Terrorism, Politics and Poverty.

Terrorism, Politics and Poverty.
By A.K. Enamul Haque, PhD.

The year 2005 was an eventful year for all of us. In this year, we have seen a few major disasters – after the Tsunami (at the end of 2004) we had an earthquake in Pakistan. In Bangladesh, the socio-political situation has dramatically changed after 63 bombs blasted in 63 cities within a span of one hour. None could imagine such an event in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has always been regarded itself as a Muslim but less fanatic nation than many others. Yet it has happened. It has changed our lifestyle. Many started to consider the threat of bombs as a real event before leaving home. Many shopping centers have installed security-scanning devices to ensure protection of their clients.

I am sure many people like us are also wondering about this. Why did such a series of bomb attacks take place in Bangladesh? Here, unfortunately our government as well as the opposition political leaders failed the nation. Instead of getting together to put off this flare, they started to get into a blame game. One blaming the other for protecting and fostering such attacks on the nation.

I know many people in the world cannot even conceive of this. Why on earth a government would like to promote bomb attacks on the nation or why the major opposition political parties would promote them any way? I have no answer but our political analysts have a range of hypothesis. I have read them but none of their thesis is acceptable to me. Unfortunately, most of these theorists belong to some political party and so they are refueling the existing feud between the government and the opposition.

These theorists as well as our political leaders live in a world of poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment. So they are taking advantage of the poverty of the people by telling them that they are the sole savior for nation. They take advantage of illiteracy and tell lies which cannot be challenged.

The issue is simple; when people are illiterate they use their memory to challenge their leaders. Most of the public memory is short-lived and so it is possible for people at large to forget the past and so they simply lie in public to systematically promote chaos. Political parties in Bangladesh are doing exactly this. After 9/11, New Yorkers got together, friend and foes to challenge the terrorists, this is absent in Bangladesh.

On the issue of how such terrorist groups could operate in Bangladesh, I have a different thesis and I am not sure whether everyone would accept it. First, in a country where the light (of literacy) has not reached many people because of poverty or because of the absence of facilities, people search for alternative education. Religious education provides this opportunity, which the formal education system did not want to touch. As a result, poor people in remote areas began to sponsor such religious schools.

Second, when a large majority of people are uneducated, they develop a sense of deprivation and frustration. It is possible for terrorist groups to easily recruit these groups when economic conditions are poor.

Third, poverty itself is a fertile recruitment ground for recruitment of terrorists. I now believe that the first and the most important agenda for development should be to fight illiteracy and poverty. Only then it would be possible to isolate the mastermind from their followers.

Master players in terrorism activities are funded by many sources and no one really knows whom. I believe it would be difficult for the government or the opposition to establish a terror-free society alone. They must act together and until this happens we will be inside a terrorist soup.

In this regard, I always feel how lucky Canada, the US, the UK, French, German, and Spanish people are. Whenever their nation came under fire, their leaders got together without prejudice and fought back.

Terrorism, Politics and Poverty: A Canadian View
By Philip Shaw M.Sc.

How do you measure 63 bombs going off in 63 districts within an hour of each other? You can’t. When it happened, Bangladesh was suddenly on the world stage again. This time is was not for some natural disaster but something heinous, destructive and very out of character. Bangladesh simply doesn’t deserve it.

Of course who does? Do the people of the Democratic Republican of the Congo deserve it? How about some of the chaos in the new Iraq? No, nobody deserves it. It’s a blemish on our current state of world affairs that we have leaders who do not work “without prejudice”. The current political state Enamul describes so well is an example of that.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran certainly fell into that “prejudiced” category with his remarks last month about Israel. Others around the world have fallen into the same trap. Fighting terrorism should be everybody’s responsibility.

For those of us in the rich economies of the west keep in mind what Enamul says about poverty and “the light of literacy”. From a western perspective we sometimes think we know what poverty is, when in fact we really don’t. Some people would argue how could there be different levels of poor but in western countries it has a totally different meaning than places like Bangladesh.

In southwestern Ontario farm country where this west half of east west originates there is an old farmer who has a favourite saying. He simply says, “He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know”. In an environment where the “light of literacy” hasn’t been turned on, when you don’t know what you don’t know, the vacuum can be easily filled. In the case of terrorism, it is one bad idea after another. It feeds on itself. Turning the light on is the only way to go.

You might say one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Where have we heard that before? Many places I am afraid. I know that living 12 kilometres from the American border I had become used to the terms “contra rebels” and freedom fighters backed by US forces in Central America. However, thinking of the 9/11 hijackers hurtling toward the windows of the World Trade Centre has nothing to do with freedom fighting. In 2006 this may have to be re-defined.

When I first went to Bangladesh I got quite the education. I had been to third world countries before but only in the Caribbean. Those small economies are relatively prosperous compared to places in Africa and Asia. Nothing could have prepared me for the degree of human depravity I witnessed on the streets of Bangladesh.

I’ve been there three times. On my first visit in 1993 I traveled mostly by train. Train stations were hard to witness because many times it was difficult to discern the living from the dead. However, what I remember the most was traveling through the slums. It was always there where my friend Enamul would get up and leave for another window, staring aimlessly into the stench, which was the slum. I asked him why. He simply said I always look in to see if I can figure out some way to help them professionally.

One meal a day and a school would surely help. However, the issue of poverty is much bigger than one man’s attempt to stem that tide. It is what it is. One of the unfortunate parts is that terrorism can breed like the flu in such conditions. Like Enamul says, people in poverty use their memory to challenge their leaders. What else could they reasonably be expected to do?

So what do western nations do about the poverty, and illiteracy which breads terrorism, which has 63, bombs going off within one hour in 63 different districts of the country? I haven’t even mentioned the AIDS pandemic in Africa which is redefining the continent sending economies straight backwards. Clearly there is a lot of work to do. Does silence mean complicity?

I’ll let you decide that. Every three minutes a child dies of poverty in this world. In Bangladesh people who were hungry constantly besieged me. Here I am living in Canada producing food for myself and 130 other people. Lots of this doesn’t make sense. Mix misinformation and terrorism in the blend and it just gets that much more murky.

Back in the day I used to ask Enamul why there were such problems in places like the former Yugoslavia and Israel. He used to say it is all based on history. I took that to mean somebody’s grandpa didn’t like somebody else’s grandpa. So the fight goes on. Pour a lot of education and food into the equation and you might get some hope.

In 2006 it might not be that simple. Yes, education, and a secured food supply would go a long way to alleviate poverty and diminish terrorism. However, this world is far from perfect and it shows no sign of even leaning that way. Until then, as Enamul says we need leaders with stature and without prejudice to fight terrorism at every level. A good dose of basic public education for the world’s poor might be the best way to get that light to shimmer.