At least one Canadian is on a so-called global hit list of bloggers put out by Bangladeshi jihadist group Ansarullah which has vowed to take action against those it deems to have denigrated Islam.

The group named Raihan Abir editor of the Bengali-English blog Mukto-Mona, which has other Canadian contributors writing under pseudonyms among its stable of 300 writers from around the world.

Mukto-Mona started as an online discussion circle, but has now evolved into a social movement through blogs, activism and research. In English, the literal dictionary translation of "Muktomona" is freethinker. 

Prominent in the list is Bengali author Taslima Nasreen, who is presently staying under police protection in India, after fleeing Bangladesh 21 years ago in the face of death threats and fatwas from fundamentalists.

The list includes names of Abdul Ghaffar Choudhury (London), Dawood Haider (Germany), Banya Ahmed (US), Asif Mohiuddin (Germany), Ananya Azad (Germany), Omer Farooq Luqs (Germany), Farzana Kabir Khan (Germany), Naastiker Dharmakatha (Germany), Foring Camelia (Germany), Qamrul Hassan (London), Sushanta Dasgupta (London), Arifur Rehman(london), Ajanta Debroy (London), Maneer Hassan (Birmingham), Shantanu Adeeb (London), Nijhoom Majumdar (London), Rumala Hashem (London), Raihan Abir (Canada) and Nirjhar Majumdar (Sweden).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There have been reports in the media recently that Ansarullah activists are trying to cross over from Bangladesh to India to target Taslima Nasreen.[/quote]

At the bottom of the list, the extremist group Ansarullah has issued the following chilling threat: "Enemies of Islam and madrassa education, atheists, anti-Islamic apostates, Shahbagi bloggers, acting on behalf of India, are trying to set obstacles in the path of establishment of Islamic caliphate. We demand that the Bangladesh government cancel the citizenship of such enemies of Islam, otherwise we will liquidate them wherever we find them across the world. Our jihad will continue, Inshallah. Amen. - Ansarullah Bangla Team".

There have been reports in the media recently that Ansarullah activists are trying to cross over from Bangladesh to India to target Taslima Nasreen.
Ansarullah believes in the ideology of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based al-Qaeda activist, and has been involved in the gruesome murders of at least four Bangladeshi freethinkers and bloggers including US-based Bengali writer Avijit Roy and blogger Washiqur Rahman.

Taslima Nasreen tweeted: "Ansarullah Team that killed B'deshi atheist bloggers just published global hit list of bloggers. My name is in the list." She has attached the photo of the hit list.

Police have linked Ansarullah Bangla Team to the recent murders of five secularist bloggers in Bangladesh, and arrested seven of its members, Dhakar police joint Commissioner Monirul Islam said.

He said there was little threat to society within Bangladesh, where more than 90 per cent of the 160 million people are practising Muslims, Asia Times reported.

Fear for the future

Many intellectuals, especially among the Bangladeshi diaspora, do fear for the future however, and worry that the South Asian country could be seen as a safe destination for radical Islamists if the blogger killers are not caught and prosecuted.

Four of the bloggers were killed this year alone.

Bangladeshi-born U.S. writer Avijit Roy was hacked to death by unidentified assailants on February 26 when leaving a university book fair in Dhaka with his wife.

Oyeshekur Rahman Babu, an atheist writer, was chopped to death in central Dhaka on March 30, after he criticized Islam, followed by the killing of science writer Ananta Bijoy Das in a similar attack in the north-eastern city of Sylhet on May 12.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who campaigns for secularism beside Islam as a state religion, was criticized for requesting local bloggers and activists “not to cross the limit” over sensitive religious issues after blogger Niladri Chattapadhay was killed in another gruesome murder in Dhaka on August 7.

Writers around the world chime in

For critics, the government’s stance seems like double standards.

