Let me start by asking you all a question. You may have a very strong religious affiliation; your faith may be impeccable. Or you may be deeply indoctrinated with a political ideology. Passion runs deep in your vain in favor of your faith or ideology. But does this passion permit you to break the basic law of humanity, i.e. kill innocent people? And if you do any such act out of this strong political of religious conviction, can you get away saying that it’s not my fault, some religious or political leader used my passion to make me commit such crime?
Let me be more specific. As alleged by the law enforcement agencies of USA, Bangladeshi student Kazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis planned and attempted to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in New York City of USA. It is however alleged that through the sting operation, in fact an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a fellow Muslim with a Jihadi passion, influenced, provoked and facilitated Nafis to commit the alleged actions of terror.
This may be true that Nafis’s insecure unstable mindset was heavily influenced by the FBI agent. But it also true that Nafis indeed attempted to commit a major crime. If a religious cleric or a best friend or a person who you respect immensely, asks you to kill people or blow up cities for Jihad, will you agree? Let alone causing a massacre, will any of you ever be able to be convinced by the best of your friends to murder only one innocent person for the best of the causes? I have no doubt; the answer will be an emphatic and unanimous ‘No’. And this makes you different from Nafis.
The majority of 9/11 airplane bombers were clueless students like Nafis. Instead of an FBI agent, the person who influenced them was a man named Mohammad Atta. And as a result we saw the devastation of 9/11. Just try to think what Nafis would have done, if the person influencing Nafis was someone like Mohammad Atta instead of undercover FBI agent. Yes, Nafis was influenced by religion and provoked by the FBI undercover agent. But that does not clear Nafis of the horrendous crime he attempted to commit. Even a ten year old boy has the capacity to differentiate from good to bad and refuse to do the wrong thing. Nafis, in contrast is an emotionally competent adult.
Few decades ago, thousands of young men of this region of Indian sub-continent, influenced by a revolutionary leader named Charu Mazumder, started killing innocent people in the name of red revolution and class warfare. Law enforcement agency members hunted down all those thousands of bright young men one by one and then either killed them or maimed them for life or threw them in prisons. Nobody gave them a pass because they committed all the crimes being influenced by an extreme band of Marxism or by Charu Mazumder.
Now the question you may ask, how we can be so sure that Nafis indeed did all the crimes the FBI is attributing to him? What is the guarantee that FBI is not making things up? OK, it seems FBI is proceeding with normal US judicial process. FBI says they have all the audio recordings of conversations as well as the suicide video message Nafis recorded. Before even the trial of Nafis can proceed, i.e. before even Nafis can be charge sheeted (Indicted in US legal terms), all these evidences must be seen by a group of randomly selected New York resident. Once this group of people, called the Grand Jury, is convinced that FBI evidence is sufficient to proceed with a trial, then a jury trial will begin. During this lengthy process, Nafis will be able to meet and talk to any lawyer he decides to employ. Nafis will also be able to meet people from Bangladesh embassy. Nafis will get numerous chances to say and prove that all these are false. The trial will be open to public and all proceedings of the trial will be public record. And the persons who will look at the evidence and decide whether Nafis is guilty or not are not the judges, rather members of a jury. This jury will be randomly selected from New York and there is all the statistical possibility that a Bangladeshi American or a Muslim American may be part of the jury. After all the rigorous and transparent scrutiny of the evidence, it will be very difficult for the Government to punish a defendant with fake and unsubstantiated evidence. And if the evidence is not strong enough, Nafis will be freed and exonerated.
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The case of Nafis brings forward some other very relevant issues and demands discussion. The problem with Nafis did not start with his arrest. The problem started way before that.
First problem, was Nafis prepared (Emotionally, academically and financially) to move to USA to study and struggle to make a career? From media reports and statements of the University Nafis attended in Dhaka, it is clear that Nafis was having difficulty with studies even in Bangladesh. How can we expect that a student, who, even in the most favorable circumstances i.e. no financial responsibility, free boarding and dinning at parent’s place, cannot cope with the studies, will be able to make it in USA? Here in USA, in addition to full load of studies foreign students must enroll, he was expected to work to earn his tuition and make his ends meet.
It is true that parents in Bangladesh want to believe that sending the kid overseas will solve all the problems. The kid is not catching up with studies, the kid is too lazy, the kid is having drug problem – send him abroad and all the problems will be solved! This is blissful ignorance.
Yes, in the past young people came this way and ultimately made a living in USA and other places. But the world has changed. The events of 9/11 have changed the whole west, not only USA. Also changed is the economic situation in the Americas and Europe. In the past there were lots of low end jobs and foreign students were tapped to do those jobs. It is not like that anymore. In America, unemployment rate is very high. Government is cracking down on employers who hire people without legal documents to work.
It is also important to understand that undergraduate studies in USA are a protracted process. Student life could have been much easier if one comes to USA to graduate level education after finishing undergraduate studies in Bangladesh. A student who comes to USA for a Master’s degree is much more likely to complete his education and join the work forces, either here in USA or back home in Bangladesh.
Another point also worth mention is that the moment Nafis transferred from the first school in Missouri to a non-degree offering technical training institute in New York City, he decidedly pulled himself out of education-professional job track. The institute he enrolled in in New York would not give him any degree that would enable him to be considered as skilled employee. It seemed he moved to New York to work and earn money for living. This path is a very slippery slope and there were high chances of losing legal status in USA. In the past decades thousands of Bangladeshis dropped out of universities, moved to New York for easier life and ultimately ended up spending the rest of their American under constant uncertainty as an Illegal alien in USA.
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But the most glaring problem in this Nafis fiasco is the blatant double standard that is being shown in Bangladesh. Since this government came to power, on the excuse of zero tolerance to Islamic extremism, young men, suspected of having the slightest connections to Islamist organizations, are being rounded up and taken into custody. Unlike Nafis case, in most of these cases the families of the young men have no clue of their whereabouts. People are being kept in custody for indefinite period without any charges or hope for any chance of transparent trial in near future. There are also allegations that some young men suspected of having Islamist connections are facing enforced disappearances. Professors, physicians, students are being incarcerated indefinitely for merely being members of Islamist groups like Hijbut Tahrir.
At least, it seems Nafis is going get a due and transparent judicial process, which the Nafises in Bangladesh are not getting.
Let me end this piece with another question. If a foreign student in Bangladesh or even a Bangladeshi citizen is caught red handed while trying to blow up our Parliament building or while planning to harm our leaders, what treatment, you think, the culprits will get at the hand of our law enforcement agencies? Would this really matter who or what influenced the person planning to destroy our parliament building? If the wrath of Bangladesh legal system can come down on that alleged culprit with full vigor, what is the problem with US legal system clamping down on a foreign student who planned and wanted to destroy the main US city or kill the US president?