Causes of rising extremism lay somewhere else

Shahid Islam

The signatures on all the politically-motivated crimes in Bangladesh since 2013 have been of those who hate everything other than a dogmatic brand of Islam stemming from the puritan Wahabi strain practiced in parts of the Middle East.
As the spates of targeted secret killings increased in 2016 — following the unsolved mystery of the murder in 2015 of two foreign nationals, five secular-minded bloggers, three Islamic scholars of the sufi strain, and two members of law enforcement agencies—it’s time to stop pointing fingers on the opposition parties alone and build a national consensus to tackle this growing menace.
The PM’s take
It’s quite troubling that the PM Sheikh Hasina had once again blamed ‘the BNP-Jamaat clique’ for all the recent secret killings in the country. She said on Wednesday that “ the intelligence and law enforcement agencies are out there to track down the culprits and the government is not sitting idle…Our stance about it is very tough …we’re doing whatever is needed … everyone from intelligence agencies to law enforcement agencies are very much active.” She had also categorically mentioned that “the reason behind the secret killings of soft targets is just to create a wave of tension at the global stage to depict Bangladesh negatively and create panic among the mass people.”
What the PM and many of her mouthpieces maintain is quite contrary to what the pundits, experts and the major global media outlets found out and believe to be happening in Bangladesh. That aside, the standard global portrait of latest Bangladesh is the one dreadful enough to make a visit, let alone invest and interact. Even the neighbours are scared of what’s happening inside this nation while people within find lives cocooned, crammed and compartmentalized in fear of death grabbing anyone any time.
The Indian version
The Outlook magazine of India is known for its close association with what the government of India thinks about certain foreign and local issues. With respect to the rise of extremist attacks inside Bangladesh, the magazine wrote: “A specter is haunting Bangladesh, the specter of unbridled, violent religious extremism with attacks on intellectuals, journalists, bloggers and religious minorities. The Islamic State (IS) and other forms of fundamentalism are on the rise in the country of 156 million. Unfortunately, neither of the two major political parties, the professedly secular Awami League (AL), and the more religiously inclined, right-of-center Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has demonstrated any interest in containing these developments.”
The Outlook article further contended: “Worse still, the present regime, in denial about religious extremism, finds this trend to be politically expedient. The ostensible need for sweeping powers to curb such religious violence enables the regime to further aggrandize its political power. If extremist movements are not curbed, Bangladesh could well become an epicenter for Islamic radicalism. Given its proximity to other substantial Muslim populations in both South and Southeast Asia, the emergence of such religious extremism could have profound destabilizing consequences well beyond the reaches of the country……….
“The current Bangladeshi regime of Sheikh Hasina Wajed is at least tacitly allowing such zealotry to flourish. In considerable part, the willingness to dally with these extremists stems from an attempt to marginalize the organized religious party, the Jamaat-i-Islami. …….Despite the trapping of democracy, the country is steadily lurching towards authoritarianism in many ways. In 2014, the Awami League won an overwhelming parliamentary majority as the principal opposition, BNP, had chosen to boycott the elections. Since then the party of Sheikh Hasina has relentlessly harassed the opposition and its supporters. This includes lodging cases of sedition against the party’s leader, Begum Khaleda Zia.”
Al-Jazeera’s finding
The Al Jazeera reported about the ongoing attacks as: “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, but the government denies the armed group’s role. Who then are these groups? Are they home-grown or linked to ISIL or al-Qaeda?”
Quoting a Bangladeshi academic working in the USA, Ali Riaz, the Al Jazeera said:  “The first killing of bloggers was reported in 2013 in the wake of Shahbagh movement. For most of those killings, the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) claimed responsibility. The ABT claims to be connected to al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). However, these militant groups were present even before 2013. On the other hand, responsibilities for the killing of foreigners, attack on the Shia mosque, and threatening some priests have been claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Later, ISIL media Dabiq ran a piece where it claimed to have established contacts with a Bangladeshi militant group called the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and that they are working together.”
With respect to ISIL presence in Bangladesh, the report claimed: “In the past years, the government claimed that they had arrested ISIL recruiters. These arrests were meant to demonstrate that it was fighting terrorism and that it was winning. Perhaps, later the government realized that by doing so, they were implicitly admitting the presence of ISIL, which indirectly means its failing. The government started backtracking.”
While explaining about the chances of local groups joining the ISIL, the report maintained: “After the Dabiq (ISIL magazine) essay on Bangladesh, it is not unlikely that remnants of JMB are coming together, and possibly they are trying to get in touch with ISIL, or ISIL is trying to get in touch with them.”
Root of the problem
The rise of extremism is largely blamed in the Al Jazeera analysis as: “All these things are happening in the context of the flawed elections in 2014, and an increasingly shrinking of democratic space, and of course, limits imposed on the freedom of speech. We have seen rampant use of the Information and Communication Technology Act under which people have been arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments or posting things online critical of the government.”
Besides, in a testimony before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, a distinguished fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Alyssa Ayres, stated in April 2015: “ In order to combat political polarization and religious extremism in Bangladesh, the United States needs to increase assistance focused on democracy and governance programs, expand counterterrorism and security cooperation, deepen security consultation with India about Bangladesh, and continue looking for ways to incentivize political reconciliation in Bangladesh.”
Amidst the global consensus that the source of the dreadful rise in violent extremism in Bangladesh lay in the very authoritarianism and the one-party-model established by the incumbent regime, blaming the opposition will not resolve the crisis. And, given that the USA, India and all the western democracies believe Bangladesh must resolve first its crisis of faulted democracy in order to build a national consensus to fight the menace of rising religious and other forms of extremism, the government must listen and act before the nation descends into total chaos and catastrophe.
Source: Weekly Holiday

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