Youth Engagement in CVE: A Confluence of Policy & Practice, University of Chittagong

On July 8, 2018, Think Twice, Act Wise organized a workshop and a summit on “Youth Engagement in CVE: A Confluence of Policy & Practice” at Faculty of Business Studies, University of Chittagong. The daylong event was attended by the various stakeholders working in the concerned field. The chief guest was Professor Dr. Iftekhar Uddin Chowdhury, Vice Chancellor, University of Chittagong. The event was moderated by Asif M Shahan, Associate Professor at Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. In the workshop, the participants worked in small groups, brainstormed on the possible drivers that lead young generation to extremism and subsequently produced a number of recommendations that need to be accommodated in National policy on countering violent extremism. Later on the day, experts working in the field of CVE- government official, law enforcement agency, academician- highlighted their expertise regarding CVE. The insights generated from the workshop were also disseminated to the ‍summit participants to make them resilient about various aspects of extremism in the country.

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Social Movements for Justice and Rule of Law: Quota Reform and Safe Road and Transport

Both political executives and employees in public service must be held accountable for each and every action. That’s the hallmark of democracy. There are formal institutions and stipulated guidelines to make the state actors accountable. For a country like Bangladesh, the effectiveness of formal institutions such as, parliament, judiciary, Office of Controller and Auditor General, Independent Anti-Corruption Commission and so forth entrusted with the vital role of disciplining the actors in the executive branch has waned. Accountability through periodic elections has lost its significance as non-participatory and rigged elections have reappeared on the political landscape. The majority of the civic forums have also been encapsulated by the executive state. What we find in Bangladesh is nothing more than executive despotism. In fact, all kinds of channels through which citizens can ventilate their disapproval of executive actions have been shut down. Under this kind of pathetic situation, spontaneous social movements concerning pressing demands as perceived by citizenry can play an effective role. The glaring examples are Phulbari and Kanshat movements. Of course, there is no guarantee that such social movements generate positive outcomes all the time. But at least, these can expose the ugly face of despotic governments.
One such social movement concerns the quota system in the public employment system. The system is such that there is hardly any space for meritorious young people to join public service. The system works in such a way so as to ensure employment of those loyal to the regime. This is a classic case of positioning client groups in the key public sector organizations. This is against the spirit of natural justice and meritocracy in public sector administration. The students of the tertiary educational institutions have been pressing for reforming this quota system for a while. But the state decision makers are reluctant to restructure the system. State law enforcers and the student activists of the ruling party have crushed the movement. Several student leaders have been detained and are expected to face trial. On occasions, senior executives of the state just provided lip service to solve the problem. Nothing has happened. Though, positive outcomes haven’t come out, there is wide recognition of the demands and public sympathy for the cause has increased in manifolds. The movement may revive again anytime.
The second movement is about the traffic rules and road safety. Improper traffic regulations and their poor enforcement have made the lives of the millions of commuters unsafe. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority is in charge of issuing the fitness certificate of the vehicles and driving license. Now it has become an open secret that the transport owner association and the transport workers union have just captured this vital state institution; fitness certificates and driving licenses are issued at the whims of the union leaders. It is alleged that transport workers’ leaders generate a large amount of unearned revenues every day from the road and transport sector. It has to be noted here that Mr. Shahjahan Khan, the Minister for Shipping is the central committee leader of the transport workers union. Over the years, mismanagement in the road and transport sector has remained unscathed under the direct patronage of Mr. Shahjahan Khan.
Just a few days ago, two college students were crushed to death by a running bus. This time, the students, mostly late teenagers, have come out of their black boxes and started movement for the exemplary punishment of the driver and safe and sound road traffic management. Students’ agitation was further ignited by the sarcastic laughter of Mr. Shahjahan in front of the journalists. Tens of thousands of students with their school/college uniform thronged the roads in Dhaka demanding the realization of their 9 points-demands, including the resignation of Mr. Shahjahan. It is really a spectacular and unbelievable event in Bangladesh that thousands of teenagers have inundated the roads of Dhaka spontaneously to seek justice for the horrendous death of their dearest fellows. Not only this, the students started policing the road and checking vehicle registration papers and driving licenses. Surprising, the car drivers of a large number of higher public officials failed to show the registration papers, fitness certificates and driving licenses. There were some under aged drivers as well. One estimate suggests that 70 per cent vehicles running on the road are unsafe and a large number of drivers are drug addicts.
Students’ demands include many critical areas that are directly connected to the nature of the Bangladeshi state. First, for a long time, very light punishment for the drivers has been the talk of the down. But a powerful mobilizer like transport workers union under the direct patronage of Mr. Shahjahan succeeded in stopping the reform. Because the transport workers union is one of the vital allies of the clientelist dominant power coalition at this moment. Second, this transport sector is the source of a large amount of illegal earnings through extortion, sale of fitness certificates and driving licenses which are shared by the leaders of the union at different levels. Third, the interests of policemen are also at stake. Given this political economy of the transport sector and the current imbroglio of the ruling coalition, state decision makers are in a delicate situation to undertake radical initiatives for the transport sector. They can’t afford to agitate their vital power coalition ally. Probably, a new law will be enacted. Again, a mere new law is not enough if the government does not demonstrate a serious political will in cleaning up the mess pertaining to the transport syndicate, rent seeking behavior of transport officials and policemen, extortion by union leaders and independent judiciary.
It has not been an easy task of the teenagers. Because of the repressive nature of the state, social movements on a large scale rarely happen in Bangladesh. Even authorized rights-based NGOs hardly raise any voice against different kinds of anomalies and injustices committed by the state and non-state actors. Therefore, spontaneous social movements remain the main spring of ventilating the injustices inflicted on diverse spheres of society.
The message of this small write up is, when the state actors are strong, social actors through their movements can further sharpen the former’s actions. But when state actors are weak, movements orchestrated by social actors can expose the misdeeds of state actors and their unscrupulous allies and show the path towards justice and rule of law.
Abu Elias Sarker, Ph.D
Associate Professor
College of Business Administration
University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Email: elias@sharjah.ac.ae.