More than 150 writers from around the world, including Canada, issued an open letter this week to the Bangladeshi government after the killing of Ananta Bijoy Das.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][F]reedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution and one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[/quote]

The writers including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel and Colm Tóibín, in the letter said freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution and one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It called Bangladesh to provide protection and support to bloggers and other writers at risk in the South Asian country in line with Bangladesh’s obligations under national and international laws.

Lux said the death list was nothing new, and warned that the extremists could also strike others.

Like others who received it by email, he has taken precautions, he said, and is under German police protection.

The role of the government

Religion and secularism have frequently clashed in Bangladesh’s recent history.

Secularism was one of the basic principles of Bangladesh’s constitution when the Muslim-majority part of the then Pakistan (East Pakistan) became independent after a bloody war in 1971.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Whatever the official status of Islam, the individual’s freedom of expression must be protected, says Arifur Rahman, a writer living in London.[/quote]

But military-chief-turned-president Ziaur Rahman began the process of Islamizing the constitution after the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Ziaur Rahman gave way to the Islamists, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami party which opposed Bangladesh during the war.

Military dictator Hussein Muhammad Ershad, who took over shortly after Ziaur Rahman’s murder in 1981, formalized Islam as the state religion in 1988.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Mujibur Rahman’s daughter, brought back secularism in the constitution in 2011, while keeping Islam as the state religion.

With the political stakes high in Bangladesh’s sharply divided politics, analysts say Hasina would never put her popularity at risk by repealing the state religion.

Whatever the official status of Islam, the individual’s freedom of expression must be protected, says Arifur Rahman, a writer living in London.

The government had a duty to “create an atmosphere where everyone can express their opinion without fear,” he said.


Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Published in South Asia

by Dr. Ghayda Hassan and Hicham Tiflati (@HTiflati) in Montreal

Due to the rise in youth radicalization in recent years, most governments are taking decisive measures to prevent youth recruitment by extremist groups.

One of the most notorious cases is still in progress: last month, Canadian police arrested 10 youth at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport suspected of wanting to leave the country to join jihadist groups. They were stopped from trying to join the Islamic State, which now holds a territory equal to that of England in Iraq and Syria. Understandably, no charges have been laid, but the 10 youth had their passports confiscated.

These 10 arrests came a month after the arrests of two youth in Montreal who pleaded not guilty in June to four charges, including attempting to leave Canada to join extremist groups in Syria. The youth will remain in custody until further investigations are complete.

But one may ask how could youth, born and raised in Canada and educated in Canadian schools relate to the violence of extremist groups? It is because radicalization is not something that happens to “them” versus “us”. It is not a strictly imported phenomenon.

Radicalization is local and produced by the social, economic and political dynamics of Canadian society, surely with the influence of international factors. Radicalization is a two-way process. For example, Islamophobia and xenophobic radicalizations are rising in Canada in relation to the reciprocal rise of ISIS radicalization.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We know that youth are particularly at risk of being recruited because they are the target of choice among extremist groups’ recruiters and because they are looking for a meaning and a purpose in life.[/quote]

Radicalization has thus been made possible by multiple factors such as national and international political and economic policies, inter-community, ethnic, religious and sectarian divisions, social and economic violence and terror, and, more importantly, the failures of nations in managing their diversities.

We know that youth are particularly at risk of being recruited because they are the target of choice among extremist groups’ recruiters and because they are looking for a meaning and a purpose in life. Because there are as many paths to radicalization as there are youth being radicalized, preventing youth radicalization will require a multilayered approach and a short, as well as a long-term, strategy.

So what can we do to protect those who may respond to an extremist group call? Besides official actions, can schools and parents make a difference? The answer is yes. But first, the government must support grassroots community organizations and empower parents in dealing with such sensitive topics with their own children.

Far from being an exhaustive list, there are four notions for parents to consider when it comes to their youth and what may lead them to radicalize.

Utopia

In general, utopian fantasies and adventures are always appealing to youth, especially to those who are in transitional stages of forming their religious, cultural and national identities.

