Political Terrorism And Attacks On Socio-Cultural Organisations

It is an open secret that Islamic extremists are operating in the country. Reports of training camps under the guise of Madrassahs have been filtering through for some time now, so if anyone still believes these extremists are not organised enough to be a threat to our fledgling democracy, should think again. In fact, it was apparent immediately after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, that fundamentalists were moving around openly. The action taken by the U.S. on Afghanistan and Iraq, plus the treatment meted out to Muslims in America gave them this opportunity and they began to gain inroads with the result they have been slowly growing in strength and are promoting their own brand of political Islam.

Now that the government has instituted a ban on two Islamic outfits, it must seem to many this is the result of recent attacks on socio-cultural and NGOs like BRAC and the Grameen Bank both of great importance to donors. Therefore such attacks had to be taken seriously. The government press note relating to the ban almost admits as much because it states these outfits have been engaging in killing, dacoity, bomb attacks, issuing threats and other subversive activities. The government’s declared intent to handle “these elements with an iron hand,” is contained in its press note which also said, “such activities will not be tolerated.”

However much of the blame for allowing this situation to get out of hand can be laid at the feet of both the government and the opposition. Repeated statements from government quarters, including the minister of state for home affairs, that such elements are a figment of media imagination and do not exist, is not conducive to what we know. Worse still when we know that institutional dysfunction invites military, political and religious zealots to take over, warnings by the media of the existence of fundamentalist organizations should not have been ignored. That the government’s law enforcing agencies have now launched a countrywide police-drive and arrested as many as many as 50 alleged extremists including a professor of Arabic at Rajshahi University serves to lend substance to this view.

But one thing must not be ignored, these acts are entirely separate from the political terrorism that is a matter of grave concern and has its roots more in political intolerance. The media both at home and abroad have constantly drawn attention to the unwholesome effect of this element. But not to be ignored is that, taking advantage of political confrontation, these new dimensions of terrorism have crept in to make matters worse.

As bomb attacks have not been confined to political assemblies lead us to think there is a wider aim because attacks on public cultural functions, cinema halls, mosques and shrines and at least one church is intended to strike fear into the hearts of people. Such attacks have been interpreted by analysts as attacks motivated and engineered by misguided fundamentalists who believe in establishing Islamic rule. The public seems to think so and the perception overseas is more or less the same but accusations of the existence of training camps in Bangladesh have so far, been rejected by the government. Maybe now the government may change its view because religious and cultural intolerance at grassroots level will inflict the strongest blow on the democracy that is the basis for politiccal ambition and subsequent elections. In other words, there is no place for Islamic militancy in our democratic setup (Editorial, The bangladesh Observer, February 27, 2005).

Crackdown on Islamists at a standstill

The crackdown on the Islamist outfits that was launched in the north last month has come to a standstill, and top leaders of the outfits are being kept out of the law enforcers’ dragnet, said local people early this week. Though Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh leader, Mohammad Asadullah Ghalib, and three of his close aides were arrested before the crackdown was ordered on February 24, notorious Bangla Bhai and Abdur Rahman are still beyond the proverbial long arm of the law. However, several dozen lower-level activists of Jagrata Muslim Janata, Jamaatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh were nabbed after the crackdown.

Local people and intelligence sources said that the crackdown had already lost its momentum, due mainly to strong opposition from two partners of the BNP-led four-party alliance government. The police, however, claimed that the crackdown was going on but not as it was in the beginning. ‘Our drive against the militants is sporadic as the militants went into hiding soon after the drive began,’ said Noor Muhammad, deputy inspector general of police, Rajshahi range. He said that the drive would be continued as the government was very serious about nipping Islamist militancy in the bud.

Finally admitting the existence of militant Islamist groups in the country, the government banned Jagrata Muslim Janata and Jamaatul Mujahedeen on February 24, and ordered a crackdown on the militants, accusing them of a series of attacks to create anarchy in the country. The steps were taken under pressure particularly from the Western diplomatic quarters in the wake of the alarming rise in violent attacks across the country that has claimed many lives in the recent past. The move was hailed by various quarters, but the government gradually appeared to be less interested, particularly after the Islami Oikkya Jote, a component of the ruling four-party alliance, reacted to the drives sharply.

‘The government these days seems to be reluctant about addressing the problem effectively,’ said an intelligence agency official stationed in the northern region. He said the ban and crackdown has, therefore, failed to bring any real change in the situation as the problem lies within the ruling alliance itself.

Intelligence agencies in the region said that their investigation found links of the two coalition partners with the fundamentalist groups who are using the state mechanism to spread their network throughout Bangladesh (A. K. Azad, New Age, March 25, 2005).

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