Radicalization and Rohingyas: What are the Odds?

I don’t know why they killed my little sister Yasmin. She was just one month old. What had she ever done wrong?

The Myanmar military shot my mother and father in front of us’

-Januka (10)

Like Januka, there are tens and thousands of children languishing at the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar and their stories are almost similar; one of immeasurable despair and mayhem. Most of them have witnessed atrocities committed against their families and the blood-chilling memory of their loved ones being murdered mercilessly right in front of their eyes is something that will probably remain embedded in their minds forever and thus, the pervasive issue of the long- term impacts of an exposure to violence at such a tender age comes to the fore.

The UN has raised the total count of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar to more than 700,000 people while experts estimate the numbers to exceed 10, 00,000 in coming days. Given that our population is estimated to grow at the rate of 1.1% this year (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics), around 1.8 million people are expected to be added to our existing population of 163.9 million (as per Jan 2017). If the total count of Rohingyas at the end of 2017 amount to 0.1 million approximately, it is estimated that our population will expand by a further 2.9 million at the end of the year. Approximately 10 million refugees from Bangladesh fled to neighboring India to escape the genocide in 1971, who were later on successfully repatriated after the end of the nine month long war. Bangladesh’s negotiations with Myanmar to send back the displaced Rohingyas have been fruitless so far and the decision made by the government to allocate land for building refugee camps have only accelerated the exodus, far from stalling it. Whether or not Bangladesh will be able to undertake a comprehensive strategy to repatriate the Rohingyas unarguably depends on the timeline of the crisis, but looming question remains-Are these people prepared to return to the homeland where they have no identity?

It is not just the mounting figures or the scarcity of resources that continue to pose an imminent threat on our capacity to accommodate these people. The current Rohingya situation brings with itself a completely multidimensional spectrum of security concerns, in the form transnational and internal security, encompassing militancy and terrorism issues as well.  It must be noted that most of the survivors of the Myanmar military crackdown who have managed to escape death are women and children currently residing in the camps. So far we have no official count of the number of Rohingya children or young adolescents or the percentage of the entire displaced population under a certain age (e.g. 15), which needs to be addressed in the future. Hungry, impoverished and poverty-stricken, the younger generation is most vulnerable and is more likely to be subjected to exploitation or manipulation. It will not be surprising if law enforcers in Cox’s Bazaar report a sudden rise in criminal activities after a few months.

After the gruesome Holey Artisan affair, the growing debate surrounding the radicalization of Bangladeshi youth triggered a number of positive efforts taken by the government, media and civil society The enormity of the terrorist attack was a wakeup call for many, in the form of the realization that extremist ideologies are indeed having a powerful impact on the youth conscience and since then countering terrorism through narratives have been emphasized as a vital way of addressing the problem. Extensive studies are being conducted which merges a myriad of abstract concepts from different disciplines such as psychology, philosophy and even political science. Experts are striving to delve into the minds of young extremists to reveal the multilayered rationales behind the engagement of youth in terrorist activities.

On a primary basis, a number of distinct causes that may attribute to the radicalization of the young Rohingyas can be identified:

A Prolonged History of Oppression:

The Rohingyas carry a long legacy of oppression and persecution which can be dated back to the early 1950’s right after Myanmar’s independence. Since then, they have been denied all rights of citizenship by subsequent military government, rendering them ‘stateless’ and unentitled to any legal protection. The emergence of the Arakan Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant outfit which claims to fight for the oppressed Rohingyas is a possible culmination of decades of violence against the Rohingyas, and remains a driving force behind the ongoing humanitarian crisis.  Today,the orphnaed Rohingyas who are stranded in Bangladesh are more susceptible to indoctrination compared to any Bangladeshi youth.

Poverty and lack of perception/reasoning:

It is highly unlikely that they will receive any formal schooling or education in the future, thanks to their ethnic identities and backgrounds. The combined impact of illiteracy and deprivation is lethal as we are aware of, and is also a breeding ground for radicalization.

Exposure to Violence and lack of guidance:

A mentally scarred 10 year old is easier to manipulate than any average child of the same age. With no parental guidance and filial bonds, a strong ethical or moral foundation will cease to exist which raises the chances of selecting wrong role models or sources of inspiration.

Alienation, Unemployment and lack of acceptance:

In the long run, if they stay back in a country which will not acknowledge their national identity, the struggle for survival will be further exacerbated by the lack of recognition, respect and dignity. Although public sentiments and emotions surrounding the Rohingya issue involve that of empathy and humanity at present, it may not remain so in the future. Growing resentment and alienation will make them more aggrieved and unwanted.

