Fight Against Terrorism
Adnan Ahmad, a Johns Hopkins University senior from
Festus, Mo., returned to his native Bangladesh with funding
from the university to investigate the government's
strategy to combat domestic terrorism.
Supported by the university's Provost's Undergraduate Research Award program, Ahmad conducted interviews last summer with journalists, government officials and civilians, and archive research, examining the recent rise of Islamism in Bangladesh and the government's movement toward oppressive state policies in response to security threats. He also explored the tradeoff between liberty and security in the fight against terrorism. Ahmad will present his findings at a recognition ceremony on Thursday, March 8, on the university's Homewood campus in Baltimore.
Since 1993, about 40 students each year have received PURA grants of up to $3,000 to conduct original research; some have published their results in professional journals. The awards, funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust, are an important part of the university's mission and its commitment to research opportunities for undergraduates. The awards are open to students in each of the university's four schools with full-time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing.
Ahmad has always been interested in the domestic politics of his native country, Bangladesh.
"I'm addicted to going back," said Ahmad, who moved to the United States when he was just 7. "I get sucked into the politics there."
But the political science major didn't think of relating his knowledge about Bangladeshi politics to world affairs — that is, not until the U.S.A. Patriot Act came up for renewal. Then, he began to see a connection between the ways the U.S. and Bangladeshi governments responded to Islamic terrorism.
"It's eerie how in step both countries are," he said.
Ahmad conducted more than 30 interviews while he was in Bangladesh, many of them lasting longer than two hours. Sometimes, he said, he felt like he was being led down a blind alley by people not answering his questions fully.
"But in the process," said Ahmad's PURA adviser, Waleed Hazbun, an assistant professor in the Political Science Department, "he learned a lot about how politics on the issue played out."
Through his interviews, Ahmad found that the government had established a rapid action battalion, which operated by executive decree without internal investigation. He compared the justifications for this action to those of the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
"They are circumventing procedural actions to fight terrorism," he said. "[They claim] you need to violate democracy in order to protect it in the long run, and we see the same arguments in the Patriot Act."
He learned that although the Bangladesh government had killed more than 1,000 people in the past two years, these killings were not officially recognized. Instead, the government announced that, in the process of being detained, these people were "caught in the crossfire." Yet Ahmad found little public outrage or public awareness of these killings.
"There's no political discourse that allows criticism on the public level," he said. "Broad political awareness is almost nonexistent."
This wide public acceptance of the government line made his own investigation difficult: When interviewees were willing to talk, they all gave him the same prepackaged, government-sanctioned story. Sometimes after a day of unsatisfying interviews, he'd visit his cousins and vent his frustrations about the obstacles he faced.
But Ahmad learned from these research problems, he said. He came to realize the difficulties a researcher faces while working in a foreign country, particularly when dealing with government information.
Ahmad is the son of Dr. Musaddeque Ahmad and Dr. Rowshan Ara, of Festus.
[Note to editors: High resolution digital photos of Ahmad are available upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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