Sheikh Hasina is showing other governments how to tackle extremism.
Over the past few months Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has been lauded by international politicians for her role in tackling extremism. Her forthright and courageous effort to tackle the ideology of radical Islamism and to engage the acute threat of militancy in Bangladesh has been highly effective. It has won her admirers in governments across the world.
US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, contacted Sheikh Hasina to tell her how her leadership and role in tackling extremism has won plaudits within the US government. The UK Parliament has also recently award her with the Diversity Award, which has shown how her courage on climate change and tackling extremism head on has also won backing in London.
There are other countries which have also been closely watching Bangladesh; they are India, China, Russia, Canada and Australia. Sheikh Hasina is fast becoming a global leader. There are certainly echoes of Margaret Thatcher in Hasina they both share the need to confront totalitarian ideologies head on, although the two ladies are oceans apart both in geography and political ideology. Hasina being a social democrat and Thatcher a neoconservative who once professed there was, “no such thing as society.” However, Hasina is fast becoming a heroine for the Conservative-led coalition government because Bangladesh is becoming the key to the UK government’s new counter-terrorism strategy.
The global struggle against extremism and jihadi violence has at times looked to be rudderless and leaderless. The lack of any clear strategy on an international level has caused problems. Countries have become weak links in the struggle. Bangladesh was unfortunately in this category a few years ago. It was seen to be soft on terrorism. Bangladesh certainly wasn’t alone. There was Londonistan, the derisory knick-name given by foreign security officials towards the British capital because it was known to be the base for the global operations of radical Islamist groups. London was still tagged by this moniker even after Tony Blair had sworn allegiance with the US to tackle global extremism.
Blair thought he could tame radical Islamism with tea at Downing Street while being trigger happy abroad, but it was a serious miscalculation- even schizophrenic. He guessed that British support for Islamism since the Cold War would help to bring the revolutionaries back into compromise, back into the system. The divide between Jihadi groups and Islamists is wafer thin. As political analysts and country specialists try to create taxonomies of political Islam and Jihadi groups they always miss the ties between the violent and the supposedly non-violent movements. They often shove it in the appendix or don’t like to talk about it.
Bob Lambert, a former Counter-Terrorism expert with the Metropolitan Police is widely seen as one of those who appeased radical Islamism in the UK. He believes he has a sophisticated strategy of divide and conquer to counter jihadi violence. He failed to see that Abu Hamza al-Masri, the hooked preacher of jihad was a cartoon jihadi, although very dangerous, he was seen as a loud mouth who attracted way too much attention to himself to be genuinely effective. Lambert thinks that we should support groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat as a bulwark against al-Qaeda and the Salafists. However, Lambert didn’t receive very good intelligence. Jamaat and the Muslim Brothers have strong historical and financial connections to the jihadi international. The Islamists vs. Salafist debate was false.
The United States vs. Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi case is the prime example of the duplicity of Islamists. Using the freedom and liberty of democracy to plot murder abroad while also praying on our ignorance and support for the protection of minorities. These movements have often used terrorism when it suited them, almost like Fatah did with Black September. It allows plausible deniability.
Terrorism experts and those that specialise in terroris financing tell completely different stories because they look at the fundraising and training of terrorist organisations without being influenced by the subtle differences of different miltant groups or the personality clashes. When looking at terrorism through a purely non-political organisational model we see that jihadi groups wouldn’t exist without the direct and in-direct help from supposedly non-violent Islamists or state sponsorship. Al-Qaeda has become a master class in plausible deniability.
Sheikh Hasina has declared war on Mawdudi’s legacy in South Asia; she has declared war on the ideology and the violence which comes from it. Benazir Bhutto was supposed to have been this figure who would lead South Asia out of the darkness, however her life was brutally shortened. Bhutto, however, had a chequered past with supporting the Taliban and other groups when she saw fit. It’s pointless trying to whitewash history. This duplicity is not present in Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh nor is jihad woven into the Bangladeshi society. It’s why the Bangladeshis are seizing the initiative and other governments are beginning to follow their lead.