Borum’s Four stage model of the terrorist mindset (Borum,2011) tries to explain how grievances and vulnerabilities are transformed into deep antipathy towards a certain group and how hatred acts as catalyst for violence.  The four-stage process begins by with an unfortunate event or condition which is alleged as unjust or unfair. The victim then blames a target policy, person, or nation for his/her suffering and finally the responsible party is then vilified, and often demonized.

In the case of the Rohingya it can be illustrated as such:

 

The Voice of the Youth:

When asked to give their personal takes on the Rohingya issue most youth have opined that despite the fact that the current situation has presented itself as a humanitarian crisis, the spillover effect on Bangladesh cannot be ignored. Tazree, an undergraduate student of Criminology who recently visited one of the refugee camps with a research team, echoes similar concerns regarding the potential radicalization of Rohingyas. According to her, ‘These Rohingyas are extremely uneducated and desperate for food and money which makes them more vulnerable to any sort of crimes, even the ones like terrorism and militancy. It is far easier to propagandize these people and manipulate for any illegal aims. Reports have already been found on the Rohingyas being used by the locals for drug peddling and women are used as well for prostitution.’ Most agree on the notion that these people will have to be taken back by Myanmar eventually, while some demand that the Rohingyas are granted their due social rights, which they have been deprived of for so long.

The scarcity of data

Though Bangladesh has been threatened by the activities of radicals and religious zealots time and again, there is not enough data to analyze the current situation. When we can easily find out why European Muslims are joining ISIS, it is not easy research extremist motivations Bangladesh because of scarcity of information provided by government and other agencies. European and American studies are not so relevant considering Bangladeshi issues because, Muslims are a minority in the West whereas in Bangladesh, almost 90% are Muslims.

What are the similarities?

But, considering the Rohingya issue, there are certain links which connect European studies with the Rohingya issue.

Like other European Muslims, these Rohingya’s are minority in their country and are being oppressed by the government for almost half a century. While European Muslims think that, Westerns are the reasons behind their situation; Rohingyas also can validly blame the junta for their situation.

Studies reveal that, European Muslims are less educated and economically less advantaged than native Europeans. The same can be observed in the case of the Rohingyas.

When all these reasons are aggregated, we can see that the European situation is relatable to the Rohingya issue. What is happening in Europe and the Middle East, can also happen in Myanmar, and Bangladesh will face the repercussions.

Many Rohingyas are living in Bangladesh for 3 decades. Although, presently Bangladeshis have been nothing but sympathetic towards Rohingyas, the local Bangladeshis of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar are starting to express their discontent about the situation.  Most of the refugees are women and children and Bangladesh has no obligation to ensure their education. Many humanitarian organizations have opened schools in the refugee camps, but the prevalence of extreme poverty among them seems to be a greater concern. The children are more likely be involved in child labor and thus mass illiteracy will make it easier to sow the seed of fundamentalism

Military Dependency and Insecurity:

Bangladesh government relies on military force for peacekeeping in hill tracts, despite decades of vehement opposition from the ethnic groups inhabiting the region. Now that the government is assigning more military forces in those areas for the sake of maintaining peace, it will further exacerbate the ‘anti-military’ vibe.

Status Quo:

Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the return of Rohingyas. It so appears that Myanmar is willing to take back the people who have been deprived of identity, but are the Rohingyas willing to return? Is the fear of further persecution still plaguing their minds?

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been lauded by world for her efforts in addressing the crisis, which has unarguably helped build a positive image of Bangladesh in the arena of geo-politics. Last but not the least, this year, the national election will be held in Bangladesh, and the ruling party will definitely seek to capitalize on this issue.

Conclusion

The past few years has witnessed a perilous escalation in refugee crisis all around the world. Due to its strategic, yet disadvantageous geographical position, Bangladesh has been on the receiving end of the sudden escalation in the magnitude of violence against the Rohingyas. As discussed, the social implications of offering temporary refuge to such a huge populace is stronger than economic ones. Therefore, it is imperative that Bangladesh seeks bilateral assistance of its more omnipotent allies, i.e., China, Russia and most importantly India to resolve this issue.

 At an era where the youth are considered as a nation’s biggest assets, the rights of thousands of young adolescents are being violated every day, an atrocity which is overtly responsible for the birth of deadly terrorists and murderous fundamentalists.  It is high time that the global paragon of democracy acts upon her words.

‘I do protect human rights, and I hope I shall always be looked up as a champion of human rights.’

Aung San Suu Kyi

 

Writers

Lamia Mohsin

Department of Development Studies

University of Dhaka

and

D.M Rohis Uz Zaman

Institute of Social Welfare and Research (ISWR)

University of Dhaka

 

*References:

Borum, Randy. Radicalization into Violent Extremism II: A Review of Conceptual Model and Empirical Research. Journal of Strategic Security 4, no. 4 (2012): 37-62

