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Reticent corners of the universe seldom come to light, unobtrusively concealing themselves from gaze and assay. The uncharted neuronal caverns of the brain of Homo sapiens, heir to countless stealth space, are among such quarters. The human brain is, after all, the most sophisticated objet d’art that creation has shaped. Nature ascertains that the behavioural patterns fractionate along genetic boundaries. Nurture—especially if it suits the sapient architecture that nature has fashioned—encourages the innateness. To that end, deviant behaviour, too, is spawn of a brain that may careen out of control during the process of encephalisation that takes place in the front end of the neural tube in the seventh week of brain development. It is in this context that the question of radicalisation acquires import and warrants examination in a discourse that has religious fanaticism as a subject of study. The fact that the article begins with an account of neuroscience is to construct a background for a counter narrative—which in the days to come may receive superior reception.


In all fairness, radicalisation that characterises the present times has always been deemed to be—shorn of the apologist’s banner—confined to Islam. Recent events around the world bracket “acts of terror” as a) one perpetrated by Muslims b) in the name of and for Daesh (al-Qaeda, too, have of late begun to laud acts of violence that are being attributed to Daesh or Daesh followers!) and c) which is confusing the State about the real identity of the perpetrators and d) even about the motivation for the actions.


The 1 July 2016 “hostage-situation” in Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery Cafe continues to be an interesting case study about the manner in which an Islamist action was undertaken. An appraisal of the incident is, therefore, being embarked upon.


Initial investigation informs that almost all the victims were foreigners. The chosen weapon was a machete (despite the fact that the terrorists reportedly wielded firearms), giving rise, thereby, to the notion that there was a method in the madness. While certain experts attributed the recourse to “medieval barbarity” as a “Daesh prescription” (almost all the fourteen issues of Dabiq, the online propaganda mouthpiece of Daesh, published until date, showcase machetes dripping with blood), others tried to trivialise such a theory by providing the flimsiest of explanations: the violent innards that characterise East Bengali society, where conflict and violence are normally resolved by recourse to decapitation or comparable means!


There was also considerable speculation—and consequently puzzlement—about the swiftness with which Daesh exhibited the killers in their propaganda machinery. Clearly the terrorists had uploaded their photographs from inside the restaurant that they had commandeered. But, there was no two-way communication. In other words, a Daesh command-and-control axis was not guiding the terrorists at least during the hostage taking exercise—as was the case during the 26/11 Mumbai attack when the terrorists were being constantly instructed from their minders in Pakistan! Daesh, therefore, in all probability “grabbed the chance” in order to showcase to the world that its reach and range extended to Bangladesh, where “machete-murders” were suddenly proliferating.


But, it also meant that there are groups and individuals inside the erstwhile East Pakistan who are seeking brand equity (and receiving it) with Daesh. If such is the case then there should have been no confusion about the presence of Daesh in Bangladesh! After all, despite the fact that Daesh metamorphosed into its present shape from its earlier manifestation of Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad in 1999 and eventually al-Qaeda-in-Iraq in 2004, its present call to Muslims worldwide to undertake the hijrah had (until recent setbacks including the fall of Mosul and Tal Afar!) brought people from all over the world! The argument that the 1 July 2016 attackers were only Bangladeshis and consequently could not have had any truck with Daesh is without substance.


But are the “machete-murderers”, radicalised by Daesh propaganda? Or is it simply convenient to cloak themselves in the garb of Daesh to conceal their political objectives? If this argument has even a shred of truth, then it can be said that there are others that are resorting to killings not because they subscribe to the agenda of Daesh, but because they have discovered a paradigm in the discourse of Daesh, which allows them to vent their deviant behaviour. It is in this context that the author sought to invoke (and devote) much of the opening narrative to neuroscience, a decidedly strange plot for an article on radicalisation.


But, what if similar violence were to take place in India? Even if it were to be granted that the “missing” youths (90 in all according to an intelligence agency!) undertook the hijrah from India and countries where Indians reside in large numbers because they are religious zealots, it would not explain the phenomenon of the hidden few who would imitate the “Cackle of Hyenas” (the author would rather use a phrase attributing the killers to hyenas than to wolves, the latter, a dignified, but much maligned creature!) that are breeding across the globe and of late in the neighbourhood? What if the authorities were to suddenly stumble upon perpetration of violence that is being witnessed by neo-converts: people from other faiths converting to Islam because one of the manner in which the religion is being interpreted permits canonical inviolability and conduct of action that have been hitherto proscribed?  Would a psycho-profiling be then accepted?


This article is, therefore, a plea to think out-of-the-box and imagine beyond the doggedness with which a non-existent de-radicalisation programme continues to be pursued in a terror-torn world. Research has shown that a number of Guantanamo detainees of Saudi origin who were “de-radicalised” have returned to terrorism upon release. Indeed, even the “Telangana Model” of de-radicalisation has failed with at least four so-called de-radicalised youths trying to travel to Syria via Bangladesh. Although there have been arguments that de-radicalisation creates a barrier to recidivism, there is really no way to fathom or evaluate whether a thorough cauterisation has taken place. Or are there de-radicalised terrorists—disengaging because of purely instrumental reasons—who continue to harbour a radical world-view?  Who determines whether the law-enforcer is erring or not by arranging theological correction of “radicalised minds” that have never actually read the Qur’an? After all is it not conceivable that there are extra-religious reasons or considerations that could have propelled perpetrators of crimes to adopt a nihilistic weltanschauung that led to the death and gore that have been witnessed since the “baying” from Ar-Raqqah began? Has a neurological study been ever conducted on an Islamist radical who has attempted to undertake the hijrah and have been apprehended midway?


Therefore, the “radical” not only finds an outlet that has sanction by an “establishment” (in this case, Daesh), but deceives the counter-terrorism apparatus and the world that it is call of an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that drove him/her into a killing frenzy. The simplest explanation that abounds (particularly in media) is to term a killer “a bad Muslim” because he/she has misinterpreted the Qur’an. The acceptable explanation could well have been to call him/her a psychopath who found a universe of discourse and a clear, unambiguous, audible paradigm where his/her behaviour not only is encouraged, but one which is glorified by recourse to prophetic injunctions. It is, therefore, in the realm of the mind that the final fitnah is to be waged.


But, even as counter-radicalisation methods are fine tuned and put into practice, what cannot be dismissed is the deviant brain factor, the possibility that a killer acts in the name of Islam in order to access a “psychological sanctuary” which suddenly came into existence with the declaration of a “caliphate”.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.