Now, facts are getting crystallized and we have come to know that there are some national, regional and suspected international terrorists in Bangladesh targeting the same and so far, they are almost all Bangladeshis themselves. Some are fighting their self-styled Jihad abroad and are seemingly interested to spread it to their native land as well. Some were groomed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in the past. Some are purely homegrown, and the recently talked about ones are homegrown but suspected as being Middle East, in particular ISIS, inspired.

Whether the latter types actually had any physical link with ISIS is yet to be conclusively established, although early claim by ISIS related website about the Gulshan attack provides some flesh to the claim and is also reinforced by the video clip circulated, that has been floating around in the internet recently, by Bangladeshi ISIS fighters presumably from some city or town of ISIS controlled territory. There are also news of some young Bangladeshis, including expats, moving to the so called Caliphate in the last 2/3 years, sometimes with their families.

Disproportionate attention was put in the public discourse in Bangladesh on whether international Islamic terror outfits like ISIS or Al Qaeda have presence in Bangladesh or not. This unbecoming and sensationalist mental inclination might have encouraged remotely linked or inspired fringe people or groups to claim credit such international link or actually attempt to establish links to those high profile entities. All these have created further confusion. The focus should have been more on the bottom up approach i.e. discovering the threads through objective investigations first and then see whether they lead to national or international sources.
Also the high number of radical groups, however less significant in aggregate count, and their suspected yet unclear links to Islamist political entities makes it difficult to ascribe precisely a terror or radical act to any particular entity. Further, it seems that sometimes splinter groups emerge, disappear and re-emerge under a different rubrics.

The government, its security and intelligence outfits and the socio-political leadership at large should rather concentrate on discovering the precise genesis, trends, logistics, prognosis and remedies of radicalism and terrorism instead of news of their international connections. For a proper societal diagnosis of radicalization we need to understand the taxonomy of radicals and terrorist touching upon the construction of their psyche.
So far the militants were largely from the lower strata of society. They came from rural or small town low income or at best lower middle class backgrounds. Many of them went to Quaomi Madrassas or seminaries – the ones which follow no modern educational curricula, and focus only on the Quranic texts, Hadith, various theological elaborations. and some religious jurisprudence. The syllabus completely rejects any touch of modernity and rationality and relies completely on dogma and literal rendition of scripture. National and international Islamic charities take care of the funding and subsistence, setting up a perfect platform for brainwash and dependency. Words of Huzurs i.e. religious leaders become divine to the closed-minded disciples who aspire to pleasures in the afterlife as the ultimate reward. Quite a few of them went further to become terrorists, or assailant of infidels and heretics. It demonstrates striking similarities in their thoughts and acts despite coming from different seminaries. Whether there is a nationwide coordination in these acts is yet to be unearthed.

A sub-category of these radicals are the Afghan war veterans who received indoctrination and militant training in the troubled Afghan-Pak region. Some of them participated in some stages of the Afghan war, considering it Jihad. Analysts and security officials are well aware of this category for the last many years.

The startling development is, however, the self-radicalized big city youth of affluent background spanning from middle class to upper middle class. A sub-category of it is first generation migrant or students to western countries. Another sub-category of this type is the second generation of expat Bangladeshi youth, although technically they are not Bangladesh’s responsibility. The focus of most of these types is the ISIS Jihad in the Middle East rather than Bangladesh. Conservative familial teaching about religion results in identity crisis for them in the western environment. It often puts them in a situation of cultural disenfranchisement and social exclusion to some degree. This psychological dilemma typically stems from the culture shock of migration.

Cross-pollination of radicalism also took place within the world wide Bangladeshi diaspora, like in other such largely Muslim diaspora. Hizbut Tahrir is a case in point where educated expat Bangladeshi youth often travelled to Bangladesh to conduct motivational sessions and radicalize local urban youth. Despite some cultural gap especially with the second generation expats, the pull of the perceived Ummah presumably erased the difference.

