terror threat

Bangladesh's growing terror headache: Poll shows 47% justify attacks targeting civilians

The country had the highest proportion of people holding extremist views among the 14 nations polled.

On the evening of July 1, five militants pledging allegiance to the Islamic State attacked Holey Artisan Bakery, a Spanish-styled restaurant situated in the diplomatic area of Bangladesh’s capital city, killing 20 guests, most of them foreigners.

The attack did not come totally out of the blue.

Since February 2015, groups affiliated to the Al Qaeda had carried out a series of targeted killings of so-called "atheists bloggers", their publishers and LBGT activists. In addition, from September 2015, the Islamic State had claimed responsibility for a string of murders of foreigners and religious minorities. Indeed, in the 16 months before the Holey attack, there had been over 25 killings claimed by groups or individuals linked to one or the other of these jihadi organisations.

However, the scale of the Holey attack – involving a hostage situation and a mass killing of foreigners – triggered a new seriousness in state authorities on seeking to deal with the terrorist threat.

It also resulted in Bangladeshis thinking about the nature of the militant threat and the extent of its support.

People were surprised to discover that only one of the five militants involved in the Holey restaurant attack was educated in a religious madrassa and that three of the militants had gone to well-known private schools in Dhaka and belonged to middle-class homes.

It also became clear that these five men were just the tip of a large iceberg of men – many from educated households – who had gone "missing" in circumstances that suggested they may have joined the militant cause.

While it is unwise to rely on the actions or announcements of Bangladeshi law enforcement authorities as an accurate guide to the reality of the militant threat, the arrest of over a hundred suspected militants in recent months – along with the killing of dozens more – suggests, at the very least, that the network of active members, accomplices and sympathisers may well be large.

However, should we be surprised to learn that these networks are quite so large?

Perhaps not - had we been paying attention to a 2014 Pew Research Centre poll on the attitudes towards extremism of people living in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations.

The results of this poll suggest that high proportions of people in Bangladesh hold extremist views justifying suicide bombers and attacks on civilians as a way of "defending Islam" – a much higher percentage than almost all the other 13 countries surveyed.

One of the questions asked by Pew was this: “Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?”

The results for Bangladesh were breathtaking – 47% of the 1,000 randomly selected people questioned in the country thought suicide bombings or other forms of violence against civilian targets can "often" or "sometimes" be justified.

As the table below (using data extracted from the report) shows, none of the other 13 countries had a higher percentage of people with similar views.

Indeed, Bangladesh had double the proportion of people justifying suicide bombings and violence against civilian targets than nine of the other countries surveyed. Particularly eye-catching was the percentage of people in Pakistan who justified suicide bombings "often" or "sometimes", which stood at only 3%.

Bangladesh's 47% figure was divided into 14% who thought it could "often" be justified and 33% who thought it could "sometimes" be justified. Only 33% said it could "never be justified".

Only one country, the Palestinian territories, had a higher proportion of people than Bangladesh who thought this kind of violence was "often" justified (see table below).

Such views were reflected in the results of a couple of other questions in the same poll.

Twenty-eight percent of people in Bangladesh had a "favorable" view of both Hamas and Hezbollah – with only the Palestinian territories and Lebanon having a higher percentage of people holding similar views. In Pakistan, only 8% had a "favorable" view. However, the poll in Bangladesh did find that 56% – a much higher percentage of people than from many other countries – also had an "unfavorable" view of both organisations.

This, of course, is only one poll.

A survey done two years earlier, also by Pew, (which asked a similar but slightly different question and, therefore, not directly comparable), found that a smaller proportion of people from Bangladesh – 26% – thought that suicide bombings/civilian attacks were "often" or "sometimes" justified. But even this figure, as the table below shows (see Q89, p216 of the report) represented over a quarter of the Bangladesh respondents, and was much higher than 16 of the 20 countries surveyed.

What does this mean?

A common meme used to describe Bangladesh is to say that it is a "moderate Muslim" country. In 2014, for example, Dan Mozena, who was then the United States ambassador to Bangladesh, was quoted as stating that the country was "a moderate and generally secular and tolerant – though sometimes this is getting stretched at the moment – alternative to violent extremism in a very troubled part of the world".

There is much that supports such a description. Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan, resulting in the defeat of the Islamic fundamentalist parties that supported the Pakistan military. Neither of the country’s top three political parties are explicitly religious, and the party now in power is secular. And while there has been significant political violence in Bangladesh since the return of democracy in 1990, this is mostly inter-party, and not of a religious nature. In addition, women’s rights have demonstrably improved over the years.

Moreover, the high figure could represent the fact that at the time the polls were taken, the country had not suffered from any significant militancy – and that following the string of targeted killings from 2015 and the Holey restaurant attack in July 2016, people’s view will have changed.

Nonetheless, the polls do suggest that behind the impression of a "moderate" Bangladesh, there are high proportions of people in the country who hold views that support Islamic militant violence.

And this could well help explain the new growth of militancy in Bangladesh, and suggest that the network of militant sympathisers – and the pool of people from which they can be recruited and who will support them – may well be much higher than most people imagine.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

When house hunting is as easy as shopping for groceries

The supermarket experience comes to a sector where you least expected it.

The woes of a house hunter in India are many. The dreary process starts with circling classifieds in newspapers and collecting shiny brochures. You flip through the proposed and ready designs that launch a hundred daydreams on the spot. So far so good. But, every house hunter would attest to the soul-crushing experience of checking out a disappointing property.

The kitchen of a 2BHK is carved from the corner of the hall, the 3BHK is a converted 2BHK, the building looks much older than in the pictures…. after months of reading the fine line, and between the lines, you feel like all the diagrams and highlights seem to blur into each other.

After much mental stress, if you do manage to zero in on a decent property, there’s a whole new world of knowledge to be navigated - home loans to be sifted through, taxes to be sorted and a finance degree to be earned for understanding it all.

Do you wish a real estate platform would address all your woes? Like a supermarket, where your every need (and want) is catered to? Imagine all your property choices nicely lined up and arranged with neat labels and offers. Imagine being able to compare all your choices side by side. Imagine viewing verfied listings and knowing what you see is what you get. Imagine having other buyers and experts guiding you along every step while you make one of the most important investments in your life. Imagine...

MagicBricks has made every Indian house hunters’ daydream of a simplified real estate supermarket a reality. Now you have more than a pile of brochures at your disposal as the online real estate marketplace brings you lakhs of choices to your fingertips. Instead of bookmarking pages, you can narrow down your choices by area, budget, house type etc. Just so you aren’t hit by FOMO, you can always add a suburb you’ve been eyeing or an extra bedroom to your filter. But there’s more to a house than just floor space. On MagicBricks, you can check for good schools in the vicinity, a park for evening walks or at least an assured easier commute. Save time and energy by vetting properties based on the specs, pictures and floor plans uploaded and have all your niggling concerns addressed on the users’ forum.

Shortlisted a property? Great! No need to descend down another spiral of anxiety. Get help from reliable experts on MagicBricks on matters of legalities, home loans, investment, property worth etc. You can even avail their astrology and Vastu services to ensure an auspicious start to life in your new home or office. With its entire gamut of offerings, MagicBricks has indeed brought the supermarket experience to real estate in India, as this fun video shows below.

Play

Get started with a simplified experience of buying, renting and selling property on MagicBricks here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MagicBricks and not by the Scroll editorial team.