সম্প্রীতির উদাহরণ

০৭ জুন ২০১৭, সমকাল।

সব পথ, মত ও ধর্মের সহাবস্থান সামাজিক সম্প্রীতির অংশ। এ সম্প্রীতি রক্ষায় কিছু কিছু দৃষ্টান্ত অনুপ্রেরণার। সাম্প্রতিক উদাহরণ বোধ হয় ৪ জুন আনন্দবাজারে প্রকাশিত একটি খবর। ‘রমজানে নিয়মিত রোজা রাখে এই হিন্দু পরিবার’ শীর্ষক প্রতিবেদনটি বলছে কলকাতার বারাসাতের হিন্দু পরিবারটি কেবল রোজাই রাখে না, একটি মসজিদও দেখাশোনা করে। সেখানে জুমার নামাজ, রমজানে তারাবি-ইফতার সবই হয়। প্রতিবেদনটি বলছে, ৬৭ বছর বয়সী দীপক বসু নিজে রোজা রাখতে না পারলেও তার ছেলে নিয়মিত রোজা রাখেন। মসজিদে ইমামের সঙ্গে ইফতার করেন। দীপক বসুর আদি নিবাস আমাদের খুলনার ফুলতলার আলকাগ্রামে। ১৯৬৪ সালে পূর্ব পাকিস্তানে দাঙ্গার সময় কলকাতার বারাসাতের ওয়াজুদ্দিন মোড়লের বিশাল সম্পত্তি পাল্টাপাল্টি করে ওপারে চলে যান। সে জমির মালিকানায় মেলে একটি মসজিদ। মসজিদটি আজও বসু পরিবারটি রক্ষণাবেক্ষণ করে চলেছে। এমনকি আড়াই দশক আগে যখন উগ্র হিন্দুত্ববাদীরা অযোধ্যার বাবরি মসজিদ ভাঙে, তখনও বসু পরিবার পাহারা দিত যাতে মসজিদের গায়ে কোনো আঁচড় না লাগে। মসজিদটিতে কোনো অনুদান গ্রহণ করা হয় না। ২৭ রমজানে লাইলাতুল কদরে কোরআন পড়া সম্পূর্ণ হলে চাঁদা তুলে পাড়ার সবাইকে খাওয়ান রোজাদাররা।
প্রায় এ রকমই আরেক সম্প্রীতির প্রতীক হয়ে দাঁড়িয়ে আছে কলকাতার জোড়াসাঁকোর মার্বেল প্যালেস মসজিদ। মসজিদটি বাঙালি বাবুর মসজিদ নামে পরিচিত হলেও এটি রক্ষণাবেক্ষণের দায়িত্বে রয়েছে হিন্দু ট্রাস্ট। বিশেষভাবে বললে একটি হিন্দু পরিবার। ভারতীয় সংবাদমাধ্যম সংবাদ প্রতিদিন ডট আইএন-এ প্রকাশিত ‘কলকাতার মসজিদের রক্ষণাবেক্ষণে নিযুক্ত হিন্দুরা!’ শীর্ষক প্রতিবেদনে এর বিস্তারিত রয়েছে। প্রতিবেদনটি বলছে, মলি্লক পরিবারের দেবোত্তর জমিতে তৈরি মসজিদটির বয়স ১৮১ বছর। মসজিদটি মলি্লক পরিবার দীর্ঘ সময় ধরে দেখাশোনা করে আসছে।
হিন্দুপ্রধান দেশ ও হিন্দুপ্রধান এলাকায় এ দুটি মসজিদ ও দুটি পরিবারের কাহিনী প্রেরণার। এ রকম দৃষ্টান্ত যুগে যুগে নানা জায়গায় আমরা দেখেছি। ইসলামের দ্বিতীয় খলিফা হজরত ওমরের (রা.) সময়কার একটি ঘটনাও প্রাসঙ্গিক। ওমর (রা.) আলেকজান্দ্রিয়া বিজয়ের পর রাসূলের (সা.) সাহাবি হজরত আমর ইবনুল আসকে (রা.) সেখানকার দায়িত্ব দেন। তার সময়ে আলেকজান্দ্রিয়ায় একদিন কে বা কারা রাতের অন্ধকারে খ্রিস্টানদের গির্জায় প্রবেশ করে যিশুখ্রিস্টের মূর্তির নাক ভেঙে দেয়। তাই খ্রিস্টান পাদ্রিরা আমির আমর ইবনুল আসের (রা.) দরবারে অভিযোগ নিয়ে যান। ঘটনার বর্ণনা শুনে আমর ইবনুল আস ব্যথিত হলেন। তিনি বললেন, ব্যর্থতা আমারই। তাই এর দায়ভার আমাকেই নিতে দাও। কাল জুমার পরে ভরা মজলিস ও খোলা মাঠে ফয়সালা পাবে। পরের দিন সবাই উপস্থিত হলো। হজরত আমর ইবনুল আস (রা.) নিজের কোমরের তরবারি বের করে পাদ্রির হাতে দিয়ে বললেন, তোমরা আমার নাক কাট। পাদ্রি হতবাক হয়ে গেল। পাদ্রি যখন নাক কাটার জন্য অস্ত্র উপরে তুলল, ঠিক তখনই ভিড় ঠেলে এক মুসলিম সৈন্য এগিয়ে এলো। সে বলল, আমিই নাক ভেঙেছি। আমার আমির নির্দোষ। আপনি আমার নাক কাটুন। এভাবে মুসলমানরাও অন্য ধর্মাবলম্বীদের জানমাল-ইজ্জত-আব্রুর হেফাজত করেছে। আমাদের দেশে বিভিন্ন সময় কিছু দুর্বৃত্ত অন্য ধর্মাবলম্বীদের উপাসনালয় ভাঙাসহ কিছু ঘটনা ঘটালেও আমরা অধিকাংশই শান্তিপ্রিয়। অন্য ধর্মাবলম্বীদের ওপর নির্যাতনের মতো কাপুরুষতা আর নেই। হিন্দু-মুসলিম-বৌদ্ধ-খ্রিস্টান সকলে মিলে আমরা সোনার দেশ চাই। ওপরের ঘটনা দুটি সে প্রেরণা দিচ্ছে। আর আমাদের নজরুল তো বলেই গেছেন_
গাহি সাম্যের গান_
যেখানে আসিয়া এক হয়ে গেছে সব বাধা-ব্যবধান
যেখানে মিশছে হিন্দু-বৌদ্ধ-মুসলিম-ক্রীশ্চান।

