By Syed Ishtiaque Reza
A court on Tuesday sentenced five militants to death and one to lifetime imprisonment in a case lodged over murder of blogger and writer Abhijit Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin. The death convicts are – sacked major Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Zia, Mozammel Hussain alias Simon, Abu Siddique Sohail alias Shakib alias Sajid alias Shahab, Akram Hossain alias Abir and Md Arafat Rahman. The court also fined the death row convicts fifty thousand taka each. The sole lifetime awardee is Shafiur Rahman Farabi and he was also fined .fifty thousand taka, in default, he will have to suffer two years more in prison. All convicted are the leaders and activists of banned militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). Sacked Major Zia and Akram Hossain remained fugitive since the murder.
Avijit Roy was hacked by a group of militants near Suhrawardy Udyan in the TSC area of Dhaka University around 9:30pm on 26 February, 2015. Earlier eight leaders and members of the banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam have been sentenced to death for killing publisher Foisal Arefin Dipon.
It was a time in Bangladesh, when the killing of bloggers, writers and tourists in Dhaka was too common. One after another murder had instilled fear among young, progressive writers. Since the start of the Shahbagh movement demanding trial of the 1971 war criminals, Islamist fundamentalists killed a number of secular bloggers in different parts of the country. They had also issued death threats to other bloggers. Dozens more had been named on “hit lists” circulated by extremist groups feared to be gaining ground. The killing spree came to halt after the security forces waged a massive counter attack on the militants after the Gulshan café attack on July 1, 2016.
A country made for secular people has turned into a breeding ground for fanatic militants. We had a dream during the war of liberation that Bangladesh would be a modern democratic state where not only Muslims (the majority population), but also people belong to other religions could feel at ease.
May be we had the expectations that were beyond our abilities to deliver. And that resulted in the brutal murder of Founding Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman within just three and half years of our independence. Not only Bangabandhu and his family members were killed, rather Bangladesh’s core values of secularism was killed on that very day of 15th August, 1975. The country that was ravaged to the ground by the occupation Pakistan forces, lost three million people and million others injured to end communalism, is now a country fighting again against the Islamic militants. And here lies the big security threat for it.
A peaceful Bangladesh is now witness to politics where a group of politically motivated religious group is declaring, not only people belong to other religions, even Muslims as infidel or non-believers. Communal forces are being given strategic depth to Bangladesh by all political parties allowing them to carry out atrocities under the banner of Islam here.
Killing of foreigners, killing of secular believers, killing of non-Muslims and sectarian attack on smaller factions of Muslims like Ahmadias and Shias, are nothing but an attempt to throw the country into the index of failed state. Law enforcers are fighting this so-called jihadists on the ground, but in the real world, they are getting all sorts of patronages from the parties who are deemed as democratic and secular.
Bangladesh is gradually becoming the safe haven for the religious extremists. The Holey Artrisan Café attack and the attack on Sholakia Eid Jamaat in 2016 and killing of bloggers and writers, have roped the country’s political, bureaucratic, legal, military, police and .societal elites into a fix on how to refute wrong interpretation of Islam by the terrorists. The rise of Hefajote Islam, an orthodox alliance of Qaumi Madrasa leaders, has opened the door for severe conflict that is deepening the sectarian differences even among the Islamic groups and leaders. This group recently threatened to destroy the sculpture of Bangabandhu if it is installed at Sadarghat.
Against this backdrop, if the country is not to slide deeper into the lethal mix of Islamic State or Pakistani Taleban-type fanaticism, Bangladesh’s secular intelligentsia need to respond forcefully. But the prospect seems bleak because of huge disunity among them.
Fanatic forces are the creatures of the post-1975 ruling elite, especially when late military dictator General Ziaur Rahman allowed Jamaat-e-Islami to do politics. Jamaat was banned for its anti-Bangladesh role in 1971. The party not only politically opposed independence, but also formed paramilitary armed forces to killing freedom fighters and secular believers. After 1975, the country simply drove towards the anti-liberation ideology and one point created an identity for Bangladesh as an Islamic state when General Ershad declared Islam as the state religion. Various Islam-oriented parties and their supporters are now on the field to preserve their Islamist ideology.
Both Zia and Ershad reached out to the religious establishments and made Islamization of Bangladesh their military regime’s domestic priority. This Islamization has given more official encouragement to Islamists armed with the theology of Jihad. These Islamists have shown, that, when squeezed too hard by the authorities, they are ready to bite with attacks anywhere in the society.
Security threat for Bangladesh is actually not from outside, but from within. The real threat is coming from these fanatic forces. What we need to do is carry out a program to de-radicalize and re-educate large segments of society.
Zia, Ershad and Khaleda Zia took systematic efforts over a long time to create this fanaticism. The government of Sheikh Hasina is in a difficult situation to establish secular views as well as fighting these organized fanatic outfits. It is for sure that these forces will not be eliminated in the short term as this type of perverted religious creed has now been ingrained in peoples’ mind here. Bangladesh needs to come down hard on these groups. It should also monitor the religious institutions and expunge all hate related material from their curricula. Short of any serious effort to reign-in and de-radicalize the killers, Bangladesh’s existence will be in jeopardy. The terrorism and instability which has already engulfed the country will spread further.
The writer is the Editor in Chief of GTV. He can be reached : [email protected]