I looked at the FB profile of one of the terrorists (Nirbas Islam) in Gulshan attack in Bangladesh. Nirbas looks perfectly normal teenager coming from affluent family and his profile shows no inclination that he is at all a radicalized religious youth. However, it is quite clear the guy had a deep interest in international politics. He shared a post, which was apparently made to protest against refugee policy of the Europe, describing how Europeans flooded to North Africa for safe shelter during second world war. There is no doubt, a kid like him was deeply influenced more by International politics and religion served him a purpose to the concerns he had for something he found unjust.
In 2003, when I started writing in Mukto-Mona forum founded by Avijit Roy, we thought Internet will dawn a new civilization of knowledge, wisdom and rationalism in our part of South Asia which is deeply buried under ignorance and toxic influence of religions. We thought now that knowledge is made free, wisdom will flow like a free flowing river. We hoped people will adopt to science and rationalism over superstition and fictional tale of religion. Least we knew, within a decade, it would turn out to be other way around. Internet will spread more radicalization of Islam. ISIS will use social media more effectively to radicalize gullible Muslim youths who are already soft to Islamic cause given their family culture which may not be hardliner but surely believes in all sort of conspiracy theories for injustice meted out to Muslim populations in Middle East, India and Myanmar.
However, I am deeply introspecting everything I thought and preached about rationalism. Did I miss something? I think I did. For once, I never thought root cause is religious text unlike many of my friends in MM forum but I was sure it was more political than religious. Most likely, I failed to understand deep empathy created by religious culture for fellow religious people-they call it brotherhood. It defies all rationalism when someone seating in Bangladesh feels more strongly for a suffering Muslim in Syria or in Palestine ignoring probably half of the Bangladeshi people are suffering a lot more living in abject poverty.
Empathy for the people suffering from illness, political persecution, poverty is the at the heart of all religions and very basic reason why religion is still surviving despite most of it is merely fairly tales and fictional prophets. However, when such a blind sighted empathy is created, when you can only see suffering of the people of your religion while ignoring people who are living in slum next to your palace, clearly such empathy has been manufactured by media, family culture and politicians who aspired to profit from such blindness.
Children of internet age are vulnerable to media propaganda. We need to encourage critical thinking from very childhood. Let them be critical of each and everything we tell them to be true and traditional. They must be enabled to handle information with their critical mind so that they can easily find inadequate logic and ill reasoning in every propaganda and every thought presented to them. They must be taught to understand there can be several contradicting truths of same reality. For example, if we blame America for suffering of people of Iraq, it will again be a half baked truth. Fact is –such suffering is a combination of multiple things starting from feudal Islamic culture of the Middle East to imperial design of the West.
Nirbas, like many Muslims ( and many leftists) were only convinced of imperial design of the West while forgetting stagnated Islamic culture is also equally responsible for not having democracy in that part of the world. You can blame West as much as you want and West won’t mind. But you can’t conveniently forget Mullahs in Iran think democracy is a sham, and men should have no power to make law when Allha made Sharia laws for them. If anything, West gave them a complete opposite kind of governing system in the form of liberal democracy.
When kids like Nirbas turns to radical political ideology, I am not surprised. Most of the Muslims in South Asia hail radical preacher Zakir Naik as a hero whose knowledge will not surpass that of a class 4-th grade student. For me that is the real concern when even highly educated Muslims are unable to comprehend unscrupulous nature of radical preaching because formal education failed to build a foundation of critical mind.
Practically I don’t see a solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism unless and until we all admit, we need to change our school education system for developing a more scientific and critical mind. Cry as much you want, speak as loud as you want, roar as thunder as you want against terrorism, denounce as hard as you can -but Islamic terror will only escalate. Unless we all understand, we are not doing a good job to develop critical, rational and scientific mind in schools and homes so that our kids are not vulnerable to radical preachers in the Internet. It is already late. There are too many radical preachers and millions of vulnerable kids getting ready to be next Jihadi John. None of us are safe.