Extremist groups such as white supremacists or ISIS often play on sensitive and emotional cords; they target youth around the world and have successfully recruited youth from over 30 countries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Youth, especially those at risk, should be mentored and empowered to pushback.[/quote]

For instance, the euphoria related to ISIS’ declaration of a Caliphate, invoking what appears to be a Koran-based coherent worldview claiming to build a society upon Islamic ideals, is of course appealing to youth who are alienated and who are looking for a “home”.  

Youth, especially those at risk, should be mentored and empowered to pushback. Parents can simply start by keeping an eye on and openly discussing with their youth the different information they get from the Internet, peers or other influential figures.

(Lack of) religious literacy

A crucial question researchers have is: does religion (or a distorted version of it) play a major role in radicalizing youth? The findings don’t seem to suggest so.

The European Commission’s European Network of Experts on Violent Radicalization have found that in most cases religion is not the primary source of most extremist behaviour.

For example, the MI5 report challenges the common stereotypes about those involved in British terrorism. They are mostly British nationals, not illegal immigrants and, far from being Islamist fundamentalists. Most, however, have one dominant characteristic: they are religious novices. Anecdotally, some of them had actually bought Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies just a few weeks before they set out to join ISIS. We don’t have reasons to believe that the situation in Canada is very different.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Parents can thus play an active role in supporting their child’s religious and spiritual development and, most importantly, their critical thinking about the “religious” information they get from radicalizing agents and sources.[/quote]

Nonetheless, religion may, of course, play a role in radicalization; it is more specifically the perverted and politicized forms of Islam that can act as an emotional alibi, as a means of articulating anger and mobilizing youth, especially in the western world.

Youth who have little in-depth, complex and nuanced images of their religion, religious heritages, beliefs and practices are, in our opinion, those most at risk. Parents can thus play an active role in supporting their child’s religious and spiritual development and, most importantly, their critical thinking about the “religious” information they get from radicalizing agents and sources.

(Not enough) citizenry awareness

The sense of alienation and of ‘otherness’ consequent to economic and structural violence, social divisions, xenophobia, discrimination and Islamophobia may lead to the radicalization of youth.

Governments, the education sector and parents alike may help support the development of an inclusive national identity, rather than an exclusive one, in order to bring unity and harmony among youth in any nation. Youth should be offered the chance to create their own local citizenry initiatives.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t is our collective responsibility to make our youth feel at “home”.[/quote]

Colleges are the place of choice for such initiatives. Research suggests that youth who are engaged in civic activities in their societies usually feel fully integrated and are thus less vulnerable.

(Distorted) social inclusion

In the West and elsewhere the recruitment pattern is that about three out of every four people who join extremist groups do so through a “significant relationship” such as a role model, friend, lover, family member or fellow traveler, in search for a purpose and for a meaningful path in life.

Furthermore, radicalizing “agents” isolate, separate and may even turn youth against their previously most meaningful relationships.

Consequently, support must be provided to families, friends and romantic partners in sustaining and promoting a positive, strong and protective relation with the vulnerable youthThese significant positive relationships can buffer the effect of radicalization and offer an alternative that has meaning to the youth. 

On a final note, it is our collective responsibility to make our youth feel at “home”. We can do so by supporting youth in making a significant life in Canada and helping them build positive personal dreams. Equal and real chances at achieving these dreams are the prime and ultimate responsibility of our local municipal, provincial and federal governing institutions.


Dr. Ghayda Hassan is a clinical psychologist and professor of clinical psychology at The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and has several research affiliations. Her research is centred on four main areas of clinical cultural psychology: 1) Intervention in family violence & cultural diversity; 2) Identity, belonging and mental health of children and adolescents from ethnic/religious minorities; 3) Cohabitation, intercommunity relations and violent extremism; 4) Working with vulnerable immigrants and refugees.