-মাহফুজুর রহমান মানিক

সম্প্রীতির মেলবন্ধন বান্দুরায়

০১ জানুয়ারি ২০১৭, প্রথম আলো।

তাঁদের ধর্ম ভিন্ন, পেশাও। সমবয়সী নন। জাতি-গোত্র আলাদা। কিন্তু আছে মনের মিল। তাই বন্ধুর মতো একসঙ্গে আড্ডা দেন। হইহল্লা করেন। বিশেষ করে ধর্মীয় অনুষ্ঠানগুলোতে একে অন্যের বাড়িতে আমন্ত্রিত হন। খুব মজা করেন। সামাজিক-ধর্মীয় সম্প্রীতির এই চিত্র ঢাকার নবাবগঞ্জ উপজেলার বান্দুরা ও আশপাশের গ্রামে দেখা গেছে।

১৬ ডিসেম্বরের ঘটনা। তখন সকাল ১০টা বাজে। বান্দুরা বাসস্ট্যান্ডের কাছে বান্দুরা ডেকোরেটরের সামনে কয়েকজন দাঁড়িয়ে খোশগল্প করছিলেন। এর মধ্যে পুরোনো বান্দুরা গ্রামের আবুল খায়ের খোকা একটি বরফকলের মালিক। কিছুটা চুপচাপ ধরনের। আড্ডার মধ্যমণি দিলীপ গমেজ। হাস্যরস ছড়াচ্ছিলেন। তিনি বান্দুরা ইউনিয়ন পরিষদের (ইউপি) সদস্য। বাড়ি আড্ডাস্থল থেকে মাত্র কয়েক শ গজ দূরে। মোলাসিকান্দা গ্রামে। দুর্গাচরণ হালদার ফ্লাস্ক থেকে কাপে রং-চা ঢেলে একে একে সবার হাতে তুলে দেন। তিনি এই ডেকোরেটরের কর্ণধার। বাড়ি নতুন বান্দুরা গ্রামে। দীর্ঘদেহী হাসনাবাদ গ্রামের পিটার বিকাশ গমেজ নামকরা বাবুর্চি। দীর্ঘদিন সৌদি আরব ও কুয়েতে ছিলেন।

এক প্রশ্নের জবাবে আবুল খায়ের খোকা বলেন, ‘আমার জন্ম মুসলিম পরিবারে হলেও বড় হয়েছি খ্রিষ্টান ও হিন্দুদের সঙ্গে মিলেমিশে। আপনি খোঁজ নিলে দেখবেন, বান্দুরা ও এর আশপাশের গ্রামগুলোতে হিন্দু, মুসলিম ও খ্রিষ্টানরা মিলেমিশে শান্তিপূর্ণ সহাবস্থান করে। ধর্ম নিয়ে কোনো ধরনের বাড়াবাড়ি করে না। বরং নিজ নিজ ধর্মীয় উৎসব অন্যদের নিয়ে উদ্‌যাপন করে।  বংশপরম্পরায় এমনটিই চলে এসেছে। আমরা শিখেছি আমাদের বড়দের কাছে। আর আমাদের সন্তানেরা শিখছে আমাদের কাছ থেকে।’

খ্রিষ্টান পরিবারে বেড়ে ওঠা দিলীপ গমেজ বলেন, ‘এই এলাকার পোলাপানরা একটাই স্বপ্ন দেখে। বড় হয়ে তারা বিদেশ যাবে। টাকা কামাই করবে। দেখা গেল, আমার এক বন্ধু হিন্দু কিংবা মুসলিম, হে কাজে গেল দুবাই। পরে আমারেও নিয়া গেল গা। এই হলো হিসাব। ধর্মটর্ম নিয়া কেউ এত মাথা ঘামায় না। পড়াশোনাও খুব একটা হয় না। তবে নতুন প্রজন্মের ছেলেমেয়েরা বেশির ভাগ ঢাকায় থাকে। পড়াশোনার দিকে তাদের খুব মনোযোগ। হা হা হা…’

একজন পাশ কাটিয়ে যাওয়ার চেষ্টা করছিলেন। কিন্তু দৃষ্টিতে ধরা পড়েন। আড্ডাস্থল থেকে আঙুলের ইশারা করেন। আর হাসিতে ফেটে পড়েন। কারণটা বোঝা যায় একটু পরে। আগন্তুক সিগারেট নিয়ে এসেছেন। কে কোন ব্র্যান্ডের সিগারেট ফোঁকেন, তা তাঁর মুখস্থ। সে অনুযায়ী ব্যবস্থা।

মাথা চুলকাতে চুলকাতে আসা লোকটির দিকে তাকিয়ে কিছুটা রাশভারী দুর্গাচরণ হালদারও হাসি আটকে রাখতে ব্যর্থ হন। রহস্য করে তিনি বলেন, ‘তুমি চোখের সামনে দিয়া যাও ক্যান। চুপ করে পেছনের দিকে আইস্যা খারাইতা। তাইলে কারও নজরে পড়তা না। সিগারেটও আনতে হতো না।’ তিনি বলেন দেখেন, ব্যবসাপাতি ভালো না। তারপরও এখানে প্রায় প্রতিদিনই এমন আড্ডা হয়। চা-সিগারেট চলে। এরপর যে যাঁর কাজে যান।

