Geneva, March 22: A Conference titled “Countering Violent Extremism: European Context and the Bangladeshi Diaspora” and its impact & policy options to defend secularism & democracy was held on 22 March at The Palais des Nations, UN, Geneva.
The key objective of the Geneva Conference was to uphold secularism to counter violent terrorism and the rise of extremism in the name of religion across the globe including Bangladesh. The Geneva Conference discussed the role of the government and the civil society that might help formulate Action Programmes. The conference brought together secular forces, activists, think tanks, politicians, journalists to create strong public opinion in favour of secularism against violent extremism. Vice President of the European Bangladesh Forum (EBF) Bikash Chowdhury Barua opened the conference with his welcoming remarks. Presided over by Jakob de Jonge, Director of The Hague Peace, from the Netherlands, the key-note speeches were presented by Dr. Siegfried O. Wolf, Director of Research of South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), from Belgium, Nicola Spafford Furey, Vice President of Earth Focus Foundation, from Switzerland, Prof Dr. Willem van der Geest, Chief Economist and former Director at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York, Dr. Shammi Ahmed, former Senior Advisor at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Asia -Pacific Zone.
Guest speakers focused on the rise of violent extremism and militancy not only in Bangladesh, but also in the region and the globe. They pointed their fingers at Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious-fundamentalist groups in radicalization young people both at home and abroad. Speakers also pointed out that in addition many states were responsible in financing these radical elements and organisations. Speakers called on secular groups to unite and fight against the rise of terrorism across the globe including Bangladesh. They also called upon the western governments not to support political forces in the name of democracy, who are encouraging extremism and religious intolerance in Bangladesh and beyond.
In his keynote paper Dr. Sigfried O. Wolf, Director of Research, South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), Belgium said Jamaat-e-Islami’s agenda seeks to bring about a social and political transformation that is diametrically opposed to the founding principles of Bangladesh. Jamaat wants to replace parliamentary democracy and secularism with a theocratic Islamist state.
He highlighted the significance of Jamaat within the domestic and global Jihadist movement and emphasizes the need for a national as well as international response. The rise of Jamaat-e-Islam is connected – directly, through individual members, or indirectly, through its afﬁliates – with the rise of violence and terrorism in Bangladesh, including its cross-border components. It risks turning Bangladesh into a major hub of terrorist activities.
In a written statement sent to the EBF’s Conference the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultuarl Rights, OHCHR. Ms. Karima Bennoune said, ‘In my thematic work as Special Rapporteur, I have repeatedly alerted the international community to the fact that rising tides of fundamentalism and extremism, in diverse forms, and whether espoused by State or non-State actors, today represent major threats to human rights, including cultural rights worldwide, including Bangaldesh. There are growing challenges that must be faced with urgency, using a human rights approach. I remain deeply concerned about this matter. She added the links between fundamentalism and extremism on the one hand and violent extremism and terrorism on the other must be recognised, as must the inherently dangerous nature of the underlying ideologies themselves for human rights.
Fundamentalisms have emerged out of all of the world’s major religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, and others. Fundamentalists across all these categories abuse cultural rights. Given the religious claims of their proponents, religious fundamentalisms are especially difficult and dangerous to contest. It is also critical that the international community listen to the local opponents of fundamentalism and extremism, human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, who have in some cases been battling them alone for decades. Despite unparalleled expertise, they are often not invited to international gatherings to discuss strategy.
She finally added, ‘I see hope in those cultural rights defenders and other human rights defenders, as well as ordinary people, acting around the world, in countries like Bangladesh, and in diaspora populations, to challenge fundamentalism and extremism, sometimes at risk of their lives. The international community must stand with them. As Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, I am committed to standing with those who continue cultural and intellectual and human rights endeavors in the face of threats from extremists.’
Speaking on the economic impact of terrorism under Global Index during 2016-17, Dr. Willem van der Geest, Principal Economist said Bangaldesh’s response to terrorism has implied rapidly accelerating spending on internal security, military and private security thus resulting in negative impact on social expenditure (health, education) and on long-term human development. Among others, the Editor and Chief Executive Officer of Ekattor Television Samia Zaman, Chief Executive Officer of Health-Tech Foundation Dr Bidduth Barua, exiled Chairman of United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP), Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, Coordinator of Brussels Dhaka Solidarity for Peace Committee M M Murshed, President of Baloch Voice Association Munir Mengal and Human Rights activist and journalist Nasir Aziz Khan addressed the occasion and took part in the debate following presentations.
EBF President Ansar Ahmed Ullah summed up the discussion and presented concluding remarks and EBF Country Coordinator for Switzerland Rahman Khalilur delivered vote of thanks.
The event was organised by the European Bangladesh Forum (EBF), a platform of Bangladeshi diaspora in Europe as a follow up event from the previous conference held in July 2017 at the European Press Club in Brussels.