Hicham Tiflati is an Islamic Studies instructor, and a PhD candidate in the department of religious studies at the UQAM. His academic and teaching interests include topics such as Western Muslim identities, integration, citizenship and the role of religious education in (re)shaping identity.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Commentary

by Rhea Castillo (@rheacastillo3) in Calgary

Over 100 people across Canada have taken up the extremist agenda as a result of social media messages. This is according to Yvon de Champlain of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). And, an increasing number of Canadian youth are making headlines as victims of extremism. The Extreme Dialogue project, recently launched out of Calgary, Alberta, is working to curb this reality.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Groups like ISIS offer as a master class in how to reach those hearts and minds. They’re using high quality product, compelling, if disgusting, imagery, and they’re going right for the jugular. They are fighting for our young people.” - Rachel Briggs, Institute for Strategic Dialogue[/quote]

The school-based program, aimed at teens aged 14 to 18, consists of a series of short documentary films, which strike at the hearts and minds of our youth, by showing those profoundly affected by extremism telling their own stories, unscripted. Rachel Briggs, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which helped develop the project, says that, “Groups like ISIS offer as a master class in how to reach those hearts and minds. They’re using high quality product, compelling, if disgusting, imagery, and they’re going right for the jugular. They are fighting for our young people.”

Footage from the launch of the Extreme Dialogue Project in Calgary, Alberta. 

The films, shot by Duckrabbit, offer raw insight into the realities of people like Christianne Boudreau, whose son Damian Clairmont died fighting with Islamic extremists in Syria in 2014, and Daniel Gallant, who spent a decade involved with white supremacist groups. Boudreau described the filming process as, “a whole week, from morning until evening, every day, round the clock, letting us tell our stories and our feelings and what we experienced as a family, how it impacted us, what’s still on our minds, what do we still have to live with, and the results of that.” Likewise, Gallant’s February 20 blog entry on his filming experience with the two members of Duckrabbit shows the deep connection made between the film subjects and the video production team. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The result is raw and impactful. 

Using Real-Life Narratives

Boudreau’s film starts with her telling us that she “never thought” she would be watching videos of Syria on the Internet, searching for her son’s face with her “nose pressed up to the screen.” She recalls how her 22-year-old son, “would talk about his passion for helping others and (question) how we could sit in our comfortable homes and do nothing.” He repeatedly verbalized these sentiments and she knew that something was off, but due to the stigma and fear surrounding subject, as well as a lack of resources, she did not get the help needed.

The film is of her and her younger son, Luke, dealing with the death of Damian together, moving through their sorrow together, even sending up messages to him in helium-filled balloons on his birthday to, “celebrate who he was in his heart and not how he died.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The films come with accompanying educational resources to guide classroom conversation...For example, [Christianne] Boudreau’s explores topics such as ‘points of intervention’ and ‘the ripple effect’ whereas [Daniel] Gallant’s tackles ‘them and us: black and white thinking’ and ‘moving on’.[/quote]

Gallant’s film (screen shot to the left) begins with him laughing and reminiscing about joyful snapshots from his youth, from a funny haircut to dressing up for Halloween. Likewise, raw emotion is there for the viewer to read into and empathize with, as close-up shots of his face and the emotion in his eyes amplifies his account of seeing his first step-dad beat and rape his mother in front of him. And it is because the viewer is provided with a multi-hued, specific context for Gallant’s extremist involvement that it refuses this as a label and an end point for him. Instead, his story becomes something for students to discuss, interpret, and understand.    

The films come with accompanying educational resources to guide classroom conversation. The resource packs are extensive and specific to each film. For example, Boudreau’s explores topics such as ‘points of intervention’ and ‘the ripple effect’ whereas Gallant’s tackles ‘them and us: black and white thinking’ and ‘moving on’.  

