Now is no longer time for apprehension or substance-less jugglery of words but time for action, real action, to genuinely probe crimes including murders and set the criminals up for punishment. People of Bangladesh, having seen series of first degree crimes happening and mostly going without conclusive investigation, get no more mesmerized by copy-book assurances given by the ministers and law enforcing agency bosses, who apparently do so to pour water on heating debate whenever a crime incident gets wide publicity in print, electronic and social media and even draws attention of the world to it.
Enough is enough, say the people while international rights groups, critics of the government in and outside Bangladesh as well as families and sympathizers of the victims clamour for justice and call for an end to the growing crimes and 'insanity' of the crime busters. The hype reached a new height after USAID official Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Tonoy Majumder had been hacked to death by unidentified assailants in their Dhaka apartment, preceded by similarly gruesome murder of Rajshahi University teacher A F M Rezaul Karim Siddiquee over a week of time. The professor of English Department was known to be a very amiable person with a penchant for playing sitar and for literary activities.
On the other hand, a cousin of former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, Xulhaz was reportedly a gay and 'Hijra' rights activist and editor of a LGBT magazine named Roopban. A newspaper report on Wednesday said at least 35 people including bloggers, teachers, publishers and others had been killed in 35 attacks across the country. All the deaths include half a dozen of bloggers and a publisher in just one year. Responsibility of 15 killings was claimed by the Middle East based terror outfit IS (Islamic State) while AQIS (Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent) claimed credit for the other eight. They carried out the hackings and killings through their siblings in Bangladesh who, law enforcing agencies say, operate under different names. Together and with blessings of their overseas mentors, the militant and terror groups are out to create an all pervasive fear syndrome in the country and needless to say they have succeeded to some extent, though the government and law enforcing agencies deny any existence of IS or AQIS in Bangladesh. But there is no denying that we have not been able to liquidate or defunct the militants who carry out their heinous killing missions in the name of Islam (the religion of peace). Whoever behind these awful deaths are 'enemies' of the country and its people-maybe except for the Islamic zealots who preach 'tooth for tooth' (death for death) philosophy, which goes against the teachings of Islam and Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (SM). We don't support any death caused by violence or religious rage, and strongly condemn the killings of the bloggers, teachers and others including Xulhaz and couple of foreign nationals, and demand maximum punishment for the killers.
However, we are also worried over the continuing trend of trying to colour the deaths politically or passing the blame on political rivals, which is not the best response to increasing criminality the country facing, such as killing, rape, abduction and forced disappearance. Endless mud-slinging between political rivals tends to cause an apathy or negligence among the law enforcing agencies and also encourages them to leave the investigations incomplete or push them off track. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who asked the law enforcers to ruthlessly track down and bring before law the responsible for recent mysterious killings, has blamed the murders on 'Jamaat-BNP nexus,' which the BNP leaders immediately denied, saying it was an attempt to cover up the government's failure to ensure law and order and protect people's lives in the country. On Tuesday, ruling Awami League General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam vowed to stand firm against a spate of murders, which, he said were aimed at 'putting the government in a fix'. Mr Islam, who is also the Public Administration Minister, said this in the wake of the murders of a gay-rights campaigner Xulhaz and his friend in Dhaka, and the Rajshahi University teacher (Siddiquee). "Especially, bloggers and cultural activists are being hit. The government will not take it lightly... No one will be spared," he went on saying.
But these are all rhetoric uttered many times before by a range of people in the government, law enforcing agencies and the ruling party. These could not abate crime rather gave an impression to the criminals that everything would be alright after a few days. And sometimes so would really happen.
American FBI offered to help investigate the murder of US-based blogger Avijit Roy last year and now again after Xulhaz has been killed. But the US cannot stop killing of people by irate individuals or killer gangs on its own land, including attacks on Church and schools. Yet, they speak loudly whenever a blogger or atheist is killed in Bangladesh. We appreciate their concern but get frustrated over their failure to crack the nuts. The United Nations, European Union, France and a host of civil and human rights groups have also come out strongly against the spate of extra-judicial and 'enforced' deaths and condemned the Bangladesh government for failing to provide security to the citizens. The police, being dismayed over continuing criticism of their 'poor' performance, have said they cannot secure people inside their homes and they should arrange their own security. But why police and other law enforcers cannot protect people killed in the open, sometimes in broad daylight, is still not known. Security officials have no clear answer to that. Going back to Xulhaz, whose death has 'devastated' the heart of American Ambassador in Bangladesh, Mercia Bernicat, is allegedly was himself a homosexual - and no wonder if that had provoked his death by Islamist militants (if that really was the case).
Bangladesh is an overwhelmingly Muslim majority country with most of its people being tolerant to other faiths. However, the bloggers take it for granted that no one will react if they persistently attack Islam and make derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad (SM) in their blogs. The bloggers relentlessly target the Muslim faith and its Prophet in their malicious campaign that arouses anger among the faithful. But only a few of them go out to take revenge, no matter whether the offending blogger is a Hindu or Muslim or of any other religion. The government promises stern action against the killers but the law enforcers often appear to run out of breathe in the middle of the process. Investigation takes years and may still be inconclusive while the hackers and criminals move freely.
In Bangladesh there are more than half a dozen outlawed militant and terror groups - mostly backed by the Jamaat-e-Islami party which is an ally of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh has put several Jamaat leaders and one BNP leader to death for crimes committed during Bangladesh's 1971 independence war against Pakistan. Though PM Sheikh Hasina's government remains firm to try and punish all war criminals, it still remains undecided whether to 'ban' Jamaat as a political party. BNP also opposes the trial of war criminals and appear uncomfortable to speak against the Islamist gangs killing people but is eager to apportion the blame for murder of bloggers on to the government. That BNP Chairperson Khaleda on Tuesday said the government has to take responsibility for all the recent deaths, which is also a rhetorical outburst.
To confront and combat militancy and terrorism, all including the political leaders with varying opinions should come on a single platform, putting aside their petty differences, and make concerted efforts to overcome the growing menace. Otherwise, no matter who rules the country, the militants and terrorists will make their lives hell and turn the country into an ineffective police state.
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor, The Daily Observer