Self-radicalization of the well off Dhaka youth and those outside Dhaka was talked about for quite some time now and recently we have seen the crude manifestation of it in Gulshan. So far it was independent of the other Mardassa stream. Interestingly in the Gushan attack it was found that two of attackers were from North Bengal madrassas whereas the other three are from rich quarters of the national capital. Radical solidarity seems to have started to transcend socio-cultural barriers. The diversity of the background of people in recently published RAB list of missing suspected radicals corroborate that. However, as far as age group is concerned, the youth overwhelmingly dominates.

Few factors are in play when it comes to psychological metamorphosis of urban affluent radicals of younger age. Their understanding of the wider world is influenced by the sections of societal environment of information they live in which often portrays anything non-Muslim, or non-Sunni to be precise, and especially the west, in disproportionately bad light. Many webpage, news channels, and newspaper persistently talk about the domination and exploitation of Christian Europe and America in the global politics, failing to highlight their good aspects.

Neither are the majority of those countries religious Christians. Instead secular humanistic ideals and other similar spiritual opinions like atheism, agnosticism, deism etc are pervasive in those societies. Europe and America is often depicted as anti-Muslim going by the geopolitics of the Middle East, while ignoring that they take similar geopolitical approach in various other parts of the non-Muslim world like Eastern Europe, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific etc. On the other hand contributions of Europe and America in changing the world through inventions, economic growth and modern political and social ideas are often ignored. Muslim ascent of the medieval age, largely irrelevant now, is often glorified out of proportion, creating a nostalgia and an urge to recreate the phenomenon. These radicals disdain all those who don’t follow their orthodox brand of Islam. They make it their responsibility to bring the society and the whole world under the umbrella of Islam, through violence if needed, which they consider Jihad.

For urban radicals of solvent background it’s the issue of incomplete education and faulty formation of social understandings and world views. The maxim ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing’ holds true for them. These closed-minded radicals want to bring back Islamic glory in a foolish yet brutal way – through militancy and terrorism. To them the divine as they comprehend it is the only sovereign, not conscious and well informed people, be it for spiritual or worldly affairs like politics, economy , culture or society. It makes any rational dialogue with them impossible until and unless they are normalized, if at all.

Radicalization and activities thereof by the perpetrators following any of these pathways are simultaneously law and order, institutional education, public discourse, information environment and societal norm issues. Development of a comprehensive approach through careful consideration to address the phenomenon is indeed a must now.

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is a freelance commentator on politics, society and international relations. He currently works at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). Email: (Disclaimer: Opinion expressed in the write up is solely of the writer’s own. It doesn’t reflect the views of his institute)

4 Responses to “Taxonomy of the Bangladesh radicals”

  1. Taj Hashmi

    Counterterrorism (CT) experts in Bangladesh must understand the problem of terrorism has deeper roots than alienation of some rich kids. Mass alienation of people from society, politics, and state – which they consider corrupt, cruel, and illegitimate – is the problem here. The problem is political, and “political” has a very broad definition. It’s all about human relations in power perspective; it’s about people’s aspirations, honour, dignity, livelihood, family, and freedom in local, national, and global perspectives. And what’s local is global, and global is local.

    Unfortunately, in the wake of the latest terror attacks at Gulshan and Sholakia, Bangladeshi leaders and law-enforcers seem to be in the denial mode. To them, there’s no ISIS in Bangladesh; terrorists here are all homegrown locals, not foreigners. They should rather worry more about the homegrown elements than the foreign ones, who are relatively easier to track down than the local ones. They should understand terrorism is also globalized like the McDonald’s franchise; you don’t need American chefs to prepare their burgers in distant Bangladesh.

  2. Anwar A. Khan

    Good analysis. Most of the essential issues are well explained. We should welcome the valuable suggestions put forward by the author to rid of them. The government should pay heed to them.

    Thank you very much, Mr. Sarwar, for writing this piece.


  3. Q Khoda

    A very good article indeed.

    It would do a great service to the monolingual readers if a Bengali version or translation of the article were available.


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