Arc of Instability: Transnational Terrorism and Political Violence in Bangladesh a Panel Discussion

7:30pm, Tuesday August 14, 2018
Members: free, Non-members 450 Baht, Thai journalists and Students with valid ID: 150 Baht
The high-profile attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in July 2016 served as a timely wake-up call to Bangladesh, when five young men claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic State stormed the well-known hangout of foreign nationals and wealthy Bangladeshis, killing 20 hostages. The attack cemented the reality that transnational terror groups had a presence in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh now faces a diverse array of extremist-related challenges; domestic threats, transnational threats and accusations that is has become a safe haven for extremists. Gulf money also plays a role in financing domestic Islamist organisations, money that is nominally channelled to social and religious works. In addition, there is now substantial evidence that members of the Bangladeshi diaspora in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere have been recruited by al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates to plot attacks, recruit fighters and, in at least one case, run a complex web of terror financing. A disproportionately high number of Bangladeshis - and those with Bangladeshi heritage - went to fight with Islamic State and other militant groups in Iraq and Syria.

In recent years, Bangladesh has struggled to protect two of its fundamental foundational tenets and values: secularism and pluralism, and a battle has been taking place over the role of Islam in the country. In reality, both main political groups have been courting alliances with Islamist groups as they manoeuvre to maintain a popular base. In return, these groups have demanded more of a voice in decision-making in which they claim buy-in, such as education, the role of women and marriage.

While the BNP, and others, allege that failed elections have created a space that has allowed radicalism to thrive, the ruling party counters that the BNP, with its close ties to the Islamist group Jama'at-e-Islam, has instigated violence and unrest in the name of Islam. With an election expected to be called in the coming months, a history of electoral violence cannot be disengaged from the current debate over the nature and place of Islam in contemporary Bangladesh.

The arrival of nearly 700,000 additional Rohingya refugees since August 2017 (UNHCR) causes further concerns for the security and stability of Bangladesh, posing additional challenges for both the ruling party and the opposition and stoking fears that Islamist parties seeking to claim the moral and religious high ground could challenge the status quo by registering as political parties in their own right.

Increasingly, the fear is that the further erosion of political space in Bangladesh could create fertile ground for Islamist militants to operate domestically - and provide the opportunity for transnational groups to exploit the instability to recruit and prepare international plots. With a cocktail of elections, refugees and recent extremist attacks, where is Bangladesh placed as ISIS increasingly seeks to export its violence and exploit local grievances for a global jihad?

Confirmed Panelists:

Zafar Sohhan is the editor of the Dhaka Tribune, an English-language daily launched in 2015. He has also contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian, Time , Vice, and other publications. In 2015, he was named by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, and was a Yale World Fellow in 2009, and an Asia 21 Young leader in 2008.

Sara Hossain is a prominent human rights lawyer and a barrister practicing in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, mainly in the areas of constitutional, public interest and family law. Sara is an outspoken advocate of secularism, freedom of expression and gender equality. Sara's casework on women's rights has included public interest litigation before the Supreme Court of Bangladesh challenging 'fatwa' violence (degrading punishments being imposed on women and girls accused of violating community norms on sexuality), 'forced veiling' and the use of the 'two finger test' as a form of medical evidence collection. Sara writes and speaks on public interest law, human rights and women's rights and access to justice.

Retired Brigadier General Sakhawat Hussain is a security analyst, former election commissioner and a Brigadier General (retired) in the Bangladesh Army. He has written more than 300 articles and 20 books, and serves as a columnist and commentator for the national and international media as a security and defence analyst

Dr. Nawab Osman, Assistant Professor and coordinator of the Malaysia programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University,Singapore (RSIS). Nawab has carried out field research in Bangladesh on transnational extremism. Nawab is a frequent commentator on political Islam, terrorism and Southeast Asian politics for regional and international media. Nawab has written various papers, books and journal articles relating to his research interests.

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