that kind of certainty is it fair for a civilized nation to run this kind of covert operation, if so how many innocent lives has to be destroyed to catch one real criminal, can you accept those numbers? Without putting those questions or answering those questions, in my opinion, our social or moral duty to do good would be incomplete as well. If FBI’s intention is to identify the potential terrorist mindset ( not actual terrorist) , they can do so, but once they identify someone like that is it only way to deal with it is to put them in trial or there are other options? There are people who were once member of terrorist organization but changed their views and became strong voice against terrorism, how would you know if given proper counseling and knowledge, education these terrorist mindset wouldn’t change, specially case like this where there was no actual Terrorist association? Wouldn’t be a better solution than putting someone behind the bar for their golden years of youth? you can compare US justice and fairness with rest of the world and justifiably feel good about it, but that doesn’t justify to support our deficiency in anyway? I wish everything were as simple as you pointed, but its far from truth!!!

  2. Andrew Eagle

    “Was Nafis prepared (emotionally, academically and financially) to move to USA to study and struggle to make a career?”

    Can you please explain how one can be prepared for living in a new country? I have lived in seven and I’m not sure exactly what you mean. Should he have had worked in Bangladesh first (financial preparation), undertaken some additional study (academic preparation) or done what, a leadership course (emotional preparation)?

    The guy is 21. This is a young age by any measure and to move to a new country I think is a big thing to do. It is normal if he had been experiencing culture shock, homesickness and problem with adjusting. These things are not always easy and frankly there is no way to get prepared.

    Of course it does not excuse his quest for violence but I do think you could be a bit more understanding that he was vulnerable and I wonder how much it really speaks for the US authorities that they seem to have chosen to pursue such a harsh path when they could have influenced him away from violence instead. Is it not a form of bullying? Is it responsible behaviour towards a very misguided young person? And if they had tried to influence him away from violence and then he still pursued that course it would be much easier not to see him as being chewed up by the system.

    Were you never young and easily led?

    • Rumi Ahmed

      I am afraid you do not have a clear understanding of the issue at stake here. Nafis’ preparedness to move to USA and study there is questioned because of several facts about him that came out after his arrest. Nafis was deemed not academically competitive to even pursue undergraduate studies in a private university in Bangladesh. Due to poor academic performances he was put on probation. The threshold or the bar of academic probation in a private undergraduate school in Bangladesh is very low. It needs extraordinarily unqualified student to fall below that threshold. After this debacle he could not show the resolve to try harder or fight on, he simply dropped out of undergraduate studies. While at Bangladesh, he had no other responsibility but to study. Even the cooked food and the glass of water will be room delivered by the parents. Parents’ personal vehicles will drop the student off to the campus, pick him up.

      So this same Nafis was asked to pursue full 120 credit undergraduate studies in a US undergraduate school in a subject on which he had no background education. At undergrad level taking the mandated 12 to 18 credit hours classes every semester makes it impossible for a student to work and earn the living and education expenses. And exactly this is what Nafis was expected to do. Although for visa reasons he had to tell the US embassy in Bangladesh that he had the financial means to pay for 120 credit hours of studies and living expenses for four years. By moving out to work off campus illegally and get enrolled in a non degree technical institute only to maintain visa, Nafis showed that he neither had the academic nor the financial preparation to move to USA and study there.

      And the way he got swayed by an undercover FBI agent only in a few weeks shows his emotional immaturity.

  3. Some

    The writer makes many valid points, as do several readers. The issues I’d like the readers to think about are, how far should law enforcement agencies in a free society be allowed to go into a preemptive mode of operation? When is the boundary between law enforcement and incitement crossed?

    While justice system in the US is far better than in many other countries, including Bangladesh, don’t assume that biases are not at work. Check out this interview with Michael Ratner http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=9037

    And if you are at it you may want read Glenn Greenwald’s With Liberty and Justice for Some

  4. Rana

    Where is this nagging coming from that Nafis is ‘only’ a 21-year old youth and got influenced? At what age Bangladeshis are getting adult these days? A more recent news: a 22-year old guy killed a woman and her two children in Chittagong, and the motive was to get her mobile phone set. Is this guy also a only 22-year old youth and should receive mercy? Should we care to look at if this guy was also influenced to do the crime, or not?