Channelling youth idealism in positive ways

Briggs of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue states that, “Extremists offer quite an exciting call to action to idealistic young people who, as we all used to do, want to right the wrongs that we see in the world around us.” The message the institute wants to convey is that: These youth are not different from us in their idealistic desire to make the world a better place, and we must find a way to harness this idealism and channel it in positive ways.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Violent extremism can affect absolutely anybody from anywhere at any time. It just has to be that vulnerable moment when a youth gets approached… so we need to start having those hard conversations with our youth and preparing them with the tools that they need to go forward.” - Christianne Boudreau[/quote]

The Extreme Dialogue project aims to help youth develop critical thinking skills in an effort to counter extremist recruitment. In the case of Boudreau, her son was depressed and withdrawn some time and when he found the religion of Islam in 2008 she was happy that he had found something positive to latch on to. He seemed, “more comfortable in his own skin,” she explains, but, “unfortunately, as he was on that path he met the wrong person at the wrong time and that’s what diverted everything,” she adds.

With extremist groups being both social media savvy and adept at staying on the right side of the law, youth cannot be shielded from extremist propaganda. What the Extreme Dialogue project’s organizers hope is youth have also encountered and engaged with strong counter-narratives to the extent that they can critically assess such messaging and turn away. As Boudreau says, “Violent extremism can affect absolutely anybody from anywhere at any time. It just has to be that vulnerable moment when a youth gets approached… so we need to start having those hard conversations with our youth and preparing them with the tools that they need to go forward.”  

Published in Education
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 19:28

Owning the Narrative Post-9/11

by Abbas Somji (@abbassomji) in Calgary

For some Muslims in Canada, the events of Sept. 11 cling to their collective memory like a dark stain, penetrating so deep into the fabric of the community that its presence is still felt 13 years later.

“The vast majority of Muslims opposed that barbarism and today remain horrified with what happened,” says Abdul Souraya, immigration lawyer and co-chair of the Calgary Police Middle East advisory Committee.

“Sometimes the community is painted with a very large brush. And there’s a collective punishment and anguish that goes with that.”

That sentiment is particularly fresh in Calgary, the hometown of five young men who reportedly joined an Islamic extremist group and were subsequently killed in action overseas in the last year.

Souraya was one of the presenters at this year’s OWN IT 2014 – a four-day conference organized by Calgary Muslim groups. Government officials, community leaders, academics and police convened to discuss how to prevent criminal radicalization at a southwest Calgary mosque.

The summit, held intentionally on Sept. 11, was a way to take ownership of the public narrative, and to highlight strides made by the city’s Islamic groups to uproot any hint of extremism on the home turf.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We want to be able to live again in a safe, secure environment where people are free to do what they want to do within the confines of the law and not have to worry about their faith being an impediment to their happiness or their progress in life.[/quote]

Re-living the shock

Souraya says the recent high profile deaths of young Calgarians linked to Islamic extremism shook the city’s Muslim community to the core, forcing them to relive the same shock, helplessness and frustration of years past.

Federal officials say they’re aware of at least 130 people with Canadian connections who were “suspected of supporting terrorism-related activities”. Local police suspect at least 30 of them are from Calgary, and five men have already been publicly named in news media reports.

Souraya insists the conference was “not a reactive or apologetic public relations gesture” – nor does it intend to take responsibility for the actions of the alleged perpetrators.

“A lot of people assume that when something happens affecting a Muslim individual, they almost expect a Muslim reaction from the community,” says Souraya. “In fact there are some critics who would say the Muslim community is not rejecting or opposing enough.”

Empowering youth took precedence during the talk and tough questions were asked. Why does extremism take hold? What informs that behaviour? Is it solely through online propaganda or are there recruiters embedded within the community shaping impressionable young minds? What red flags should parents watch for?

Close to home

The conference hit close to home for Christianne Boudreau, whose 22-year-old son, Damian Clairmont, was reportedly killed fighting with ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Syria in December or January of this year. Boudreau has been calling on the Canadian government to take action on de-radicalization, but says her cries have fallen on deaf ears. She has now launched her own program aimed at dealing with future cases of Canadians who might be attracted to join overseas conflicts – so that other parents don’t have to go through the same grief and unanswered questions she continues to experience.