এরপর আবুল খায়ের খোকা হাসনাবাদ গ্রামের জপমালা রানীর গির্জা ঘুরিয়ে দেখান। মুসলিম হওয়া সত্ত্বেও ১৭৭৭ সালে প্রতিষ্ঠিত এই গির্জায় ঢুকতে কোনো বেগ পেতে হয়নি। বড়দিনের উৎসব সামনে রেখে গির্জার হলরুম সাজাচ্ছিলেন কয়েকজন তরুণ। গির্জার সামনে মাঠের এক কোণে একটি খড়ের ঘর। তাতে মাতা মেরি ও শিশু যিশুর মূর্তিরয়েছে। আশপাশের বাড়িগুলোর সামনে ক্রিসমাস ট্রি সাজানো হয়েছে।

বান্দুরা বাজার থেকে কয়েক কিলোমিটার দূরে বড় গোল্লা গ্রাম। প্রতিটি বাড়ি বড় বড় গাছপালায় ঘেরা। আধুনিক দোতলা-তিনতলা ভবন কিন্তু জনমানুষের খুব একটা দেখা মেলে না। এই গ্রামের বাসিন্দা মাইকেল গমেজ। নদীর তীরে চায়ের দোকান চালান। তিনি বলেন, এখানে খ্রিষ্টান ছাড়া অন্য কোনো সম্প্রদায়ের মানুষের ঘরবাড়ি নেই। আশপাশের হিন্দু ও মুসলিম-অধ্যুষিত গ্রাম আছে। তাঁরা শান্তিপূর্ণভাবে বসবাস করেন। তাঁদের গ্রামের প্রায় বাড়ির কোনো না কোনো সদস্য বিদেশে, নিদেনপক্ষে ঢাকায় থাকেন। বেশির ভাগই বাবুর্চি। তবে বড়দিন উপলক্ষে অনেকেই নিজ নিজ বাড়িতে ফিরে আসেন। তখন গ্রাম বেশ জমজমাট হয়ে ওঠে। এই গ্রামে রয়েছে সেন্ট ফ্রান্সিস জেভিয়ার গির্জা। গির্জাটির কিছু দূরেই দেউতলা গ্রামের একটি মসজিদ। সেখান থেকে মাইকে ভেসে আসে মাগরিবের আজান। আর দূরে কোথাও হিন্দু বাড়িগুলো থেকে ভেসে আসে উলুধ্বনি। সন্ধ্যার বাতাসে মিলেমিশে যায়।

Starting at Home

To discriminate against a minority religion is to discriminate against any and all religion.

 

“There is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States,” writes William Inboden in his article “Religious Freedom and National Security.”

 

Think about it for a moment—every religion is a minority religion somewhere.

Christians enjoy a majority in the United States and many other nations, but they are discriminated against and persecuted in Indonesia, for example.

Jews are only 2 percent of the American population but are a huge majority in Israel.

And Muslims, the majority in Arab countries, are minorities in many of the countries of Earth.

With that in perspective, we can agree that it doesn’t do well to discriminate against “minority religions,” does it? To discriminate against a minority religion is to discriminate against any and all religion.

As a Scientologist, I subscribe to L. Ron Hubbard’s view that the only way to survive in a diverse world, rich with all manner of views on spirituality, is to “respect the religious beliefs of others.”

In a chapter of that title in his book The Way to Happiness he states: “Religious tolerance does not mean one cannot express his own beliefs. It does mean that seeking to undermine or attack the religious faith and beliefs of another has always been a short road to trouble.”

This truth holds on an individual level, all the way up to a state level, and awareness is increasing of the relationship between religious freedom and national security:

“There is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States,” writes William Inboden in his article “Religious Freedom and National Security.”

So don’t you think we would do well to set the example, starting at home?

In that endeavor, one of the most important targets for reform is the media, all too often a worshiper of stereotypes and a propagator of falsehoods on the subject of faith. For that reason, my Church published a Charter on Journalistic Ethics in Relation to Respect for Religion or BeliefTake a look.

Author

 

Robin Saenger’s story

In the Arab town of Furedis in Israel-Palestine, I had the pleasure of re-connecting with a long time friend and amazing woman, Iptisam Mahameed. She is an Arab Israeli who is actively involved in women’s right’s issues, peace building, and local village politics. She also works with Jewish and Muslim women to build understanding and connection. It’s a common sight to see Iptisam closely woven into the fabric of her community as a local mover and shaker. One thing that is not so common to see in Furedis are Israeli Jews – the towns in the area are pretty strongly segregated.

 

On this particular day, however, Jewish Israelis were wandering through the markets of Furedis, and Iptisam’s role was expanded a bit out of the norm. On this Iptisam was meeting with a group of Israeli Jews lovely autumn day in Furedis from Tel Aviv to give a cooking lesson. Somehow, “Ipti” had met a chef from Tel Aviv and invited him and a group of his “foodie” restaurant clients to Furedis for a food extravaganza! This was the first time most if not all of these Israelis had been in an Arab village, let alone shopped in an Arab market. Later, at Iptisam’s home, they watched closely, with concentration and growing interest as Iptisam put together an incredible feast. Tasks like chopping and stirring were doled out freely. Gradually, everyone got involved and in anticipation of the meal to come stomachs began to growl, and mouths watered.