    If you can be ‘influenced’ by others so that you can go for killing thousands of innocent people, you should be taken wherever you belong to, as soon as possible, so that you never get a chance to be really ‘influenced’.

    No criminal in this world was born as a criminal – there must be some incense – from family, friends, society, surrounding, etc. But who cares and why should? You chose to be a criminal, not to be a good person. Decision was yours.

    Nafis, this stupid jihadi moron, will face the Grand jury in the US. It is a great, great opportunity for him, I would say, that he is getting exposed to one of the most fair judicial systems in the world. Had he been caught in one of those Arab countries, he would have been decapitated openly without any trial, and none of those commenting here in favor of him would have any problem with that.

    To parents of Nafis (and to all other parents in Bangladesh), take care of your child, or face the real consequences. Even Osama bin Laden did pray five times a day, just like your son. But that does not mean or indicate he was an innocent person. Don’t make emotional arguments, please.

  5. Rezaul Karim

    If you live or plan to live in USA and you dont uphold the law of USA, then you are a hypocrite. Even a preliminary intent to kill is a crime but the punishment should not be unproportionate. I have heard some people im Bangladesh saying that they wish a big political leader were dead. This is a ‘deathly wish’ and not an intent to murder, but nevertheless it is very disturbing to hear.

  6. Prashanta Tripura

    The arguments put forward by the author cannot be disputed based on the facts or the narrow contexts considered. He has also shared an important observation – something I had sensed to be a major trend during my eight-year long stay in the US as a student – that many undergrad level young BD men who went to the US with a student visa were at risk of dropping out or changing track. The main reasons why young men and women from BD, or from all over the globe for that matter, have been attracted to the US for decades are not secrets. It is also not unknown that those who end up landing in the land of their dreams do not necessarily find their dreams fulfilled, though for various reasons it becomes difficult for most to return. Now, from among such people who find themselves trapped in difficult circumstances – emotionally, economically, or otherwise – should it be difficult to recruit potential terrorists of different ideological stripes? FBI sting operations may not be illegal, or unpopular in the US, but the questions I would ask are: Do they really make US soils, or the world, safer? Are such operations routinely carried out against potentials criminals of all sorts, including rapists, money launderers, cyber criminals and so on? Can the US government prove that their sting operations are not heavily biased against Muslims? To me, these are the really important questions that we need answers to, regardless of Nafis’s innocence or guilt, which to me is purely a technical question. Nafis can be sacrificed at the altar of different gods – security, interests of BD immigrants etc. – but will the gods of war be satiated by the lives of a handful of hapless individuals like him?

  7. Asif

    Mr. Dulal,

    I think you have gotten it wrong altogether. The questions that were raised by this topic is totally different than what you have perceived.

    I am sorry that you thought Rumi bhai has rationalized his perspective in favor of US agenda. I have lived with Rumi bhai for around 2.5 years and in no way he could be categorized as such.

    In fact, I think his write-up has more pro-Bangladeshi perspective and what we are doing wrong here and what we should try to address before it is way too late.

    Thanks Rumi bhai, for such a nice write up. Enjoyed it. 🙂

  8. Didar

    Ofcourse we have intolerance brewing within our youth. If we don’t take the issue seriously there might be more Nafis attempting to carry out more violent activities and next time there might not be any FBI agent to stop them. Just think about the catastrophe!

  9. Chowdhury Ahad Alam

    Let’s please acknowledge that we have a problem. Let’s stop acting foolishly nationalistic.

  10. Bashirul Huq

    Thank you for the write-up. I hope after this Nafis episode our government will come to their senses and look more seriously into intolerant outlook that’s being ingrained in our youth and do something about it.

  11. Anwar Azim

    Many readers will say that you are acting like a true American, forgetting your Bangladeshi roots etc. But don’t listen to them. We as a nation always prefer to act like an ostrich till a certain problem hits the ceiling. We acted the same during the Bangla Bhai episode.