New Canadian Media first spoke with Boudreau in an exclusive interview last February.

Boudreau says time hasn’t eased her pain. In her search for answers, she has discovered families in Europe who have also recently lost children to Islamic extremist groups. This past summer, she travelled to France and Germany to meet with those families – an experience that has helped her find some meaning and has fuelled her desire to establish a similar support network on Canadian soil.

She says the conference has given her “a ray of hope,” especially given the high-ranking officials in attendance, pledging to be a part of the solution.

“Seeing so many people verbalize it out loud, so now they’re accountable for it, big difference,” says Boudreau.

Reaching out

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says he thinks there will be more concrete action than in the past because the conference has pulled together “an action-oriented group,” rather than one that simply spouts long-winded academic jargon about extremism but fails to do anything about it.

Although radicalization is federal jurisdiction, Hanson says much work is already being done at the grassroots level, reaching out to students from elementary to high school.

“Within a municipal environment, our role, primarily, is the early intervention, prevention, education and working with the communities to prevent this from happening in the first place,” says Hanson.

He is convinced Calgary isn’t immune to extremist recruitment campaigns that have been known to infiltrate other parts of the world. He insists youth need more than just online propaganda to cross over into radical territory.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Sometimes the community is painted with a very large brush. And there’s a collective punishment and anguish that goes with that.[/quote]

“Reading something on a screen, if you’re an average person, that’s not good enough,” he says. “There has to be tangible efforts to move you forward into that in a way that is more than just reading a book or reading something on a screen.”

Hanson likens the recruitment technique adopted by extremists to gangs, an effective strategy in making wayward youth feel as though they have a new family.

“[Recruiters] are looking for young men or women who feel unengaged. They don’t connect to society. They’re looking for a reason, a purpose, something greater than themselves,” says Hanson, adding that the issue cuts across all ethno-cultural communities.

Hanson says he’s working on how to differentiate criminal activity from terrorism in its early stages, and how to monitor it. He says the young Calgarians who were killed, such as Damian Clairmont, managed to slip through the cracks – especially since Calgary Police has only been running the intervention program for a few years, and it may have been too late for some youth who were already radicalized.

“It’s a community-based approach where those families, those friends, those people out there, who start to see the recruitment happening, they feel that they can call someone,” says Hanson, who adds that many of the families involved didn’t even know who to reach out to for help.

No simple solution

Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) says there is a temptation “to find the magic bullet” and uproot criminal radicalization, but it’s not so simple.

“There’s no single pathway for individuals to go from being a productive, contributing member of society to being somebody who espouses and supports and takes part in violence inspired by extremist ideology,” says Gardee, on behalf of the Muslim civil liberties and human rights organization, a conference partner.

He says there’s a need to understand the complexity of the problem and to address it in a comprehensive way, looking at short term and long-term solutions.

In the short term, this means identifying factors that make someone more vulnerable to the slick propaganda that violent extremists may use and working with partners at all levels of society – from government stakeholders to educational institutions – to stop it.

Long-term strategies may have to with debunking and “de-glamorizing” deep-rooted violent extremist ideology as a way to reduce its ability to influence youth.

“The reality is that this is far from glamorous and the comforts of life that they’ve enjoyed [in Canada] ... If we can communicate that and have authentic actors to communicate with youth, who are already viewed as being ‘credible,’ the message is going to be that much more effective,” says Gardee.

For the present, however, Souraya says he hopes the current climate doesn’t negatively impact life for youth who are far removed from instances of extremism on Canadian soil.

Souraya says parents are concerned heightened investigation could lead to surveillance of Canadian youth.

“We don’t want that to be a by-product of the actions of other people,” he says. “We want to be able to live again in a safe, secure environment where people are free to do what they want to do within the confines of the law and not have to worry about their faith being an impediment to their happiness or their progress in life.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

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