Here were Muslims and Jews meeting and mingling, getting to know each other and most of all, absolutely bonding over the shared meal to come. Iptisam cooked an incredible fish stew in an outdoor propane fueled wok-like pot – fish heads bobbing in the fragrant broth. The table was absolutely loaded with authentic home-style Arab food of every sort. It was a sight to see Ipti and the chef, heads together and speaking passionately in the shared language of cooking and food. This was a fascinating and delicious experience on so many levels. We can connect over art, music, language, children, but in my opinion, food is right up there at the top of the list of ways we can be together and one that should happen more often! – Robin Saenger

Inspiring Student Voices Reflect on an Interfaith Exchange

This week, Facing History’s Learn + Teach + Share blog featured a series of blog posts from the students and teachers involved in an exchange between two Los Angeles middle schools: Sinai Akiba Academy, a Jewish day school, and New Horizon School, a Muslim day school.

“In my Jewish History class, students analyze how people have created an ‘us’ and ‘them’ in history, and they talk about what they can do to create a more inclusive school and society,” Rebecca Berger, a teacher at the Sinai Akiba Academy, says. “They say all the right things when talking about groups and stereotypes, and yet I realized that my students would never really be able to see Muslims as part of an “us” unless they had the chance to get to know Muslim teens.”

 

As part of the exchange program, Sinai Akiba teens are paired with New Horizon teens. New Horizon students spend a day at Sinai Akiba and then a month later, Sinai Akiba students spend the day at New Horizon. On both days of the exchange, students get to know each other through games, witness each other’s prayer, and engage in activities around key questions such as, “What does it mean to be a Muslim/Jewish American?”

“We hoped to give these students an opportunity to learn from, understand, and appreciate other students who are ‘very different’ from them,” New Horizons teacher Aysha Mehdi says. “Through the exchange we would like them to understand that, despite their faith and other differences, they are very much alike, that when they dig deep they will find that they share more things in common than it appears on the surface. And then if we dare to dig even deeper, we find that at the core, we are the same, we have the same feelings, emotions and insecurities, that we are human.”

“Beginning the exchange, it was something I had to do,” one of the student participants says. “Now, it something I would want to do over and over again.”

“We may not use the same prayer book, but if the next generation of Jews and Muslims, my generation, can begin a dialogue, then maybe we can work to find a solution,” says another. “This is a beginning.”

I am a Jew and he was my Muslim Uber driver

Jewish and Muslim leaders link arms in a silent march to honor the victims of a shooting at the Ozar Hatorah school in March. PHOTO: REUTERS

I walk out of my SAT test and turn on my phone. I see that four more Israelis have been stabbed. This has become our sad new normal. I then proceed to order an Uber taxi home. Within a minute, I get a text message saying that my driver, Muhammad is on his way. Muhammad, he must be Muslim, I thought.

Maybe as an American Israeli, I should have hesitated, it wouldn’t really be unwarranted, would it? Regardless of the driver’s religion, I’m a five-foot tall, 17-year-old girl, getting into a taxi alone with a stranger. Instead though, I was optimistic — I’d just started taking Arabic, and was hoping to strike up a conversation with my driver. What actually happened during my journey home, however, far exceeded my expectations.

As I got in the taxi, Muhammad asked me where I was coming from. I told him that I had just taken the SAT.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is. I’m not so educated, I’m not from this country,” he said in his strong accent and broken English.

This was my in.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Afghanistan.”

“Really? I actually just started learning Arabic.”

He smiled.

“Kif halak?”

Sitting in Arabic class the first day, just a few short weeks ago, my teacher explained why it’s so important for us, as Jews especially, to learn Arabic. He explained that the Muslims are a humiliated people, and by learning their language, we are showing them that we do care. Hearing this, I was sceptical, to say the least. They don’t seem humiliated at all to me, I thought. What did I know?

“I actually don’t speak much Arabic. We speak Persian. But I know a little bit from the Quran.” he said.

He was clearly very intrigued by me. It didn’t take long for it to come up that I also speak Hebrew.

“So you’re Jewish?” he asked.

“I am,” I responded without hesitation.

Before I knew it, we were discussing Shabbat, the Messiah, the Torah, and the Quran. He was so fascinated by everything I was saying, and so uninformed about Judaism. He asked me about our Shabbat and why we celebrate it. I explained to him that it’s because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, so we do the same. He really liked this story and thought that was a very good reason. We agreed that neither the Quran nor the Torah ever says to kill anyone, and that only radicals do such things. When he told me that Jesus was the Christian’s messiah and David was the Jews’, I corrected him.

“David wasn’t our messiah. We’re actually still waiting for the messiah,” I explained.

“Really? So are we! So what happens when the messiah comes?” He was so excited.

“Well he wakes up all the dead people and there’s supposed to be peace.”

Here we were, a Muslim and a Jew innocently discussing our own religions, and answering each other’s questions, without any prejudices. He was surprised by how many similarities there were between our religions, and so was I.  And then he opened up to me even more.

“You know, I expected America to be the greatest place in the world… That’s what we all think back home.”

“Yeah, I know. Israelis think that too… It’s not so great is it?” I said.

“No, it isn’t. I actually prefer Afghanistan. Yes, we have our security problems, but we love each other. Back in Afghanistan, a person can work and feed their family. Here I work, and I can’t even feed myself.”

