Saturday, March 1, 2014

The IHS Jane's Shibir mania. Just how justified is it?

In a press release entitled, “Global Terrorism & Insurgency Attacks Rapidly Increase in Five Years”, according to IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir was ranked 3rd among the most active “non state armed groups”.

The list compiled was shown as follows:
1. Barisan Revolusi Nasional (Thailand)
2. Taliban
3. Islami Chhatra Shibir (Bangladesh)
4. Communist Party of India – Maoist
5. Al-Qaeda in Iraq
6. Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab)
7. FARC (Colombia)
8. New People’s Army (Philippines)
9. Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria)
10. Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist

As expected, the news made headlines in newspapers throughout Bangladesh. Interestingly, few cared to wait for any explanation as to why Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir, an exclusively student organization active in thousands of primary schools, colleges and universities in Bangladesh and a well known member organisation of the World Association of Muslim Youth (WAMY), was put along with well known, well documented and most importantly, well filmed armed groups such as the Taliban, FARC, Jabhat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Al Shabab among others.  

Some observations regarding the IHS Jane Report :

1.      The IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre uses open source data to build its global database. Wikipedia, quoting the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), defines open source data as data "produced from publicly available information that is collected, exploited, and disseminated in a timely manner to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement." In the context of Bangladesh, this open source data includes comparatively biased and sometimes shockingly inaccurate reports by the Daily Star ( most widely circulated English daily in Bangladesh), the Independent, bdnews24, the Daily Sun, etc. among others, all fiercely opposed to Shibir, a phenomenon stemming from politically and ideologically biased ownership. A bulk of this open source information stems from the electronic media too, which is interestingly party to heavy handed censure by the state as evidenced through this somewhat old but quite handy list.   

2.      An essential part of this open source data stems from Bangladesh government sources, which are bound to be biased to Shibir by default (due to political opposition).Couple that with the dismal press freedom index rank of 144 out 179 in 2013 (dropping down 15 places from 2012) and a country corruption index rank of the 13th most corrupt country in 2013 and you would begin to wonder if media not already closed under the circumstances were unbiased to start with. So effectively, when media and government reports on Shibir pursue a unified course, there is just reason to be alarmed and cautious.

3.      The report, by mentioning non state groups, has overlooked the biggest perpetrator of terrorism, the state itself, namely governments of the USA, Myanmar, Syria, Bangladesh, etc. In light of the above discussion, it would do well for any sane mind to note that the government of Bangladesh has carried out gross violations of human rights against its own civilians throughout 2013 as evidenced by this hot off the shelf report by Human Rights Watch.

So why was Shibir listed among the top 10 world terror organizations? We shall have to wait till the detailed report comes out I guess. Shibir, on its part, has strongly protested the IHS report.  

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