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

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