“Yeah America’s just another place…”

“And here, people think we’re all terrorists. When they see my name, Muhammad, they don’t want me to drive them.”

And at that moment, my heart broke for him and his people.

“Why do you want to learn Arabic, anyway?” he went on to ask.

“Because I don’t think you’re all terrorists.” I responded.

He smiled.

I smiled.

And just like that, we’d bridged the gap in understanding that was beginning yet another war in Israel as we spoke. I will always remember Muhammad, the Uber driver who opened up to me and reminded me that we’re all just people. And I hope Muhammad, a Muslim who previously knew nothing about Jews, good or bad, will always think of us Jews fondly.

Empathy paradise: Students at a Jewish Day School reflect on Zak Ebrahim’s experience growing up with an extremist Muslim father

 

 

With Rosh Hashanah fast approaching, Sara Beth Berman of the Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, wanted to create a lesson for the school’s middle school students around the ideas of empathy and forgiveness.

“In the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we talk a lot about how to forgive, how to accept forgiveness, and how do you want to be better in the new year,” says Berman, the experiential educator at this Jewish day school. “I was working on finding something to teach on these topics. And I was coming up short.”

Zak Ebrahim: I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace.But an a-ha moment came when one of her colleagues, Judaic studies teacher Samara Schwartz, forwarded her a TED Talk all about the life-altering things that happen when we dare to have empathy: Zak Ebrahim’s “I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace.”

“I thought, ‘This is amazing,’” says Berman, who quickly jumped into a conversation with Schwartz, the school’s administrators and the school’s counseling team to discuss how to frame it for a lesson. “It’s this amazing person with such a positive message, who is a Muslim and whose father who was an extremist terrorist. I watched it a couple of times, and I knew it was going to be powerful.”

On Friday, September 12—just three days after Zak’s talk was released (and the day after September 11)—about 200 middle school students at the academy took part in a lesson framed around Zak’s talk and the song “Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel. In the classroom where Berman observed, the students sat at desks arranged in a big U-shape and watched the talk. When Ebrahim revealed that his father is El-Sayyid Nosair, who was convicted of planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Jewish Defense League, in 1990, the kids audibly gasped.

“They couldn’t believe it,” said Berman. “They said, ‘We didn’t know that you could have a father that’s a bad man and then be so good.’ That’s really an important lesson for us in terms of teaching them how to make their own decisions and grow and be their own people.”

The students in the class also had a big reaction to the part of the talk where Ebrahim describes going to the shooting range with his father and uncles, and the glee that erupted when a target burst into flames. “I’m not sure how many of them could hear this,” says Berman, “but Zak said the Arabic phrase ‘ibn abuh’ — like father, like son. It sounds close to father in Hebrew—‘abba.’”

After watching the talk, the students got up from their seats. Around the classroom, a series of questions were posted for them to consider: How do you feel Zak’s experience growing up was different from yours? How was Zak’s childhood the same as yours? Why was he able to be empathetic? How could you be more open and welcoming to your peers who have struggled like Zak has?

Quietly, the students walked around and wrote down their thoughts on Post-it notes, which they then stuck to the walls. Says Berman, “Many students were like, ‘I ran out of Post-its. Can I have more Post-its?’”

Students reflect on questions spurred by Zak Ebrahim’s TED Talk. Photo: Twitter/@sbbEZas123

Around the question, “Where do you learn stereotypes, and how can we bust them?” students posted answers like, “We learn stereotypes from the people around us, but we can bust them by doing what we think is right.”

The question, “Zak struggled as the new kid in class who was quiet and chubby. Have you ever felt like Zak?” also prompted some interesting answers. One female student wrote, “My brothers make fun of me for being small all the time. So I get what Zak is saying.”

Berman loved watching the students find common ground with Ebrahim. “There were some realizations that Zak was just like them—which was awesome. That’s all we want from our students: to realize that everybody is a human,” says Berman. “When you’re in middle school, it’s really hard to realize that there are other people around you that also have feelings. These are kids, so they aren’t on the terrorist path, but this reminded them that they also shouldn’t be on the bullying path. That they have choices.”

Overall, Berman calls the lesson “empathy paradise.”

The lesson also served as an important opportunity to talk to the kids about the realities of terrorism and about the importance of religious tolerance. “The majority of the kids were not born yet on September 11, 2001,” says Berman. “We really try to speak with kindness and to be authentic that we’re talking about a specific group of extremist terrorists—that we’re talking about ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah, not Muslim people as a whole.”

Berman and her colleagues work hard to make sure that the students hear from people of many faiths. Last year, the school held a panel that brought together a rabbi, a Baptist preacher, a Presbyterian minister, and an imam, all senior clergy members from around Atlanta. Berman hopes that this talk will further help students be open-minded. “I enjoy finding things to help them have a nuanced understanding of Islam as a religion and Muslim people as a whole,” says Berman.

TED Talks are a popular teaching tool at the Davis Academy for students and teachers alike. And Berman hopes that this talk will have a lasting effect on how students think and act. “We want them to be able to have high-level conversations and to think about becoming a better person in the new year,” she says.

And for Zak Ebrahim, it was incredibly moving to see images of this lesson posted on Twitter. “Beautiful and humbling,” he wrote in response. “This is my dream.”

 

An up-close look at some answers to this question. Photo: Twitter/@sbbEZas123
In this classroom, students answer questions ona chalk board. Photo: Twitter/@rabbispen
A scene from the end of this lesson. Photo: Twitter/@rabbispen