That the Islamist militants really exist in Bangladesh no longer needs to be proved by allusions and references. Ever since the 2001 Ramna Batamul bombings through the killing of the couple of judges (Sohel Ahmed and Jagannath Pande), and the series bomb blasts in 2005 to the recent series of killings of the secular bloggers and progressive people and intellectuals have adduced tangible proofs of existence of the Islamist militants in the secular soil of Bangladesh. The point of whether they are affiliated with ISIS or al-Qaeda is totally immaterial. The problem of secret killings is reaching such epidemic proportions that since February 2015 with the killing of the blogger Avijit Roy to the recent killing of Mir Sanaur Rahman (20 May 2016), 44 people have been killed in 42 attacks by the religious militants. The victims include freethinking bloggers, progressive varsity academics, Hindu and Christian priests, Buddhist monks, devotees of Sufi pirs and bauls and religious converts.
The problem of religious militancy has not sprung up overnight. Its first public appearance was in the Khaleda- Nizami Alliance Government regime (2001-2006). The religious militants in different names and identities had caused deadly occurrences ranging from beating up people by hanging from the tree-branches to blowing their brains out by bullets. People were in a state of panic as to when they were to lose their lives in a sudden blast. Whereas the then premier Khaleda Zia declared that Bangladesh was totally free form the Islamist militants. The so called Bangla Bhai was an imaginary creation of the media, Mrs. Zia reassured. But now facts have proved stranger than fiction. Most of the jails in the country have a large number of Islamic militant organization leaders, including those from Jam'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Allahr Dal, Hijbut Tahrir and Harkat-ul-Jihad (Huji). More than 2,500 members of the outlawed organizations are lodged in the 68 jails across Bangladesh, according to a senior prison official. Some militant youths have recently been captured in Singapore and pushed back who were allegedly being trained there for joining ISIS.
Mrs Zia's government (2001-2006) did not want to exert a lot of sweat to go for hunting the militants. The police tried in a vain attempt to hunt for the top notch. Even when the story of the militants' dens and their training performances were reported in the national and international press, the government feigned complacency like an ostrich burring its head in the sand. They left no stone unturned to conceal the existence of the growing religious militancy in Bangladesh. Perhaps they had no option but to do it because the militants are the nearest and dearest ones of the fundamentalist wing/ wings of the BNP-Jamaat Allied Government, and resemble them both in appearance and reality. Although apparently they differ with each other on their activities, their mission is the same. So, the BNP did not dare bother them with anything, especially at that pre-election time.
But the militants do not tend to spare others regardless of whether they are bothered by them. They are paranoid and possessed of an abnormal psychology. They do not have much time, nor do they have enough patience to woo the people through love and logic. This is why they impatiently try to achieve their goals by brute force than by persuasion. They never feel hesitant to resort to death and destruction even at the slightest thing. They are accused of intimidating people into practicing what they preach. To succeed in riskier jobs they unleash suicide bombers. The propensity to die while trying to kill others with a bomb is simply monstrous and becomes only them according to suicide terrorism. The presence of such a killing frenzy in and around the society is highly detrimental to the process of peace and quiet. But it was a harrowing fact that those frenzied activities had become a routine affair in Bangladesh as a result of which we witnessed the unprecedented 2005 series bomb blasts across the county--on 3 October in Chittagong and on 18 October in Sylhet, the militant JMB, JMJB, HJ activists launched attacks on the judges of the lower courts.
Missing the mark, they unleashed their suicide bombers on their targets. It was November 14, 2005, two senior assistant judges in Jhalakathi fell victims of the attack of the self-confessed suicide bomber Mamun Ali. And quite literally, before the blood stain was removed, on 29 November 2005 more powerful bombs went off in Gazipur and Chittagong court premises leaving eight people, including two lawyers and one police constable, dead and seventy eight others critically injured. The attacks were made by the same JMB suicide bombers. We watched on screen the blood- curdling scene of violence and panic caused by the bloody carnage. These ruthless assaults on the defenseless people raised a storm of protest both at home and abroad.
The target of the militant attack was however none of Khaleda's Alliance Government. Knowing it full well that the judges and the lawyers were not the law makers, the militants were mistakenly holding them responsible for not implementing the so called Islamic law in Bangladesh. But the BNP-led government, more precisely, the BNP should awake to the fact that, they too, would, someday, pay for their political indiscretions and ideological imprudence. May be, not now, but some other day! It is inevitable. Religious militancy is good for none. The militants are friends of none. Lying on the green fields and beautiful landscape of our golden Bangladesh, they dream of Kabul and Kandahar. They want to turn our dearly earned Bangladesh into Afghanistan and they themselves want to grow Taliban. Shunning the practice of democracy they want to set 'mullahcracy' (government of the mullahs). And since it is not admissible in the eye of good sense, they have taken recourse to the path of violence and terror. This legacy of religious militancy which was fostered during the alliance government regime in the wake of the notorious September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is exploding into the present-day violence. And it is not only a domestic phenomenon but also a global one and is taking a heavy toll on the peoples and civilizations leading to the dangers clashes of the future arising, in the view of the famous American political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington expressed in his famous book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), from Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Sinic assertiveness. So, killing the germ of religious militancy calls for a holistic global effort to be carried out in earnest. But then again we should not sit idle allowing them free kick!
Bangladesh is a People's Republic. It is born of the ideals of our Liberation War where fundamentalism has no room. Our constitution ensures the peaceful co-existence of all people irrespective of castes, creeds and religions. The militants have waged war against our constitution. So, letting them go unchallenged surely amounts to the violation of the constitution. The Government is the custodian of the constitution. It is incumbent on them to bring all militants to justice, and to locate the militancy germ and kill it to curb the contagion of religious extremism.
So, the whole gamut of Islamist militancy --- from Jamaat to JMB, from al-Qaeda to potential ISIS --- their patrons at home and abroad, their instigators, all should be taken into serious investigation. The 'iron hand in the velvet glove' approach should be taken by the Government to deal with militancy matters. Punitive treatment of militancy-infected people through special tribunals or introducing new laws is urgent, not adequate though. The impressionable young generation has to be psychologically vaccinated against the germ of this religio-political malady called militancy. There are ways, if there is a will.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English at Kushtia Islamic University.
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