  12. Kamal

    Thank you Rumi, for an article you wrote. It is absolutely correct “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.”

    And, agreeing with you, Rumi, how can parents allow such crazy ideas, that these students will do better once he or she is studying in a overseas schools, when he or she was not coping up in the country?

    Thank you Rumi Ahmed, again, for your fact revealing article. I appreciate.

  13. Dulal

    The writer resides in USA, and thus as always will try to rationalize his point of view through the US perspective. It’s sad Mr. Rumi is a Bangladeshi descendant. While we do acknowledge and know very well where we live (Bangladesh), but Mr. Rumi seems to be biased towards the USA agenda.

    Our legal system has always been used by those who are in power, most of the time by our political party and sometimes by external powers. It is corrupt no doubt.

    But i cannot accept that an organization like FBI could influence young passionate sometimes delirious Muslims into committing such acts. CIA also has a very bad reputation in this case, if you check the history books what they did in South and Central America, you will realise what I am talking about.

    What makes things more dubious and doubtful is that, sometimes i think 9-11 was an inside job by the USA. Who benefited from it ? Definitely not the Muslims.

    I would also request the author to read a couple of books by Noam Chomsky regarding USA’s imperial agenda and its doctrines.

    9/11 started something which human civilization has never seen…. a war against ghosts, or ghost wars where your enemy is unknown and could be anybody. this is indeed a global threat to civilization. I am not sure whether this doctrine has ended or not by the death of Bin Laden.

    This 2012 era also puzzles me, this is the era of “Humanitarian Agenda”. We are already seeing some pretty good examples in Middle East. Now instead of terrorism, USA will and may invade anyone who has a huge humanitarian catastrophe, whether created by nature or man.

    Would also like to request the author of this article to read and research a bit on USA’s Psyop (Psychological Operations) department.

    I do know i don’t live in no Switzerland. I hope Mr. Rumi knows where he lives and who’s interest he’s protecting.

    • ddjones

      Absolute HOGWASH! The blogger had the right intention to denounce any terrorist act but tried to rationalize it!

      The idea that failure to shine in favourable conditions should somehow disqualify a person or his family to dream or pursue it is ludicrous.

      Also, idolizing a terrorist or nurturing malicious intent isn’t innately criminal and justifiably so because no one knows if any of those would ever materialize into any criminal act.

      AND, any reasonable person should be cynical about the US witch-hunt style sting operations. There is a huge difference between a terrorist act or intent that is terrorist-induced and an act that FBI/police directly aide and abet to carry out on a zeal to catch a supposed terrorist red handed.

    • Sadnam Khan

      I very much agree with Mr. Dulal’s POVs and I also suggest that Mr. Rumi read some Noam Chomsky and start looking at the issue from multiple perspectives and then make a judgement.

      If FBI agents have had this covered from step 1 and even influenced him to act on this, why did they not stop it from happenning as soon as they became clear on his motives? The whole incident sounds like a psychology experiment, conducted by the connected agencies on Nafis, where they even tricked him into conjuring a “harmless” bomb and waiting till the very last minute to arrest him.

      Yes, I do see some valid points when Mr. Rumi mentions about Nafis’ unstable mindset but that is not a justification of the Bangladeshi government’s double standards. Your argument is invalid.

      If you live in the US, atleast keep an eye out on the US foregn policy.

    • Someone

      It’s not about forgetting roots.

      If someone can be that easily “influenced” to do suicide attacks with thousand pound of explosives, I don’t care where’s he from. Send him to jail or whatever.

    • Mohammad Zaman

      Dulal Shahib abhors the US. Well, this is his right, but remark about 9/11 is nothing but concoction.

      My be he should be reminded of the fact that Chomsky is a free American at MIT, and America is proud of him despite his criticism of certain policies of America. This is what America is!

      As the author (Rumi) mentioned in his article that Nafis will get his chance to present his side in due time as the legal process takes its course. It will be open and transparent. Unlike our beloved motherland, “rule of law” still is a norm in the US.

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