Bangladeshi authorities renew their commitment to de-radicalise extremist militants, young people recruited in universities and on the web. A life of hiding and fleeing, of armed militancy is not life. The state should punish but also rehabilitate those who err. Help from family is crucial.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – “Once upon a time it was possible to conquer a state with a sword. Now everything has changed. It is the era of science and education. It is time to build a new world with love, not with hatred and violence,” said Shaon Muntaha Ibn Shawkat, a former Islamist militant, as he urged fellow extremists to follow his example and return to normal life.
Shaon is one of nine people who gave up the armed struggle on 14 January and reunited with their families after completing a deradicalisation programme run by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion.
To further its goals, last Monday, Bangladesh’s elite anti-terrorism unit created a special e-mail address – firstname.lastname@example.org – to encourage as many militants as possible to join the initiative.
“I have always been a brilliant student, like my wife, who later became a doctor,” Shaon told AsiaNews. “I found the [outlawed] Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir during my university years, attracted by its teaching that the country should be governed by Islamic law.
“I radicalised on the internet, and then I joined Ansar-al-Islam, another banned Islamist group. At first, I was a preacher, recruiting several of my friends. Then I began to train new members of the group in armed action.”
Shaon claims that he has never carried out any acts of violence. He always felt hunted by the police; fearing arrest, he did not even go to pray in the mosque or visit relatives.
“I didn't have any personal, family or social life. I lived in hiding with my wife and our two children without contacts with my family.”
The former militant then realised that he had taken the wrong path. “As an engineer I could have had a bright future, and so could have my wife as a doctor. As fugitives we had neither happiness nor peace.”
Shaon got his wife Nusrat Ali Juhi involved in a life of militancy. She says that in hiding she could not take on a full-time employment, but only part-time jobs under false names.
Once the decision was taken to abandon that existence, the couple contacted their family members, who then helped them in the process of social reintegration.
Abida Jannat Asma’s story is similar to that of Shaon and Nusrat. She discovered that her husband was a militant only after the marriage. The two acted together to recruit new members, but Nusrat wasn't happy with that life.
“I couldn't see my family,” said the 19-year-old, “forced to flee and always change places. Life as a fugitive was not comfortable, so I called some family members who could help me.”
According to Abida, it is right to punish armed militants, but the government does well to try to rehabilitate those who want to return to a normal life. For this, she urges her husband and all Islamist militants to renounce violence and follow the rehabilitation programme.
Another former militant who did not want to reveal his name made the same choice as Abida. The young man came into contact with extremism on Facebook.
Arrested several times for his proselytising activity, he realised he was living as an outcast, without the support of family and society. “To have a peaceful and prosperous life, I gave up the armed struggle and went back to university,” he said.